Jan Ruff-O’Herne at her Adelaide home. Photo: David Mariuz Jan Ruff-O’Herne and the Korean comfort women visiting Japan circa 1993. Photo: David Mariuz
When she was a 21-year-old young woman, Japanese soldiers raped and beat Jan Ruff-O’Herne so many times she lost count.
Along with thousands of other women across Asia she was forced to be a sex slave of the imperial army during World War II.
Now the conservative Japanese government has questioned the testimony of the ”comfort women” that led to the landmark apology won from Tokyo in 1993.
The move has placed a further pall over Japan’s already tense relationship with China as well as South Korea, countries the Japanese occupied and home to most of the estimated 200,000 sex slaves.
”It’s just hideous to not acknowledge it, there are so many witnesses who have spoken out about this,” Mrs Ruff-O’Herne said from her home in Adelaide.
Supporters of the abused women fear an attempt to airbrush history after Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga last week indicated the government wanted to verify the authenticity of testimony from 16 South Korean women recorded in the lead-up to the 1993 apology.
No inquiry has been launched but ultra-conservatives in Japan’s parliament dismiss the stories and say there are no documents to prove Japanese soldiers forced women into sexual servitude.
But Mrs Ruff-O’Herne, now 91, said Japanese leaders must come to terms with the country’s history of war crimes. She was captured as a teenager with her Dutch parents on Java, Indonesia, and later forced into a brothel. She migrated to Australia in the 1960s.
For 50 years, she kept secret her abuse at the hands of Japanese soldiers, even from her family until speaking out in the early 1990s in support of Korean women seeking an apology from Japan.
”First it was only the Korean women, and nobody took any notice because ‘they were only Asian women’. But then when a European woman spoke out the world suddenly took notice,” Mrs Ruff-O’Herne said.
The pressure led to the Japanese government issuing a remarkable statement of ”apologies and remorse” for abused women, with a promise to teach people about what had taken place.
Tessa Morris-Suzuki, an expert on modern Japanese history at the Australian National University, said the ”comfort women” had become symbolic in the revisionist drive trying to argue Japan was as much a victim as the aggressor.
”From the point of view of people like Mr Abe and others in his government, it is something that makes Japan look very bad … they want to say this didn’t happen, or it didn’t happen the way people think it did – or if it did happen, everybody else did it as well,” she said.
A spokesman for the Japanese embassy said his government stood by past statements yet believed in more discussions from ”an academic stand point” on issues surrounding comfort women.
Mrs Ruff-O’Herne said the apology must stand. ”When such a terrible thing happens, you expect an apology. It was important for my healing process. It takes a lifetime to get over a thing like that.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.