Testimonial of Sue Elfenbein

Sue Elfenbein
Adjudicator, NJ Dept. of Labor; also lawyer
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant

Thank you,  Don Tow and ALPHA, for your time, generosity, and willingness to include me in this study tour. This trip has been one of the most valuable gifts I’ve ever received and I am so grateful.

On this journey, I learned so much about the history of World War II in Asia that I never knew I never knew!

For as long as I can recall, I have been perplexed by the question of how the genocidal ideas of a few become enabled and carried out by many. How can so many people be swept up in a current where they will embrace carrying out the darkest deeds possible? The question is never more salient to me than when I listen to survivor stories. I hear their suffering, grief and pain,  and I know that we must learn and do all we can to try to help victims and to prevent history from repeating itself.

One memorable experience of this trip that I have been reflecting on since my return was our visit to the Memorial Hall in Nanjing, opened in 1985, almost 50 years after the Nanking Massacre. Here was a collection of at least 100 survivor stories. We were told here that 1/2 of the 8 million visitors last year are under 30 years old and a goal is to make sure that young people do not forget this history of invasion, resistance, massacre, and those who stayed to help.

Yi-Ying Ai, 89 years old, personally recounted for us her memories of wartime in Nanking and what she undertook to survive. At age 9, she learned that her father was killed when she saw his corpse at the massacre sight. The corpses all around terrified her and she dreamed of her father’s corpse outside every night. “Do not be terrified of the corpses. You should only be terrified of live persons,” her mother advised. This powerful, heart-rending statement, from a mother to her child, brought me to tears. Yi-Ying, even now, has nightmares of villages with scattered corpses.

This trip took me by the hand to the places where state-sanctioned sex slavery and other atrocities happened. I saw and heard the tireless work so many have done, from wartime through the present time, to document the WWII Asian history; to educate; to seek truth-telling, apologies and justice for victims; and to achieve reconciliations. I am still pinching myself to believe that this “travelearn” opportunity really happened and, might I add, that I got to walk the Great Wall, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *