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Former comfort woman visits memorial in Bergen County, N.J.

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Published : 2013-07-16 20:18
Updated : 2013-07-16 20:18

Yi Ok-seon, a former South Korean comfort woman, visited a memorial to all comfort women in Bergen County, New Jersey, Monday.

She placed flowers on the statue in front of the county courthouse honoring thousands of Korean “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

According to Yonhap News and the digital edition of The Record, a New Jersey newspaper, the 86-year-old moved slowly toward the stone and stood silently as a translator read the English words on the plaque to her in Korean.
Yi Ok-seon, a former South Korean comfort woman, places flowers at a monument honoring the women forced by Japan into sexual slavery for its troops during World War II, in Bergen County, New Jersey, Monday. (Yonhap News)

Before walking to the plaque, Yi shared her story with Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan.

Speaking in Korean, Yi spoke of being abducted and forced into sexual slavery.

She compared her three years in captivity at the so-called “comfort stations” to living in a slaughterhouse. She said she tried to run away only to be physically abused when caught. Her captors stabbed her feet with a sword to prevent her from running again.

Donovan met Yi last fall when the county executive traveled to Korea and visited the House of Sharing, a home for comfort women. Donovan asked the women if Bergen County could erect a monument in their honor. They gave their consent, and on March 8, International Women’s Day, the stone was dedicated outside the county courthouse.

Yi was invited by the Korean American Civic Empowerment, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that has invited other former comfort women to the U.S.

On Wednesday, Yi will join the KACE in Washington for the sixth anniversary of the adoption of House Resolution 121. The resolution urges the Japanese government to formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility for the coercion of women into sexual slavery during the second World War.

Yi will also visit Glendale, California, to attend the unveiling of a monument there. Last week, the Glendale City Council approved the placement of a statue of a girl in honor of the comfort women. The statue is identical to one erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

Bergen County’s memorial is the second of its kind in New Jersey. Palisades Park, where more than half of the population is of Korean ancestry, dedicated its statue in 2010.

By Chun Sung-woo (swchun@heraldcorp.com)

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