by Jack Minor –
While Americans face many struggles this year with the economy and unemployment being major issues, it is often easy to forget that even in the midst of these struggles things could be much worse.
Kim Hye Sook, could possibly be the longest serving prisoner to escape from a North Korean prison camp. In her first American interview, with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Sook said things were so bad that mothers would eat their own children.
Sook escaped from the camp in 2003; however the details are being kept secret for security reasons. This summer, Kim released a book describing the events she faced in the camp. The book, “A Concentration Camp Retold in Tears” includes images that she drew from memories of the atrocities she saw. She currently lives in South Korea. The book is not available in the U.S.
Sook was sent to the camp at 13 and finally escaped when she was 41 years old. “My entire family went to prison. Some were taken to the mountains; others were put in different labor camps all because of my grandfather’s one mistake: he escaped to South Korea during the Korean War.”
Sook along with members of her family were sent to Re-Education Center no. 18, also known as “Bukchang.” While there she saw seven members of her family including her grandmother, mother and husband killed. Two of her sisters and brothers are still in the camp.
Bukchang is estimated to contain over 50,000 prisoners and is one of six political prisoner camps operated by the North Korean government. Human rights groups estimate the total population of the camps at over 200,000.
While many Americans will enjoy a bountiful meal consisting of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and other delicacies, those in the North Korean camps are not so fortunate.
Sook said that a family of seven was often only given ten pounds of corn a month to eat. Describing an event reminiscent of the siege of Jerusalem under Sennacherib in the Old Testament, Kim said mothers would kill their own children for food.
“One time a mother put her 9-year-old daughter in this big cast iron pot and boiled her,” she said. “She was a too big for the pot so the mother had to chop her legs and head to fit the body in the pot.”
Sook said, “”On another occasion, a lady killed her 16-year-old son, chopped him into pieces and took him to a butcher shop to get some corn in exchange.”
While these stories are horrific and may offend some who hear it, it does help put things in perspective as we sit down for our Thanksgiving meal this year.
The U.S. State Department notes that the country is under rigid control by the Communist Party. It reports that “due to its isolationist nature, North Korea’s human rights record is difficult to evaluate.”
The state department goes on to say that “Reported human rights abuses include arbitrary and lengthy imprisonment, torture and degrading treatment, poor prison conditions (including cases of starvation), forced labor, public executions, prohibitions or severe restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, movement, assembly, religion, and privacy, denial of the right of citizens to change their government, and suppression of workers’ rights. All sources of media, such as radio, television, and news organizations, are controlled by the government and heavily censored. Correspondence is strictly monitored and Internet use is limited to the political elite.”
Additionally, North Korea has one of the largest standing armies in the world with an estimated active duty force of up to 1.2 million personnel, compared to around 680,000 for South Korea. The country also has one of the world’s largest special operations forces, designed for insertion behind enemy lines.
Following the Japanese surrender in 1945, Korea was divided into two occupation zones. America occupied the area south of the 38th parallel, while the Soviet Union administered the area north of the 38th parallel.