I have read a number of articles, books, and reports and even watched movies about the Nazi concentration camps that existed during World War II and the more I understood the atrocities committed in those camps, the more I shuddered. I cannot probably take it in and accept that there is a part in the world where people are being tormented just the same and in the present.
When I stumbled across the book- ‘Escape from Camp 14’, I thought it must be something about the conditions people lived in decades ago. I haven’t read the book yet but now I know why this story moved every person who read it. I feel glad that this book was ever written because it brought in view the North Korean prison camps which have been veiled and buried under irrational and unrealistic interpretations. What I wish to say here is that- Suffering still exists and in the worst of its forms.
The North-Korean prisons are a house to millions of men, women and children and have been known to be ill-famed for their atrocious, tear-jerking and life-threatening methods of torture. Only 3 of the prison inmates have managed to escape till date and one of them is Shin-Dong Hyuk who escaped from Camp 14 and made people aware of the life in these camps. Fox News interviewed Shin who revealed that the camps had one imperative rule-‘No one could escape.’ If anyone tried to flee, he/she was shot dead openly. Also, if somebody had the slightest idea of an inmate’s attempt to escape, he was supposed to report it to the prison authorities in time lest he was publicly executed as well. Shin was born and brought up in camp 14. He was fourteen years old when his mother and brother were shot as a result of the information Shin gave to the prison guards regarding their plan of escape. Then, he thought they deserved this treatment because they had attempted to break the rules. Alas, he was also punished by hanging him by his arms and setting him over an open fire. He worked in a sewing factory as a child when he mistakenly dropped off one of the machines. Consequently, his middle finger was cut off. The camp gave Shin physical, mental, psychological and emotional scars which can never be erased.
The prisoners in these concentration camps comprise people who might have criticized the government or those who were deemed politically unreliable. The most astonishing fact is that these camps aim at affecting literally three generations because a person is never arrested alone; his wife, children and even the elderly family members are arrested with him and are imprisoned. The inmates of these camps are detained till death and are never released. Initially, there were 12 political prison camps, out of which a few were closed or merged to result in a total of five camps which currently exist and house about 2,00,000 prisoners. The convicts work for fifteen-hour days and 7-day weeks and live in filthy unhealthy conditions. They are not provided with soaps, toilet papers, basic amenities, furniture or bathing facilities. They are required to produce faecal material in adequate quantities because it is used as the only source of crop fertilization. They are devoid of decent food and are not given vegetables or meat. If someone is caught stealing foodstuff, he/she is also publicly executed.
In his account of the camp, Shin talks about the time when he was 6 and a teacher found a few corn kernels in a classmate’s pocket, who was then beaten to death in front of the class. In a report on camp 22, the various methods of torture were published. One of them is the Water Torture in which a person has to stand on his toes with water filled up to his nose for 24 hours. The Hanging Torture involves stripping the prisoner and hanging him upside down from the ceiling after which he is brutally beaten. The inmates of this camp are routinely used for scientists’ deadly experiments with chemical agents. No matter how hard I try, I cannot ever draw to a close the number and ways of torment committed on these people. An estimated 40% of the prison population dies from malnutrition and upto 400,000 people have died in the camps since 1960s. There is no judicial system or the right to appeal and this has been going on for more than 40 years. To control the prison population, ‘starvation’ is used and guards are trained to treat the prisoners as subhuman.
Shin escaped to South Korea when he was 22 with the help of an educated man he befriended in the camp who told him stories about the outside world, which had never been a part of Shin’s existence. He says that he was ready to risk death to taste at least a few moments of freedom. After getting his life back together, he briefly lived in California and worked as the senior ambassador of an NGO for Liberty in North Korea. He is currently an activist fighting for people who are suffering like he did. Initially, it was very difficult for him to absorb in the outer world and to understand emotions, thoughts, beauty, relationships, dreams, happiness and faith.
A report published in October 2012 asserted the closure of camp 22. Also, an exceptionally wide-ranging report is compiled by the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea which is fighting for the dismantlement of these camps. There are several NGOs and committees which have devoted themselves to the task of saving the prisoners’ lives but everything is happening at a very slow pace. Nobody knows if these prison camps would ever be taken down entirely. What we all know is that this is against humankind and no one can substantiate the continuation of such an anarchy and vindictiveness.
This leaves me wondering, are we repeating what happened with the Jews decades ago? How can the present world be swathed with the same pessimism, disgust, prejudice, wretchedness and spite? It unnerved me before; it stirs me even now. Am I doing the right thing by living an independent and relaxed life when millions like me are suffering? And yes, I am still wondering.
References: Wikipedia, The Economist, Fox News, American Thinker, Global Post, The Morning News, The Guardian etc.