Living History: Korean Comfort Woman traveled from South Korea to QCC to meet face to face for the first time with student interns

On July 11, student interns in the Asian Social Justice Internship Program met face to face, for the first time, with a Korean Comfort Woman they had previously interviewed via Skype.

The event took place at Queensborough’s Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives (KHRCA) before an audience of student interns, College administrators, Holocaust survivors, members of the community as well as members of the Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE), elected officials and other distinguished guests.

“As a young girl, I dreamed of an education but my family was poor and couldn’t afford to send me to school,” said Korean Comfort Woman Ok Sun Lee, as she addressed attendees through a translator.  “Instead, I became a prisoner of the Japanese military who abused me, both physically and emotionally. I managed to survive, but many of us did not.”

After hearing Ok Sun Lee’s story in person for the first time, Hephzibah Premkumar, a student intern, responded with, “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.”

Another student intern, Gregory Renaud, who majors in Art and Design, unveiled his artistic rendering of a Korean Comfort Woman. He described the portrait as depicting the innocence of youth cast in the shadow of abuse and older age in the light of survival.

“Ok Sun Lee is a special citizen of the world,” said Dr. Diane B. Call, President of Queensborough Community College. “Our students are powerful speakers on her behalf and will continue to be the voices for all Korean Comfort Women.”

“Many of our students had never heard of the Korean Comfort Women and were shaken by what they learned as interns in the Asian Social Justice Internship Program,” said Dr. Arthur Flug, Executive Director of the KHRCA.

Dr. Call added, “The initiative is an important achievement led by Dr. Flug in collaboration with KACE and our wonderful students. We are also grateful to our legislators for coming together for this event to help us continue to tell the stories of our survivors.”

Assembly Member Charles D. Lavine expressed his “pride in Queensborough, its students and the entire community.” Assembly Members Ron Kim and David Weprin congratulated students in their roles as “ambassadors of the Korean Comfort Women.”

A partnership between the KHRCA and Korean American Civic Empowerment (KACE) was established in 2011 to ensure that both Queensborough’s students and broader communities will never forget what happened in Korea during WWII. The program serves as a potent educational method for preserving the memories of survivors and teaching about the impact of unbridled prejudice.

Through the internship program—both for the Holocaust and Comfort Women survivors—students learn about moral dilemmas and why it is important to become informed citizens on both local and global issues. The initial training culminates with student interns interviewing survivors about their experiences during WWII and, subsequently, promising to retell their stories, ensuring that when the last survivors are gone, their stories shall not be forgotten.