Usually when you compare a government or an event to the Nazis or the Holocaust, it's in the context of "losing" an internet argument, an overreaction.
This is not the case in the situation of North Korea and their deplorable concentration camps, that even South Korea can not be bothered to care about. As covered in this heartbreaking Washington Post story, People are being born, and dying, without ever seeing freedom. They are being forced to do back-breaking labor, and even to watch their fellow prisoners' executions. But no one cares.
Kossacks, please. Please read this, and care. This is the story of Shin Dong-hyuk, the only person ever to escape from these camps, and like the tale of Anne Frank, his story NEEDS to be heard.
As an American living in Japan, North Korea has always made me wary and suspicious. I could care less about communism, but any country that kidnaps other countries' citizens and lobs nuclear weapons over our heads is another story altogether. I, like I'm sure anyone reading this, do not need convincing that Kim Jong-Il is a horrid dictator.
But it turns out that this is just the tip of a blood-soaked iceberg.
Shin Dong-hyuk is a 26-year-old North Korean who was born in a concentration camp near Pyongyang. Even the story behind his birth is a tragic one:
[Shin's book, "Escape to the Outside World"] begins with the story of his birth in Camp No. 14 to parents whose union was arranged by prison guards. As a reward for excellent work as a mechanic, his father was given the woman who became Shin's mother. Shin lived with her until he was 12, when he was taken away to work with other children.
It is unknown why his mother was in Camp No. 14, but as for his father:
Two of his father's brothers had collaborated with South Korea during the Korean War and then fled to the South, the guards told him. His father was guilty because he was the brother of traitors. Shin was guilty because he was his father's son.
Nephew of a traitor. Apparently in North Korea, that's enough reason to imprison and torture a child. Tortured, as Shin was when his mother attempted escape. He was then forced to watch her and his brother die in the public square of the camp. At age 14, all he felt was anger at his mother as she was hanged, for causing him to be tortured by fire, a metal hook stuck in his gut to keep him from wriggling away from the flame. It is a chilling thought, but when you grow up having never heard the word "love," it is not surprising.
Here in South Korea, Shin sometimes goes to church on Sundays. "I go to the church, but I don't really understand the words or the concepts," he said.
Shin escaped - the only known person to ever succeed such an endeavor - in 2005 at age 24, by using the dead body of his friend as an insulator to cross the electric fence separating the camp from the outside world. He escaped into China by bribing guards with cigarettes, and made his way to South Korea.
Now, you might think, like I did, that the South Koreans would be outraged at these horrors and demand justice.
....not so much.
When South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was elected last year, only 3 percent of voters named North Korea as a primary concern. They were overwhelmingly interested in economic growth and higher salaries.
I know that everyone has their own problems. Many of us are worried about making the rent, feeding our families, helping fix problems here at home. I know people are watching the genocide in Darfur closely and working to stop it. But it is disturbingly quiet when it comes to North Korea. Shin's camp had 40,000 inmates. That's the size of the university I attended. Imagining all 40,000 of us starving, broken, beaten blows my mind. And that's just ONE of the camps. There are an estimated 150,000-200,000 North Koreans locked up in these hellholes. Please, spread this story around so it gets the attention it deserves.
Here are some extra documents about this:
A 1-hour video featuring the head of Liberty In North Korea (LINK) and Shin
2004 Guardian article on Camp 22
Report from the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea