A still from a video clip showing Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops in World War II
A rare 18-second film clip went on public display for the first time Wednesday showing Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops in World War II.
The footage, which shows a group of clearly distressed young women lined up against a wall, is valuable evidence against persistent denials from Tokyo.
Taken in 1944, the film shows seven women who had been taken prisoner in China’s Yunnan Province near the border with Burma after U.S. and Chinese troops liberated the region from occupying Japanese forces. A Chinese officer is seen talking with one of the women, while the others avert their eyes in silence.
A team headed by Prof. Jung Chin-sung at Seoul National University spent two years combing through the archives of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Kang Sung-hyun, a member of the team, said, “Dr. Kim Han-sang, who is our resident researcher in the U.S., texted me a photo early in the morning. After checking it, I couldn’t go back to sleep”. He said the footage “is more powerful than a thousand words”.
Kang Sung-hyun (right) at Seoul National University poses with an assistant researcher.
There is ample documentary evidence that the Japanese Imperial Army was directly responsible for rounding up the sex slaves, but so far only four photos of the time of their plight have surfaced.
“I wondered who took those photos and where”. Kang said, “And I found out that it was shot by Sergeant Edwards Fay, a cameramen of the U.S. Army Signal Corps”.
Due to limited resources, only a few members of the Korean team were able to go to NARA in Maryland. NARA houses 10 billion documents and more than 300,000 film records. Finding footage of the Korean sex slaves was tantamount to finding a needle in a haystack.
“There was no catalogue or index so we couldn’t do a broad search”, said Kang, who has traveled to NARA over the last 10 years. “The film had to be treated with chemicals to preserve it. My hands swelled up after half an hour, but I wasn’t allowed to wear gloves for dear of damaging the film, and my eyes developed problems after I touched them with my bare hands”.
Kim discovered the clip after searching through hundreds of canisters of film.
What happened to the women in the footage? Kang said, “They were freed from Japanese captivity but were then held in an Allied prison for almost a year and a half. Five of the seven are Korean, and they were all rescued by the Korean provisional government and returned home”, Kang said. “My guess is that they all probably died”.