NORTH KOREA: LAND DEVOID OF HUMANE LIFE
Young Soon KIM
NORTH KOREAN DEFECTOR
DATE OF ENTRANCE TO SOUTH KOREA: NOVEMBER 2003
I was born on Xita Street in Shenyang, China on May 26, 1937. Around the age of 4, we moved to Beijing and lived in the Wangfujing Dongdan Street district. At the time, my father worked as a construction worker for Ohkuragumi in Beijing and my mother as a cook in a cod soup restaurant. There were five of us in my family, including my parents, an elder brother and sister.
One day, my brother was drafted. I later learned that he had gone to Tai Xiang Shan, controlled by the Chinese 8th Route Army, and had become an operational staff at the Yanji headquarters (Commander: Zhou Bao Zhong) at the time of liberation. He also went to Pyongyang as part of the so-called “Kim Il-Sung’s triumphal return to the fatherland” and served as the battalion commander of Pyongyang’s railroad guard unit after 1945. Afterwards, following a tour in the Pyongyang Security Officers Training Center, he graduated as the 1st in his class at Pyongyang Academy (President: Kim Chaek), served as the chief of staff of the 1st Regiment (Regiment Commander: Choi Choon-Kook) under the direct control of the National Security Ministry, served as the chief of staff of the 3rd Seoul Infantry guard Division that first took over Seoul in 1950 during the Korean War, and while acting in the stead of the division commander after he was recalled to the Pohang front, was killed in action (August 12, 1950). It is said that he became chief of staff at the mere age of 25 and was most favored by Kang Kun. Although my brother was a partisan, his father was from Gimcheon, North Gyeongsang province and his mother from Andong, North Gyeongsang province, both from South Korea.
Now I would like to expose to the world how I was sent to the Yoduk political prison camp, which I shudder to think about. I would also like to talk about how I spent a long period of subhuman disgrace and pain that would turn animals’ faces red, and the 11 years of humiliation, 8 years of which were spent in the Yoduk political prison camp (from October 1970 to December 1978) and after being released, 3 years which I served as a gold-mining team leader in the Jangjin mine near Hamheung in South Hamkyung province.
As my brother was a supporter of the DPRK regime, it is no exaggeration to say that I lived without hardship and under modest care until the 1970s. In North Korea, there is a big gap between the upper and lower classes and places where ordinary people have no knowledge of. I worked at the commercial department of the foreign travelers’ store under the special agency of the ministry of commerce that tends to the need of high-ranking customers. Of course, that meant ambassadorial level officials who are sent abroad, anti-Japanese fighters’ families and the likes. We sold goods based on a charter approved by the government cabinet. It goes without saying that all who worked there had to have a good ideological background. Dealing with high-ranking customers, I naturally became acquainted with their private lives. That pushed me into a hopeless abyss, cast off by North Korean society and everything in the political, economic and cultural fields were taken away from me. I learned a long time later that I was put under systematic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) since June 1970.
On July 4, 1970, Lee Dong-Myung, my husband, who worked in the Korean encyclopedia publishing company, was at home due to illness and I went to work as usual. When I returned home, he was not there. 15 days later, I was called to the interrogation team of the agricultural committee and the NSA agents in charge of the encyclopedia asked me “Where did Dong-Myung go?” I said “He couldn’t go to work because he was sick, and as I was leaving for work he asked us to go china so I left telling him not to say such things. When I returned home, he was gone and he is still missing.” The next day I received a telegram saying, “Dong-Myung in Shineuiju.” (I assume it was sent by the NSA) Afterwards, I heard nothing about his whereabouts.
‘Business trip’ to Yoduk Camp
One day, even though I had a baby to take care of, I was sent on a business trip. It was to Shineuiju to a cosmetics factory that produced the North Korea’s finest specialties and a pulp factory that produced North Korea’s finest paper. I was given the task of improving the production organization there by the commercial department chief and left for Shineuiju with a business trip certificate around August 20. So that evening I went to West Pyongyang station to board a train bound for Chungjin and Shineuiju.
As I sat waiting for about 15 minutes, a colonel in a uniform approached me and while requesting to see my certificate, took me outside saying he wanted to know something from me. I was put in a Model 69 jeep and taken somewhere, but I could not see outside because it was too dark. After a while, the vehicle stopped and I was ordered to get off. I felt strange. I climbed up the stair and I realized it was about the third floor. The building looked like an apartment. When I reached the entrance of the room, I was told to enter the room. When I opened the door, there was a washstand and lavatory on the right and there were two rooms to the left and right. There were two people in the room to the left and I was led into the room to the right. In the room, there was a bed on the right side and a desk and two chairs on the left. The person who took me there said I had to live in this room and told me to give him the suitcase that I brought for my business trip (party membership card as well), made me change my clothes into what turned out to be hospital clothes. And then, he told me to sleep. At the time, I could not say a word, dazed, my breasts swollen because I left my baby at home. I stayed up all night. It was the longest night of my life. It is difficult to explain the silent torture of that night.
They were keeping a watch on me from the adjacent room all night. But the long night ended and morning came. I washed my face and my guard left breakfast prepared by a cook on the table. I could not eat. I was not even hungry. But it just so happened that I began having my period, the first one since my childbirth. When I told them, they gave me a piece of gauze. They put me through this ordeal for three days in complete silence and fear.
In between the three days, a colonel from the NSA came to me and told me to just write. I asked him what I should write and he told me this.
“Write in detail, leaving nothing out, what I did after waking up in the morning, who I met and worked with and what I spoke of.” I was not to leave out even the slightest detail about what I heard and said. He left the room leaving a sheet of paper and an ink pen.
I had never experienced anything like this and I was so dismayed that I did not write anything for about three days and then did not eat anything for three days. After about 10 days, I passed out. When I regained consciousness, it was in the middle of the night. I vaguely remember an army surgeon from NSA hospital giving me morphine. Afterward, I realized that I could die and began eating in order to live. I had rice, meat soup, plaice and fries so the food was decent quality-wise. So I began living like that and was interrogated at the NSA cottage for two full months.
After two months, five cadres rushed into my room one day. They said “Comrade Young-Ja was raised gently like a bamboo shoot. But as a member of the Korean Labor Party, you should be able to take responsibility for anything you said that may end up in South Korea?” They also asked me, “Can you accept the measures taken by the Party from now?” They visited me twice and I answered as follows: “If I had caused such grave consequences, I ought to take responsibility. And since the Party raised me, I have to accept the measures taken by the Party.” To this, they threatened me by saying, “From now on, you must not meet with any Party cadres.” And then, I was taken home by a Model 69 jeep. After my arrival, the door was sealed and no one was allowed in.
Life in the hell of Yoduk Political Prison Camp #15
All valuable belongings were confiscated along with books and my family of seven (70-year-old father, 73-year-old mother, a son who had just celebrated his first birthday, a son and a daughter in the first and third grades of elementary school) and whatever belongings left were taken to the Pyongyang station by truck. There were already 6 cadres waiting for us there. They comforted me and told me to work hard, after which we boarded the train with a colonel from NSA. On the train, the seven of us sat in the same row and the NSA agents sat on the end to keep a watch on our family. When we reached Keumya district, we walked to an inn in front of the Keumya station, had a brief lunch there and waited until the evening. It was early October and it was very cold. At night, a truck came and our guide passed on our papers to someone and left with the comforting words that if we work hard, we could return to our home. Now that I think of it, the NSA agent was a bastard, but I cried in such sorrow as I parted with him. Our family was put on a truck and we drove on an unpaved road all night. I learned later that it was the NSA prison camp #15 in Yoduk, South Hamkyung province to which we were heading. It was a hell as I imagined from my worst nightmare. At the front gate, there was no building in the early days and there were two guards in a fenced area with search lights on both sides. After passing through the front gate, we drove down a bad road for quite a while, and then they yelled at us to get off since we had reached our destination. So our family got off. It was such a dark night that we would not have known it even if we had slapped each other’s cheeks. We were led into a rundown hut in front of a small house and the warden, a colonel by the name of Park Chun-Seo, said to us, “Since you have been brought to this restricted area because you unconsciously made reactionary comments against the Party and government that violate the monolithic system, you should work hard. If you work hard you will cleanse your mistakes and leave or otherwise, you will live here forever.” He bluntly told us to eat in three shifts and we were led to a dining hall at the back of the management committee office by a man. Upon hearing the order to go to the dining hall, my 5-year-old boy asked me, “Mommy, are we going to Okryukwan (a first rate restaurant in DPRK)?” to this I held back my tears and said, “Yes, we are.” We had flavorless, salty soup and corn rice, and then walked in the middle of the night for 4 kilometers down the mountain road stumbling along the way. Without any bedclothes, we practically stayed up all night in a detention facility and, in the morning, the squad chief led us into an upper room in a hut. It was ridiculously small for a family of seven to live in. The kitchen was made out of weaved corn canes, the kitchen range was made of black cast iron and dirt. I was so aghast that I could not say a word. But in order to live, I went up the mountain to gather firewood for the first time in my life. The work team was composed of about 40 households. As I looked down from the mountain, I cried. What did I do to deserve being sent to these remote backwoods? Given the fact that I am the only person in the family of seven and everything had to be self-sufficient, how are we to live? All these thoughts left me dumbfounded. A few raw corns were given for a few days’ meals and we were put to work. I borrowed a net to grind the corn and because my first firewood was useless lacquer trees I threw them out and barely got some other wood to start a fire with. Since it was the autumn harvesting season, I went out to work with a sickle. It was my first time ever harvesting, and the inmates who came before me expressed disdain at my working skills or the lack of it. This is how I entered the prison camp #15’s gate of death, and in 8 years, I would be burying my parents and my youngest son who could not survive the harsh labor conditions and malnutrition at the camp.
People imprisoned in Political Prison Camp #15
Let me go over how political prison camp #15 was created. In July 1969, Kim Il-Sung sent out a taped lecture entitled “Time for Cadres to Revolutionize as They Have Slacked” to all Labor Party cadres. Based on this, the camp was created in late 1969 and the first inmates were the Park Yeon-Min and Joo Huh-Sook couple and his mother and daughter (who worked at the external service department in Pyongyang). Work teams 1 to 4 were placed in Kooeup village and work teams 5 to 10 were placed in Ipsuk village. People with a belly lost it in 15 days. There are single prisoners who have been brought in for doing something individually and family-based inmates who have been brought in along with their family members that did something.
In the early days, there really were a lot of Party cadres. Even in later times, even ambassadors were brought to the camp. Division commanders, generals and colonels, bureaucrats, Kim’s bodyguards, students who had studied abroad (military: Frunze Academy), the ophthalmologist Chung Sung-Hee, actors who defected from South Korea such as Shin Bul-Chul and Kim Hong-Shik, and Choi Seung-Hee’s pupils were all imprisoned there and very few of them left the camp alive. I can clearly see the end awaiting those who used these people to speak the voice of the Party, and then drove them to death with charges that did not even show what they did wrong.
The charges against the inmates at prison camp # 15 were the crime of saying that “Kim Il-Sung has a lump on his neck”; breaking the bust of Kim Jung-Il; using a newspaper with Kim Il-Sung’s face as wallpaper; watching foreign videos or sharing them with their neighbors; listening to South Korean broadcast, or; as I did, making a slip of the tongue (in my case, about Sung Hye-Rim). People were imprisoned for eight years, 10 years or until death for things that are not considered a crime in a free, democratic society. Is there another country in the world like this?
That is not all. The mentally ill, the crazy people can say anything. There is a prison camp to the right of the entrance of the Yoduk prison camp to imprison these crazy people. They were brought there for making comments on Kim Il-Sung even though they are mentally ill. They were kept in solitary confinement to die, and three classes of law were set and they were forced to work accordingly. If the world knew about it, everyone would be shocked.
In Yoduk, there is the Yongpyong area which is blocked off from Kueup village by mountains. There are families of land owners, South Korean security forces, religionists, and defectors to the South there. The first generation has been completely disposed and it is old women and second generation families who are imprisoned there. Geographically, they are from Pyongwon and Uhpa, and Samchun, Baechun, Shingye, Koksan, Yeonan, Ongjing (Kaepoong-koon), Haeju, Jaeryung, Eunryul, Taechun, Koosung of Hwanghae province. Since early 1975, it has been designated as a complete control area from which no one can ever be released.
It is a truly frightening land where innocent people of the liberated land are taken to the place of no return, and where all men born are taken to a detention center again to be killed.
According to recent news reports, the North Korean authorities moved the Yoduk camp to the Dukchun camp, perhaps because they realized that the former had been exposed to the world by satellite photos.
Furthermore, three million North Koreans starved to death between 1993 and 1997. The problem is not the starvation itself but why people have to starve. If someone thinks that all problems will be solved by providing food to North Korean people, I cannot accept that.
North Korean people are no different from any other human beings in this world. They became the world’s poorest and most backward people because of the different system or the unparalleled human rights violations in the world perpetrated by the two Kims who forced them into poverty and ignorance by blocking every outlet of information, making it impossible for them to see nor speak nor smell, binding their hands and feet. That is not surprising since the two Kims are no idiots. Studying the history of the world’s development, there is nothing more fearful than free democracy that has been developed and that is why the old-style Chosun monarchial dictatorship is necessary to keep the people as perpetual slaves.
Where else in the world does one family rule as presidents-for-life and not a single demonstration can be held for fear on the dictatorship’s part. It makes me shudder.
I believe the North Korean regime must go in order for the North Korean people to live a humane life. The foremost human rights violation is the muzzling of the people’s eyes, noses, ears, mouths, and hands and feet in order to deify the two Kims. If this problem can be solved, North Korean people will be living a comfortable life even without any help from the outside world. I am an ordinary grandmother, but since I have lived 60 years experiencing a rough and tumultuous life in North Korea, I can attest to this with confidence.
I implore all those in favor of free democracy in the world, all peace-loving people on earth, and the Korean people to unite and make an effort for those who have passed and those still imprisoned. Let us save North Korea where there is no faith, hope nor love. If a novel idea is conceived and built upon, it can be achieved and I believe in that. Thank you.