|Korean Comfort Women held by the Japanese Imperial Army|
The first scene of my new novel, Hold Back the Sun, takes place in Madam Kitty’s, a posh Gestapo brothel in Berlin. Nazi friends are giving a going-away party for the book’s chief villain, a Japanese Military Attaché. Madam Kitty’s was an actual establishment located at the address I give it in the novel. Its purpose was to ply foreign diplomats with liquor and sex, and then extract secret information from them during “pillow talk.” All the rooms were bugged to capture the conversations on recordings.
I did not mention it in my novel because it did not fit into the story, but almost all the prostitutes in Madam Kitty’s were in fact sex slaves, the wives and daughters of political prisoners. The Gestapo gave these women a stark choice: become espionage prostitutes or have their loved ones executed.
All three of the Axis armies of World War II were supported by systems of military brothels. Compelling evidence exists that at least the Germans and Japanese employed conscripted sex slaves. What little has been written about the Italian Army suggests that they primarily utilized professional Italian prostitutes.
During the peak years of the war, the German Army and the Gestapo operated some 500 military brothels. Researchers have reported that some 34,000 women conscripted from the conquered races or from concentration camps worked in these entertainment houses. Ironically, when they became, ”worn out,” many were placed in concentration camps for the crime of prostitution. Perhaps because of the utter devastation of Nazi Germany and the fact that Stalin’s Army committed what has been called, ”the greatest mass rape of women in history,” during the conquest of East Germany, the suffering of Germany’s sex slaves has gone largely unmentioned in history.
By far the largest employment of military sex slaves was by the Japanese Army. After discipline broke down during the “Rape of Nanking,” the Army staff decided that providing the soldiers with their own prostitutes was necessary for “good order and discipline.” Detailed planning for the conquest of Southeast Asia included provision of Ianfu (Comfort Women) units down to at least the battalion level. Hard pressed to fill these units with volunteers, the Army resorted to deception and mass kidnappings. During the course of the war, over 200,000 Asian women from territories under Japanese control were conscripted, the vast majority from Korea. But thousands of women from China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaya, and other subject nations shared their fate. In Java, some 300 Dutchwomen were also enslaved. At least sixty were kidnapped from internment camps and placed in “comfort stations.” What they endured can only be described as a months long gang rape. Unbelievably, the suffering of “front line” Ianfu was even worse. Many were forced to entertain up to 40 “clients” per day while living in primitive conditions and being fed barely enough food to keep them functioning.
Very few of the Japanese responsible for these crimes against humanity ever had to pay for their actions. Only those officers and noncoms responsible for the kidnappings and rapes in Java were tried by the Allies after the war. The officer held primarily responsible was hanged. Perhaps because of the racial attitudes of the time, the plight of the Asian women was largely ignored.
During the 1980s and 1990s, many of the former Ianfu came forward to tell their stories and demand compensation. In 1994, one of the Dutchwoman, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, wrote of her ordeal in her book, Fifty Years of Silence. After a long period of outright denial, one Japanese president finally offered something of an apology. A fund was set up for the Comfort Women, but payouts are minimal considering what these war victims endured.
I have long been troubled by the plight of the Japanese Army’s sex slaves. When I began writing HoldBack the Sun, I decided to illuminate these war crimes in my novel. I hope that I have done an adequate job.