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Interns learn of comfort women in Queensboro program

Elected officials join with college staff and students at Queensborough Community College to celebrate the completion of its first Asian internship project. Photo by Phil Corso
TimesLedger Newspapers

The crimes were committed decades ago, but elected officials and college students still grappled with the harsh realities faced by Korean comfort women as Queensborough Community College capped off its first East Asia history internships.

In the company of faculty, students and borough leaders, the college’s first nine students to take part in its latest program told the horrific tales of Korean and Chinese women who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese army during World War II and have yet to feel relief from their trauma.

“This is an opportunity for our students to learn about history and the prejudice that can lead to horrifying results,” said Queensborough Community College President Diane Call.

The exact number of how many women were kept as sex slaves for the Japanese military has become a heated topic in Asian communities throughout the country, but Chejin Park, of the Korean American Voters’ Council, said the count varies between 20,000 and 200,000 depending on the source.

The program was launched in partnership with the advocacy group Korean American Civic Empowerment through the college’s Kupferberg Holocaust Center and Archives in the fall, where students have typically met face-to-face with Holocaust survivors to keep their stories alive. In a similar effort, students interviewed Korean Americans, either in person or via the Internet, who were teenagers during World War II and held captive as a result of their country’s occupation.

“As with perpetrators of the Holocaust, many deny that this tragedy ever happened,” said Dr. Arthur Flug, executive director of the center. “This was a historic hate crime and has significant meaning for our diverse student body and the greater community.”

Garnering widespread recognition and support for the Korean comfort women has also remained an ongoing struggle in city and state government, elected officials said at the college’s internship completion ceremony last Thursday.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said his efforts to remember these unknown victims with a Senate resolution was held up in the state Legislature because of a dispute over its wording, but finally came to fruition Tuesday.

“We have situations across the world today where women’s rights are being taken away,” Avella said. “It is extremely important for New York state to recognize this. We owe it to them and Japan owes it to them to apologize.”

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) also renewed his intentions to name a street in Flushing in honor of the comfort women as soon as an appropriate location could be identified.

“We are very sorry these things happened in the past and hurt so many people,” Koo said. “I hope all of us learn from this. That is why we have history in colleges.”

Student Daniella Lampone said she was taken aback by the gravity of torture comfort women were forced to endure as young teenagers in the midst of war. Lampone spoke with one survivor who was forced into sexual servitude and kept it a secret for most of her life until her children inadvertently found out and saw it as a source of shame for their family.

“I could never imagine going through what they did at such a young age,” Lampone said. “All they really want is an apology. That’s how they can move past this.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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