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Lee Woo Young

【#945】Koreans Called for Removing Comfort Woman Statue in Germany

Lee Woo Young / 2022.07.20 (Wed)

July 19, 2022

A group of South Koreans including me visited Berlin in late June to call for removing a statue of a wartime comfort woman for the Imperial Japanese Army erected there by an organization of South Korean residents in Germany.

The comfort woman statue in question was set up by the Korea Verband as approved by local authorities in Mitte Ward at the center of Berlin in September 2020. The four-person group that visited Berlin represented the Solidarity to End Comfort Woman Fraud, which was launched in Seoul in January. The group included the Solidarity’s representative Joo Ok Soon, as well as me.

Korea Verband refused dialogue

We had two purposes for visiting Berlin. One was to ask the Korea Verband to recognize the establishment of the comfort woman statue as distorting historical facts and voluntarily remove the statue. The other was to convey our call for removing the statue to the Mitte Ward authorities and the local council that are set to decide whether to allow the statue to remain there by September 28.

The Korea Verband’s claims regarding the comfort woman issue echo a leaflet of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance (which was formerly called the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery), asserting that 200,000 young girls were coercively recruited as sex slaves, amounting to Nazi Germany’s Holocaust massacre of Jews.

However, comfort women were adult female sex workers who signed contracts with business operators to provide sex services to Japanese soldiers. The comfort women system had no relation to the massacre of any ethnic group. Likening the system to Holocaust is too much of a stretch based on anti-Japan tribalism.

Before leaving for Germany, we requested the Korea Verband to have dialogue or debate with us. But the request was rejected. During our stay in Berlin between the evening of June 25 and the early morning of June 30, we held seven two-hour gatherings in front of the statue. The Korea Verband held opposing gatherings some 15 meters away.

We requested our meeting with the Mitte Ward mayor and got a positive response before our departure. We also made appointments with Mitte council members in charge of relevant matters. Despite our two visits to the building housing Mitte Ward office and council, we were unable to meet the mayor or council members for reasons that were not understandable. We had no choice but to end up leaving our written opinion statement to them.

Meanwhile, we had three meetings with South Korean residents there, finding that not a small number of local Koreans agree to our claim.

Germans’ reaction was not neutral, betraying our expectations. They seemed sensitive to the word “Holocaust” rather than facts regarding the comfort women issue. They looked like some Japanese who have an inferior complex about the past history. We felt intelligent laziness and hypocrisy in them.

Willing to collaborate with Japanese

I believe that the comfort woman statue will be removed in the not-so-distant future. Mitte Ward has regulations to prohibit non-art objects from being left for two years or longer. In fact, the installation of a memorial for Holocaust victims failed to be approved, we were told. I believe that Germans would not neglect the regulations at cost of worsening diplomatic disputes with Japan over the comfort women issue.

It was also our significant achievement that we built a momentum for cooperation with like-minded Japanese through our visit to Germany. We would like to act jointly with Japanese people.

Lee Woo Young is a research fellow at the Naksungdae Institute of Economic Research in Seoul and a co-author of “Anti-Japan Tribalism” that has become a bestseller in Japan and South Korea.