Though it was quite dreary at around 7 in the morning, the sky cleared up at 10 when the memorial service began.
The former comfort woman Hwang Geumja died on January 28, aged 91. Around 1500 citizens attended her funeral ceremony which took place at the backyard of the Gangseo District Office, Seoul. An official said, “We have set up 300 chairs only. But more people came than we expected.”
Hwang led a lonely life. She used to say, “I hope that a lot of people would come to my funeral.” Just as Hwang hoped, many -- around 1000 a day — came to pay their respects to Hwang. “Thank goodness. It is great to see that a lot of people came to see her,” said Cho Myungim, Hwang’s care-giver.
In particular, the youth flowed in and out all day. “On SNS, I read that Hwang passed away. It took around 1.5 hours to get here. My friend and I came here right after school to pay respects to Hwang who is in all of our hearts,” said Choi Saeyeon(15, from Ansung, Gyeonggi-do). Kim Myungmin(pseudonym, 27) said, “Immediately after my friends and I read the news online, we decided to attend the ceremony. We respect her courage to unveil her own stories.”
Born in Hamgyeong-do in 1924, there was nothing ordinary about Hwang. She stayed single throughout her life and adopted a baby girl who died from an illness at the age of 10. Since then, she closed the door to her heart. Villagers used to call her a ‘freak’ or a ‘foul-mouthed grandma.’ She developed delusions and auditory hallucinations. “Due to her awful memories of the Japanese soldiers, she was seized with fear of men in uniform. That is why she cursed at male students in uniform,” said Kim Mikyung, an official at the Gangseo District Office.
Hwang gradually opened the door to her heart when she met Kim Jeonghwan, an official and a social worker at the Gangseo District Office, who impressed her. She adopted him as her foster son in 2002. He recalls, “Hwang used to offer me to take the money she saved. But I suggested she donates the money to society.” Since then, she made donations to the public.
In total, Hwang donated KRW 100million with KRW 40million in 2006 and KRW 30million each in 2008 and 2010. The money was used to award scholarships to 12 underprivileged students. In accordance with her will, additional KRW 5million from her savings and an apartment deposit will be contributed.
Hwang’s son stayed quiet, kept his hands folded, and closed his eyes throughout the ceremony. During a floral tribute, he stared at Hwang’s portrait and made the sign of the cross with his right hand.
“May her rest in peace and lead an eternal life free of acts of brutality,” said Shin Kinam, an opposition lawmaker. Kim Seongtae, a ruling party lawmaker, honored Hwang and said, “Despite all the difficulties she went through, may her lead a peaceful and happy life in eternity.”
The send-off ceremony was held in a form of the district funeral. In 2009, the Gangseo District Office revised ordinances on the district funeral. After the ceremony, Hwang was buried in Paju, Gyeonggi-do.
“I am relieved to see that many people are paying attention to the issue of comfort women and that many came to the ceremony to honor Hwang,” said Kimg Donghee, the secretary-general of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan.
Nam Yoon Insoon and Han Jeongae, opposition lawmakers, Park Sanggoo, the chairman of the Council of the Gangseo District, and Roh Hyunsong, the chief of the Gangseo District Office were among those who attended the ceremony.