Korean survivor entreats Germany to protect ‘comfort women’ memorial in Berlin

Posted on : 2024-05-23 17:43 KST Modified on : 2024-05-23 17:43 KST
A press conference was held outside the German Embassy in Seoul to condemn recent remarks by the mayor of Berlin suggesting that a statue commemorating victims of wartime sexual violence be removed
The Korean Council holds a press conference outside the German Embassy in Seoul on May 22, 2024 to condemn recent remarks by the mayor of Berlin suggesting that the “Statue of Peace” symbolizing victims of the “comfort women” system in the city be removed. (Kim Ga-yoon/The Hankyoreh)
The Korean Council holds a press conference outside the German Embassy in Seoul on May 22, 2024 to condemn recent remarks by the mayor of Berlin suggesting that the “Statue of Peace” symbolizing victims of the “comfort women” system in the city be removed. (Kim Ga-yoon/The Hankyoreh)

“I desperately ask you: Please protect the Statue of Peace.” 

Speaking outside the German Embassy in Seoul on Wednesday, Lee Yong-soo, a women’s rights activist and Korean survivor of Japan’s “comfort women” system of sexual slavery, entreated the country to not remove a memorial in Berlin commemorating victims of the “comfort women” system.  

“Every Statue of Peace in every country is a symbol of world peace that protects the host country,” Lee said. “The Statue of Peace in Berlin must never be removed.” 

Lee’s speech came during a press conference by the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan held to denounce recent suggestions by the mayor of Berlin that the memorial be removed. The Korean Council delivered a letter written by Lee as well as a petition signed by 76 organizations and 1,878 individuals worldwide, including Germany, Japan, the US and Norway, to the embassy.  

According to the Korean Council, during a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Kamikawa Yoko, Mayor Kai Wegner of Berlin “proposed a solution to the controversial issue of the Berlin Statue of Peace.” During the meeting, Wegner reportedly said he was “in favor of monuments against violence against women, but that these should not be one-sided" and that he was discussing with “all relevant parties,” including the district and federal governments, and would also include the Japanese ambassador to Germany in the talks concerning the statue. 

The Korean Council lambasted these remarks in their petition. 

“How [could] Germany, a country that has reflected on the war crimes committed by Nazi Germany in World War II, realizing its fault in the historical past, and the Mayor of Berlin, a city that also suffered the pain of division as a result of war, just like Korean Peninsula, say such things?” the statement read.  

“The Berlin mayor's comments are likely not unrelated to the Japanese government's relentless campaign to sabotage and remove the Statue of Peace. We recognize this relates to the Japanese government's relentless political maneuver to remove and disturb the Statue of Peace,” the statement read.  

“The Statue of Peace is a universal symbol of women’s rights that calls attention to wartime sexual violence that still occurs in many parts of the world,” the statement continued. 

“If the Mayor of Berlin and the German federal government joined with the Japanese government to remove the Peace Statue, Germany would lose all the credibility it had built up in the international community,” the statement declared.   

A message from Nataly Jung-hwa Han, the chair of Korea Verband who organized to have the Statue of Peace erected in Berlin, was read at the press conference as well. Han demanded that the Japanese government cease its “cunning” lobbying efforts. She also demanded that the German Foreign Ministry alert German politicians and bureaucrats that the Statue of Peace is a transnational symbol of women’s rights.  

The handwritten letter of Lee Yong-soo, a survivor of the “comfort women” system of sexual slavery, delivered to the German Embassy in Seoul on May 22, 2024. (courtesy of the Korean Council)
The handwritten letter of Lee Yong-soo, a survivor of the “comfort women” system of sexual slavery, delivered to the German Embassy in Seoul on May 22, 2024. (courtesy of the Korean Council)

By Kim Ga-yoon, staff reporter 

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr

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