Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sexual Violence Against Women During War

When I visited Berlin last year I found the city gray and dreary, with an edge, as if the ghosts of World War II still hovered about.

I experienced this edgy feeling once again when I watched A Woman in Berlin, a 2009  movie directed by Max Farberbock. Based on a diary by a woman journalist, the movie documents the last days of World War II when Berlin fell to the Soviet Army. The movie is well-done but dark and tense. Several times I threatened to stop watching it because of its relentless lack of cheer, but the history was fascinating.

Our storyteller, the journalist, tells of how she and other German women were raped by the Soviet soldiers. To avoid gang rapes, she attached herself to an officer, a kind of patron who became her protector and provider.

I looked it up: some 100,000 women in Berlin and two million on German territory were raped by the Soviet soldiers.

For years, the topic of the rape was taboo, and when the diary under the title A Woman in Berlin was published in 1959, the book was attacked for staining the honor of German women. It took decades before the story of the sexual violence suffered by German women emerged.

This painful topic reminds me of the "comfort women" in the Pacific during World War II. They were women who were abducted and kept as sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army.  Around 200,000 women from Korea, China, the Philippines and other countries suffered this fate. Many of these women are now dead or are very old.

A Filipina, Maria Rosa Henson, who was captured as a teenager by the Japanese and forced into sex slavey, wrote a book, Comfort Woman: A Filipina's Story of Prostitution and Slavery Under the Japanese Military.

Here is an excerpt from Henson's account:

Twelve soldiers raped me in quick succession, after which I was given half an hour to rest. Then twelve more soldiers followed. They all lined up outside the room waiting for their turn. I bled so much and was in such pain, I could not even stand up. The next morning, I was too weak to get up. A woman brought me a cup of tea and breakfast of rice and dried fish. I wanted to ask her some questions, but the guard in the hall outside stopped us from saying anything to each other.

I could not eat. I felt much pain and my vagina was swollen. I cried and cried, calling my mother. I could not resist the soldiers because they might kill me. So what else could I do? Every day, from two in the afternoon to ten in the evening, the soldiers lined up outside my room and the rooms of the six other women there. I did not have time to w
ash after each assault. At the end of the day, I just closed my eyes and cried.

The Japanese government consistently says there is no evidence the women were forced and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has said, "he feels no historical responsibility for this, since he has made it clear that he and his government will not apologize..."

Some surviving women have been demanding reparation, but the Japanese government refuses to pay. Except for diluted comments, the Japanese government has never really owned up to the war crimes it committed during World War II.

Click here to read more testimonies of some comfort women victims in the Pacific.

Unfortunately wartime sexual violence continues to this day.

Read also
Berlin, Germany: Spotlight on Historic Checkpoint Charlie
Berlin, Germany - Cecilia's Update #1
Heidelberg, Jose Rizal, and A Las Flores de Heidelberg
Berlin, Germany: Counting Time by the Minute

Tags: war, violence, sexual violence, rape, World War II, rape of Berlin, comfort women, Japan, Asia, Pacific, Germany, women, violence

This is all for now,
Cecilia Brainard at Check Point Charlie, Berlin

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