The Comparison between the Recent “Comfort Women” Deal and German Payments to Slave and Forced Laborers

Hannah Matangos

Hannah Matangos was a research intern at AICGS for the spring semester of 2016.

The Japanese-Korean deal concerning “comfort women,” formulated by Japanese prime minister Shinzō Abe and South Korean president Park Geun-hye on 28 December 2015, included a pledge from Japan to provide 1 billion yen to finance a South Korea-based foundation that will support the women and girls coerced into providing sexual services to the military in imperial Japan.

This deal has been compared to the German agreement to pay compensation to surviving victims of slave and forced labor under the Nazi regime; however, there are distinctions between the two agreements.  Abe and his supporters are increasingly vexed by the inability to move past the comfort women issue in Japanese-Korean relations and desire to end any further discussion of the topic, as well as remove the memorial statue honoring the comfort women from outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

In contrast, Germany, while seeking legal closure to claims by former slave and forced laborers, also has promoted further discussion of historical issues. The foundation “Erinnerung, Verantwortung, und Zukunft” (Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future) was set up with the agreement of all parliamentary parties in the Bundestag with a capital of DM 10 billion (50 percent from the German government and 50 percent from German industry). In addition to the overall organization of the compensation payments (disbursed by seven partner organizations, including the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany), the Foundation’s aim is to educate the public about this problematic part of German history as well as current international human rights crises. The payments were completed in 2007, but the Foundation continues to emphasize learning from history in its various programs.

Thus, while both agreements seek legal closure, the Japanese motive is fundamentally different.  Japan’s leaders’ desire to put the issue behind them entirely could once again lead to the marginalization of the comfort women, who already were surprised by the deal as they were not consulted during the countries’ negotiations.

This post was updated on February 18, 2016, to further clarify the distinction between the German and Japanese cases.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.