Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) would like to honor the “comfort women” of World War II with either a memorial or street renaming if he can get a consensus from the Korean community.
Comfort women were young females taken by the invading Japanese forces to service the troops. Up to 200,000 young females from China, Korea and other occupied areas were forced into complying.
Koo got the idea for a memorial after attending a symposium held at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives on the Bayside campus of Queensborough Community College last December. The center brought together two Holocaust survivors living in Queens with two comfort women survivors from Korea.
The councilman said he was moved by their stories and decided to create some form of tribute “so the community remembers and it doesn’t happen again.” He pointed out that the plans are only in the discussion stage, but that he already had received some letters condemning the idea.
“I got a few and they were all form letters,” he said.
The councilman believes his memorial idea is not anti-Japanese and doesn’t think the opposition is from the Japanese government.
“I had dinner with the deputy chief of mission at the Consulate General of Japan in New York and he did not put any pressure on me,” Koo said.
He also noted that the Japanese government apologized for the comfort women in 1993.
Steven Choi is executive director of the Minkwan Center for Community Action in Flushing, a group that deals primarily with Korean issues. He believes the comfort women are a “sore spot historically” and would like to work with Koo on some education programs on the topic.
Terence Park, a leader in the Flushing Korean-American community, said Koo’s plans “are absolutely the right thing to do,” adding, “We must learn from history. Remembering what happened lets us go forward in a positive way.”
Also supporting Koo’s plan is Arthur Flug, executive director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center, because “we can’t forget them. It’s history.”
He added that both the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and the Korean comfort women at the session were not afraid of dying. “They fear they will be forgotten,” Flug said.
He applauds Koo for his stance. “There’s a lesson to be learned and used,” Flug said.
Because of the event’s success, QCC students will be able to learn about problems related to the war and interact with Asian seniors under a new program that will begin in the fall.
The center already has a program for students to work with Holocaust survivors.