“All that is necessary for the forces of evil to win in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke
Amid the depressing exhibits in the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., there is one hopeful section called “Rescuers.”
After you pass by the wall covered with the front pages of major U.S. newspapers detailing the impending doom of millions of Jews five years before the Nazis actually began the Final Solution, after you pass by the booths with t.v. displays showing the passivity of the American government, you come upon a wall with the names of hundreds of rescuers who risked their own lives and the lives of their families to save hundreds of thousands of helpless and hopeless people.
For example, you can read the remarkable story of the Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg who saved 100,000 Jews from certain death at Auschwitz.
But rescuers were rare. Out of millions of possible rescuers during the Holocaust, only around 18,000 “righteous Gentiles” have been identified. Human nature has not changed with time.
What got me involved in the N. Korean human rights cause was a moving eulogy of a rescuer written by Suzanne Scholte published in the Washington Post. I had known for years that things were bad in N. Korea, especially due to the famine. But something happened to me when I read Ms. Scholte’s article that transformed my sympathy for N. Koreans to compassion for them. That is, for the first time I had felt responsible, and two rescuers – Kim Young Dal and Suzanne Scholte who eulogized Mr. Kim’s “full measure of devotion” to the cause of human rights in N. Korea – inspired this sense of duty.
Though I would not presume to include myself among these happy few, I would like to devote the rest of this editorial recognizing just some of the rescuers of N. Koreans I have become acquainted with.
There is Dr. Norbert Vollertsen who more than any person I know has brought attention to the human rights abuses in N. Korea on a global scale. Besides actually working as an emergency doctor in N. Korea for one year, including donating twice his own skin for grafting onto a burn victim, the German doctor has done interviews with nearly every major news media in the world as well as testified before the U.S. senate and S. Korean assembly. He makes up for what has been too lacking in the NK human rights movement, that is, boldness in trying anything to get the public’s attention to the plight of N. Koreans. For example, soon after he was ejected from N. Korea for speaking out on its abuses, he went to the DMZ to try and bring across medical supplies to the North before he was subsequently detained.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch” describes one typical day during the author’s ten year struggle to survive in Stalin’s gulags. The book published in 1962 was a testimony on behalf of the tens of millions of Russians who had silently and secretly suffered in dire misery. To give context, several thousands of prisoners in these gulags actually welcomed Nazi “liberation” and considered life in German concentration camps as a great improvement in living conditions. Solzhenitsyn’s book was justly credited with helping to reform the general public’s attitude toward Stalin which eventually led up to Kruschev’s denunciation of his predecessor’s atrocities. Soon Ok Lee’s “Eyes of the Tailless Animals” is N. Korea’s “Ivan Denisovitch” account. It is the best memoir to date of what “life” in a N. Korean gulag is like. Since published in 1999, Ms. Lee has effectively elevated the level of conscience of people, going beyond the well known famine-related suffering of N. Koreans to the lesser known psychological and emotional torment endured by so many N. Korean citizens.
Three annual conferences on human rights in N. Korea have been held in Seoul hosted by NKHR under the leadership of Rev. Benjamin Yoon. These international gatherings have brought together experts in their fields like Pierre Rigoulot, contributing author of the Black Book of Communism and Carl Gershman, director of the NED, to collaborate on how best to promote human rights in the North. NKHR has also hosted volunteer programs and summer camps to help N. Korean defectors adjust to life in S. Korea.
Kim Sang-chul of CRNK spearheaded a writing campaign that gathered 12 million signatures in S. Korea (i.e., one-fourth its population) to petition the U.N. to protect the rights of the estimated 200,000 N. Korean refugees being exploited in China. This feat was done under Kim Dae Jung’s sunshine policy that has made every effort to downplay the human rights abuses in N. Korea, as well as during the IMF economic crisis when unemployment woes weighed more heavily on the average citizen’s minds than the plight of their Northern neighbors.
Tim Peters and his Ton-a-month club has raised over 50 tons of food for NK famine relief. Mr. Peters has now concentrated his efforts on providing basic needs to the thousands of NK refugees hiding in China.
There are organizations like RENK and Exodus 21 which have helped smuggle out several dozens of N. Koreans through an underground railroad. These Oskar Schinders risk life and limb leading scared and impoverished would-be defectors through a web of Chinese police and N. Korean spies to freedom and hope in countries like Mongolia and S. Korea. They stand out in contrast with the plethora of deplorable groups, including some self-proclaimed missionaries, that exploit and blackmail these defenseless people for sex and money.
There is Cornerstone Ministries, the 15 year veteran and vanguard of feeding, clothing, and housing thousands of N. Korean refugees when no one else in the world cared to take notice of their plight. These missionaries have sacrificed much blood, sweat, and tears and all without much public recognition. Whether they are sending Bible page-covered balloons over the N. Korean border or smuggling in tracts through converts, they do so amidst 100,000 N. Korean agents in China with orders to kill missionaries on site. Cornerstone is the C.I.A. of the Church, infiltrating and undermining the totalitarian regime of Kim Jong Il with the power of the gospel.
Of course this brief list of rescuers was not meant to be exhaustive or comprehensive. I myself am new to the NK human rights movement, so if you have other recommended rescuers that you would like to suggest or write about, please email me. For more details on the groups mentioned, please visit their web sites or read their in-depth interviews made available on this site