A representative from the German World Day of Prayer Committee presented 66,510 German signatures to the Prime Minister’s Office on June 11 urging the government to pay individual reparations to former “comfort women.”

The group also demanded the government acknowledge that the Imperial Japanese Army’s involvement in forcing the women into sexual slavery was in violation of international law and issue a new official apology. The signatures are the result of the World Day of Prayer, an organization and event that began 110 years ago to grant women a greater role in the Christian church, said Maren Trosien, who presented the signatures and spoke to some 40 people about the group’s request.

The World Day of Prayer is currently active in 170 countries. Each year, one country is selected to write a prayer that is then translated and read during services around the world on the first Friday in March.

This year South Korea wrote the prayer, which made people in Germany aware of issues that concern South Korea and taught them of the suffering of comfort women. “The people of Germany were so moved they decided to present a petition to the Japanese government and gathered 66,510 signatures in only three months,” said Trosien.

Trosien said she believes that it is much harder for Japan to address the issue than it was for Germany to face up to its Nazi past because so much time has passed. In Germany, the testimony of people who were persecuted and the numbers involved made it difficult, if not impossible, for the government to deny that crimes had occurred, said Trosien. A system to compensate victims, including Jews and forced laborers, was established as early as 1951.

In addition, the German military was not involved in organized prostitution during World War II and the rape of women was not only not tolerated, but would result in the perpetrator being shot, said Trosien. She also explained that German children have since learned about the actions of the military during the war and stressed that it is imperative that Japan address the comfort women issue through its own educational system.

“I don’t think Prime Minister (Ryutaro) Hashimoto will change his mind when I present these signatures to him,” Trosien said, “but (the Japanese government) needs to know that it can’t hide and that there is international pressure.” Historians estimate that up to 200,000 Korean, Japanese, Chinese and other women served as comfort women — a euphemism for prostitutes — at frontline brothels for Japanese soldiers in Asia between the 1930s and 1945.

In 1993, the Japanese government released the results of a survey that said “many” of the women, especially those from the Korean Peninsula, had been recruited by force or deception, with the military playing a role. The government issued an apology to those women. The Japanese government has refused to compensate individual former comfort women, citing World War II reparation treaties that settled all war-related claims.

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