Books: Escape From Camp 14


ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14, by Blaine Harden. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012. X 224 pp. hardcover. ISBN 978-0670023325. Reviewed by CanKor “Human Factor” editor Jack Kim.


For those who disbelieved, and continue to disbelieve, North Korean refugees when they first started trickling in, Shin Dong Hyuk’s story is the mother of them all. Born in a concentration camp, witness to unspeakable horrors, the protagonist of an amazing escape from a country that condemned him even before he was born. The story is, well, far too fantastic. It is unbelievable.

His story has been well documented in the media. After all, the book hit double digits on the amazon.com best seller list. According to Shin, he was born in Camp 14 to inmates of the camp, grew up there, watched his mother and brother executed, and serendipitously managed to escape not only the camp, but the DPRK itself. According to the author, Shin describes nonchalantly every day features of the camp that to those of us fortunate enough to live outside its fences, stir up Holocaust imagery: starvation, public executions, camp guards savagely beating inmates. He describes how snitching became a method of survival, to the point that he reverses previous accounts of his life in the book by admitting that this very snitching led to the execution of his mother and brother. Read the rest of this entry »

National Post: the Significance of North Korea’s Prisoner Amnesty

[DISCLAIMER: The following article by Ross Johnston, entitled “Torture, executions are daily occurrences at North Korea’s ‘rehabilitation’ gulags” and published in the National Post on 3 February 2012 contains a number of factual and interpretive errors when referring to an interview with the Editor-in-Chief of CanKor. For example, Erich Weingartner did not receive North Korean citizenship. He also specified that the link between prison camps and the low incidence of crimes witnessed by foreigners in the late 1990s is purely speculative, and emphasized that prisoner amnesties are common during a change of leaders not only in North but also in South Korea. In neither case would the release of prisoners include those who might pose a threat to the incoming leadership. –CanKor]

Shin Sook-ja was imprisoned in a North Korean labour camp along with her daughters, Oh Hyewon and Oh Gyuwon, after her husband managed to flee the country. She and the girls were then forced to pose for this fake family portrait, which was sent to her husband as evidence of their capture. (Amnesty International)

Shin Dong-hyuk was born in Kwanliso 14, a “rehabilitation” camp 72 kilometres north of Pyongyang, North Korea.

For 23 years he knew only pain, hunger and despair, and like all prisoners was forced to witness the daily executions.

Even so, life was not without its hard-won, if shocking pleasures.

“One lucky day, I discovered some kernels of corn in a small pile of cow dung,” he said in a report released by Amnesty International in May.

“I picked them up and cleaned them with my sleeve before eating.”

Mr. Shin was one of about 200,000 prisoners held in five known prison camps scattered across the country.

These modern gulags include Kwanliso (Korean for prison camp) 15 at Yodok, 128 kilometres east of Pyongyang. With 50,000 political prisoners, it is one of the most rapidly growing camps in North Korea covering five valleys and approximately 146 square kilometres. (Inside Pyongyang’s Gulags view PDF)

For decades, the Pyongyang government has repeatedly denied the existence of the camps — though they show up on satellite maps. But there is little doubt about their purpose: It is to reform enemies of the state through a regime of hard labour and relentless propaganda. Read the rest of this entry »

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