“I was running an errand when I was grabbed, thrown on a truck with other girls and taken to China,” Lee said, recollecting the day when she was taken by the Japanese army and forced into a life of slavery and prostitution. “The Japanese soldiers beat us, starved us, and kept us from warmth in the winter.”
The 87-year-old woman took the journey, thousands of miles from her home in South Korea, to sit before a room full of student interns, elected officials and Bayside residents to share a piece of her past.
She was just 15 when she was taken from her family, and she is one of 58 living Comfort Women - as the Korean women forced into prostitution during World War II are known - left in the world.
Japan denies to this day the woman were forced into a life of prostitution by the army.
“I traveled to the U.S. today to ask the U.S. to help us,” Lee said last Thursday evening at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center on the college's campus. “If there are not Comfort Women, then who am I, why am I here?”
QCC students interviewed Lee and other comfort women via Skype for their internship program at the school.
"I can never fully understand how Ok Sun Lee felt, but I know she thought of her family each day and feared for her life," said Hephzibah Premkumar, one of the student interns who participated in the video interviews.
Dr. Arthur Flug, executive director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center and Archives, recognized the importance of interviewing women like Lee to facilitate their understanding of the story.
"Our students, several of whom had never heard of the Korean Comfort Women, were visibly shaken by what they learned during these interviews," Flug said. “The reactions are the same for our Holocaust survivor student interns who study the history of the Holocaust, interview survivors and then share their stories with others, ensuring that when the last survivor is gone their stories shall not be forgotten."
Surviving Comfort Woman Il Chul Kang also participated in the program and was scheduled to travel with Lee to QCC for the presentation last week, however she became sick in the South Korean airport and had to stay behind.
“I am so old and so weak, why would I make this arduous trip?” Lee said of her desire to make her story and the story of other Comfort Women known. “We are passing away,”