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For several years, the world’s reaction or inaction in respect of North Korea has rattled my brain.

Surely, North Korea is beyond the definition of a mere rogue state.

Since the Armistice Agreement (only, not a peace treaty) on 27 July 1953 between North and South, for decades, the North has been run by kleptocratic, murderous tyrants of the first order.

As if to explode the thought out of anyone’s mind that positive change was in the offing, Kim Jong-un, who assumed the leadership after the death of his father in December 2012, recently ordered Kim Chol, the vice-minister of the army, to be taken into custody earlier this year.  Why?

Allegations had been made that Kim Chol had been drinking and carousing during the official mourning period after papa Kim Jong-il’s death.

The new Boy Wonder Leader ordered his henchman to leave “no trace of Kim Chol behind, down to his hair”.  Result?

Kim Chol was forced to stand on a spot that had been zeroed in for a mortar round and was “obliterated.”

Nonetheless, the Russians and the Chinese have long since happily supported and kept that leadership in power.

Indeed, Moscow literally sub-lets part of their vast Siberian forests to North Korean concentration camps (or re-education-punishment camps) where North Korean prisoners become loggers, or until they die of either of malnourishment or literally freeing to death on the wintry Siberian ground.

Under Ayatollah Khomeini and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranians have ever-tighter connections with Pyongyang.  They share nuclear missile technology with North Korea and, in turn, are intent, with Hugo Chavez’s active help and support, in further developing ICBM bases on Venezuela’s northern coast over near the Columbia border.

All this proceeds while millions of South Koreans, as very lightly supported by a mere 28,000 American troops on the highly-fortified border with the North, try to get on with their business.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, pause to think of every 23-year old girl you know or have ever known.  Indeed, a good many of my Lady Readers may have likely passed that threshold.

(If this fails to play, my apologies. Please click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGR0BD2e1Ok)

That footage was shot in 2010.

“A 23-year old, poverty-stricken young woman who appeared in newspapers and on TV around the world when she was filmed by a cameraman inside North Korea died of starvation in October [2011], it has been revealed.

“The woman, who appeared in a KBS [Korean Broadcasting System] special program, North Korea’s Third Generation Succession: Who Is Kim Jong Eun? alongside global media including the BBC (UK) and Asahi TV (Japan) amply demonstrated the dire straits in which some North Korean people live.

“Reduced to rags following the death of both her parents, she said she wandered the fields looking for grasses.

“Speaking with the cameraman, who asked what she planned to do with the grass, the girl, who admitted that she also slept outside, said, “I’m going to eat it.”

“Speaking with The Daily NK today, Asia Press said:

“According to Kim Dong Cheol, who interviewed the girl in South Pyongan Province while he was doing some research inside North Korea in June, she died on or around October 20th.”

“It was discovered that, without a home, she had been wandering in the market and on the streets, before dying in a corn field,” the Asia Press spokesperson explained, “Since then was harvest time, she went there to eat corn but seems to have died of starvation.”

“Her body was apparently already decomposing by the time it was found, but the local People’s Safety Ministry agents were in no hurry to deal with it because she did not have any family, so it was left for a long time.

“According to Asia Press, “The chaotic situation caused by the currency redenomination in November last year has caused an increase in kotjebi  numbers across the country, and in some regions there have been people dying of starvation. She was also a victim of that impractical plan.”

Impractical plan?  Impractical?!  And this is written by a South Korean journalist (sic)?

Impractical (or, for those of us of a certain age) is even trying read the newspaper or the phonebook without one’s glasses or trying to dial one’s mobile while wearing even so much as driving gloves.

How about a few rather more punchy adjectives?  Try heinously murderous plan or grotesquely genocidal plan or for openersl?

Kotjebi  (or kotchebi) (꽃제비) is the Korean term for North Korean homeless children.

Literally, this means flowering (꽃) swallows (제비), so named because of the kotjebi’s constant search for food and shelter.

Not only do North Korean authorities not officially recognize these children; any mention of the term is prohibited in state publications and documents.

Starvation is not the least painful way to die by any means. Quite the contrary.

This 23-year old girl was months-dead, her corpse perhaps still lying out in a field, what little flesh she had being eaten by Heaven only knows what before the world heard in June 2011 that United Nations’ ninnies had rewarded North Korea.

Any idea? Give up?

Chairing the U.N. Conference on Disarmament.

Bizarre?  Yes, but true. One just can’t make this stuff up.

The Los Angeles Times’ Asia correspondent and current Beijing bureau chief, Barbara Demick, wrote a powerful book about North Korea titled Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, which I am pleased to say was awarded the BBC’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Nonfiction, Britain’s leading nonfiction prize.

The LA Times reviewer called this “a piercing account” that weaves together “life stories of half a dozen defectors that credibly suggest a human rights tragedy of enormous proportion is taking place relatively out of Western public view.”

As a teaser for her book, this may be one of those instances when a proverbial picture is worth 1,000 words.

In fact, Ms. Demick supplies a similar picture at the beginning of her very first chapter.  It is a NASA satellite image showing the Korean peninsula at night.

“South Korea, Japan, and now China fairly gleam with prosperity,” she writes. “Then in the middle of it all, an expanse of blackness nearly as large as England. It is baffling how a nation of 23 million people can appear as vacant as the oceans. North Korea is simply a blank.”

It was the chapters and references in Ms. Demick’s dealing with medicine and medical practice in North Korea that made me think of the stories I’ve heard all my life about the way my maternal grandfather practiced medicine in the USA from 1907 until his death in 1948.

From The Los Angeles Times review:  “A doctor named Kim Ji-eun, another of [the author’s] primary sources, dealt with famine victims firsthand and provided testimony eerily paralleling Mi-ran’s:

“As a 28-year-old pediatrician at a small district hospital, Kim noticed severe wasting (in which the body eats its own muscle tissue) among many of the children.

“They would look at me with accusing eyes. Even four-year-olds knew they were dying and that I wasn’t doing anything to help them,” Kim told [the author].

“All I was capable of doing was to cry with their mothers over the bodies afterward.” Her hospital became so strapped that it remained unheated, bandages were fashioned from cut-up bedding, and beer bottles substituted for IV pouches.” 

To my mind, the darkness of North Korea is not only something one sees from NASA satellite photos; rather, it is in the souls of the self-anointed thug-leaders of that nation.

I confess to being haunted by the look on the face of that 23 year old girl.  Think about that look.

The last time I recall seeing such, and indeed on a massive scale, were black and white photos of the poor Jews about to either be gassed or starved to death in Hitler’s death camps.

Such starvation prompts me to recall one saint who emerged out of those camps.  Raymund Kolbe was a Polish Roman Catholic priest who provided shelter to refugees, including 2,000 Jews whom he hid from Nazi persecution in his friary in Niepokalanów (or, City of the Immaculate Mother of God) in Teresin (near Warsaw).


[Father Kolbe]

On 17 February 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison. On 28 May, he was transferred to Auschwitz as prisoner #16670.

At the end of July 1941, three prisoners disappeared from the camp.

That prompted the deputy camp commander, SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch,

[Karl Fritzsch]

to select 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker in order to deter further escape attempts.

Fritzsch may have been forgotten by many, but not me.  In my view, he was amongst the Most Vile of the Vile of the Nazis.  Why?  Try this.

An ex-Auschwitz prisoner, Karol Świętorzecki, recalled that the first Christmas Eve behind the camp barbed wire, on 24 December 1940, was also one of the most tragic.

“The Nazis set up a Christmas tree, with electric lights, on the roll-call square. Beneath it, they placed the bodies of prisoners who had died while working or frozen to death at roll call.

Lagerführer (Camp Commandant) Karl Fritzsch referred to the corpses beneath the tree as “a present” for the living, and forbade the singing of Polish Christmas carols.”

According to several, it was also Fritzsch who first arrived at the idea of using Zyklon B gas for the purpose of mass murder.

When one of men Fritzsch selected to die, Mr. Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, “My wife! My children!“, Father Kolbe volunteered to take his place.

Every day in his cell, Father Kolbe celebrated Mass and sang hymns with the prisoners.  He led  condemned men in song and prayer and encouraged them by telling them they would soon be with Mary in Heaven.

He was a genuine yet ever-polite pain to the guards. Each time the guards checked on him, he either stood or knelt in the center of his cell.

After two weeks of dehydration and starvation of the inmates, only Fr. Kolbe had survived.

Fed up, the Nazis wanted the space cleared, so they injected carbolic acid into Fr. Kolbe’s arm.  Inmates and other troops who were present later testified that Fr. Kolbe saw what was coming, calmly raised his arm, and waited for the injection knowing full well both what it was and what the result would be.

On 15 August 1942, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Nazis burned his body.

Forty year later, on 10 October 1982, with Mr. Franciszek Gajowniczek in attendance,  His Holiness Pope John Paul II canonized Fr. Kolbe as a martyr to be known as Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe.

[Two Poles who well understand not only history but also each other: The Holy Father with Mr. Franciszek Gajowniczek]

The lessons of all this?

By comparison to the North Koreans’ treatment of this young girl and the rest of their people, the Nazis look almost humane.

Ponder the insanity of that!

Does this tragic figure not at least begin to define what the world’s policy towards North Korea should be?

Surely the souls of what assuredly must be thousands of Flowering Swallows deserve something better than the world has thus far allowed, or?

Somehow, as ever, the history-tossed Poles seem to offer the message we all need.

As Mr. Karol Świętorzecki mentioned, the Poles have some of the most moving Christmas carols.  One of my favorites has always been Amidst the Silence of the Night (Wsrod Nocnej Ciszy)

(If this fails to play, my apologies.  Please click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ofE0E7-Wu0 )

As for the tragic and more-than-deserving young girl, one of many of North Korea’s Flowering Swallows, may she have found her perpetual perch, so to speak. May she forever Rest in Peace and Love and enjoy the Silence of Eternal Heavenly Nights.


Hat-Tips to:

 The Daily NK (Seoul) published online only (in English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese)  Twitter: @TheDailyNK http://www.dailynk.com/english/read.php?cataId=nk00100&num=7128

Barbara Demick, Twitter: @BarbaraDemick, http://www.nothingtoenvy.com   Her book, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (ISBN-10: 0385523912, ISBN-13: 978-0385523912) is widely available.

On Amazon USA here: http://www.amazon.com/Nothing-Envy-Ordinary-Lives-North/dp/0385523912/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351194221&sr=8-1&keywords=Nothing+to+Envy%3A+Ordinary+Lives+in+North+Korea

Amazon UK here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothing-Envy-Ordinary-Lives-North/dp/0385523912/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1351194478&sr=8-1-fkmr1

North Korea: A Nation in the Dark http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2010/01/north-korea-a-nation-in-the-dark.html

Amidst the Silence of the Night was arranged by Mr. Bartosz Chajdeckiego and performed at St. Mary’s Basilica, Krakow [http://www.mariacki.com/ in Polish, only] [a mere 67.5km (42 miles) from Auschwitz], 24 December 2011.  Performers included the Camerata Silesia and AUKSO Chamber Orchestra. The lead female singer was the internationally-known Dorota Miśkiewicz, who also is a violinis, composer and songwriter.  Twitter: @DMiskiewicz  Her website in English and Polish is here: Miss Miskiewicz’s website

The carol’s words seem appropriate here:

Amid the silence of the solemn night,
Sound the glad summons,
“Lo the king of Light!
Rouse, O shepherds, haste with singing
Christ has come, salvation bringing,
Born at Bethlehem.”

Gladly the herdsmen sough the Holy Son,
Found in a manger
Christ the sinless one,
Worshipped him with exultation,
“God has brought us full salvation!
Him we shall adore!”

Lord, we have hailed thee, many thousand years.
Now through our darkness
Lo, thy star appears.
King and prophets long have named thee,
Priests and martyrs all proclaimed thee,
“Saviour of mankind.”