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German museum removes wartime sex slave statue on Japan's pressure

Japan has allegedly pressured a German museum to remove a statue of a girl representing victims of Japan's World War II-era sexual slavery from display, a South Korean civic group said Sunday amid escalating political and trade tensions between the two neighboring countries.

According to Korea Verband, a nonprofit association based in Berlin, its chairperson Han Jung-hwa donated a small statue of a girl to Ravensbruck Memorial, located in Brandenburg, northern Germany, in 2017.


The German museum, which was built to commemorate the largest concentration camp for women on German soil during World War II, had exhibited the statuette since then.

But last year, the Japanese embassy demanded the state government of Brandenburg and the memorial hall withdraw the bronze figurine from display.

"I heard that the Brandenburg government and the museum have been under pressure from Japan," said Han, the head of Korea Verband.

The museum succumbed to the Japanese pressure and removed it, she said.

The statue symbolizes Korean women who were forced to serve as sexual slaves for front-line Japanese soldiers during the war.

According to historians, up to 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, were coerced into sexual servitude at front-line Japanese brothels during the war when the Korean Peninsula was a Japanese colony.

Those sex slaves were euphemistically called "comfort women."

The Japanese government has been uncomfortable about the statue as the sex slaves are one of the most emotional issues that still remain unresolved between South Korea and Japan.

Japan's attempts to disturb local exhibitions of such statues have continued for years in Germany.

The Japanese embassy in Germany protested to GEDOK, a Berlin museum for female artists, over its decision to display a sculpture of the sex slave girl at its "Toys Are Us" exhibition, which started Friday.

The same statue also brought about a removal request from the Japanese government when it was on display in Dortmund, western Germany, in June.

In 2017, the Japanese government demanded the local authorities remove a statue of a different edition set up in a park in the southern German city of Wiesent.

A year ago, Japan kept the South Korean municipal government of Suwon from establishing a statue in Freiburg, southern Germany.

Meanwhile, an international arts festival in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan, halted the ongoing exhibition of a statue representing a wartime sex slave under a Japanese government order.

The Aichi Triennale 2019, which started its 75-day run on Thursday, set up screens at the Aichi Arts Center to shut down a section that displays "Statue of a Girl of Peace." It is one of the exhibits in the art festival's section titled "After 'Freedom of Expression.'"

Two South Korean artists -- Park Chan-kyong and Lim Min-ouk -- have decided to close the sections displaying their works in an apparent protest against the move.

The two artists said they do not want their works to be seen for even an hour under the current circumstances, according to an official in the South Korean art community who visited the Aichi Arts Center at their request.

The two artists condemned the Aichi Triennale's decision as censorship, the official said.

The move came as tensions between the two neighboring countries escalated following Japan's restrictions on exports in apparent retaliation over South Korean court rulings ordering Japanese firms to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II.

The festival organizers said that they will take legal action against the government's order, while a group of Japanese writers and poets said in a statement that the Tokyo government has infringed upon freedom of expression. (Yonhap)
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