Apology ‘bridge of peace’ for sex slaves
Yoshimi (left) and Shigeki Chiba with Fr Paul Glynn
By Johanna Bennett
“This is a healing of wounds, a bridge of peace,” said Jan Ruff O’Herne, former sex slave, so-called ‘comfort woman’ to the Japanese military during World War II.
Jan, now 80, lives in Adelaide, but as a young woman she lived in Indonesia where she was captured by the Japanese and interned in a brothel for the pleasure of Japanese soldiers.
For the past three years she has attended a special Anzac Eve prayer service at St Mary’s Cathedral offering prayers and apologies to the many ‘comfort women’ who also suffered as she did.
This year Cardinal Peter Shirayanagi of Tokyo sent an apology, via Japanese documentary film director Shigeki Chiba, which Jan gracefully accepted on behalf of all comfort women.
Jan has been much honoured by the Australian and Dutch governments for her work on behalf of the comfort women.
She also received the RSL’s Anzac Peace Prize last year and was recently made a Dame Commander of the Order of St Sylvester by the Pope.
At the service, organised annually by Sydney’s Fr Paul Glynn, who has dedicated his life to bringing about reconciliation between Australia and Japan, Shigenobu Watanabe, a Buddhist priest, offered prayers for the ‘comfort women’.
Jan says the phrase, although commonly used, is a “hideous euphemism. We were sex slaves for the military”.
Despite years of pressure, though, the Japanese Government has never apologised.
This year’s service also included an apology from Christine Dudley, a lecturer in Macquarie University’s Japanese Studies department, for the racism of the old White Australia policy.
Two former soldiers who fought the Japanese, Br Colin Campbell and Fr Frank Callanan, preached reconciliation at the service, as did former MP and POW Tom Uren, who survived the building of the Burma railway that claimed the lives of many Australian POWs.
The service also featured choirs from Japan, China, Fiji and the Women’s Federation for World Peace.
Fr Claude Mostowick, chaplain to Pax Christi, the Catholic peace movement, told the congregation that the scientists who worked on the atomic bomb begged that it not be used on people.
Last but not least, a painting of a Japanese Madonna and Child, by Japanese artist, Kayo Yoshida, was presented to Jan, who said she would hang it in her home on behalf of all comfort women as a “symbol of my forgiveness”.