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New Research on N. Korea’s Interaction with European Secret Police During Korean War

Belgium veteran of the Korean War Franciscus Ceuppens salutes during the commemorating ceremony for the U.N. Forces Participating Day in the Korean War in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 27, 2018.
Belgium veteran of the Korean War Franciscus Ceuppens salutes during the commemorating ceremony for the U.N. Forces Participating Day in the Korean War in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 27, 2018.

A new research project examines the link between North Korea and various European Communist secret police agencies following the end of World War II, including documents recording the transport of Korean War orphans from the peninsula to Poland, as well as information on American and British prisoners of war (POWs).

The North Korean Archives is a joint project (publication and website) conducted by the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) in Seoul, and the Institute of National Remembrance - Commission of the Prosecution of Crimes Against the Polish Nation (IPN) in Poland.

The main goal of the project is to spark further analysis of the entities alleged to be committing human rights abuses in North Korea and to “provide contextual information on patterns of institutional criminality in North Korea.”

The authors of the report “hope that this project will have a spillover effect to spark interest more broadly, especially among academic institutions here in South Korea, where such studies, unfortunately, lack behind,” said co-author Joanna Hosaniak, Deputy Director General of the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.

She continued, “We hope that it will be helpful also to practice pursuing future accountability for North Korea, such as certain NGOs working on these issues and the UN (United Nations).”

Another goal of the project is to assist the victims of North Korea.

“Most importantly we also hope that this project will show the victims how to use [use the files in the future] and will be helpful to the victims of North Korean human rights violations,” said Hosaniak.

The project obtained documentation amassed by the IPN on North Korea from the 1950s through the 1990s.

This is the initial phase of the project, with NKHR and IPN planning to work with other European organizations that collect and archive secret police files in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Germany, and Bulgaria.

The authors say the research addresses current concerns, because the Ministry of State Security in North Korea (the current iteration of the secret police) plays a central role in committing alleged crimes against humanity, according to the 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry report on rights abuses.

IPN co-author Rafal Leśkiewicz said the research will allow investigators to learn lessons from the operations of the communist secret police and their involvement in human right violations.

Korean War Orphans

Researchers found about 100 files corresponding to young North Koreans taken to Poland in the 1950s.

Hosaniak said, “The files began in 1952 and covered a period to 1957… According to the data, the youngest were born in 1940 [and] the oldest in 1933. So at the time when the files were made, they were eight to 19 years old.”

Researchers say there may have been as many as 1700 North Korean War orphans sent to Poland, depending on various sources.

The practice of taking the children from the Korean peninsula to Poland was relatively unknown until Polish journalist and author Jolanta Krysowata uncovered a grave in Wroclaw with a Korean name.

Her work was featured in a 2006 film and book. In 2018, South Korean Chu Sang-mi released a companion documentary entitled “The Children Gone to Poland.”

“This finding has a unique value because until so far that have been (few) known details on these children,” says Hosaniak, who shares the files provided photos, names, and also their place of origin in North Korea.

“Interestingly, many files included a place of origin in South Korea,” she added.

However, it’s unclear who the youths were, how they were taken from North Korea to Poland, what was the purpose, and what the children did once they returned to the Korean peninsula.

“There is a great possibility that [the] children fitted into a much larger project or plan at the time, which was to mobilize the whole European communist countries into participating in the Korean War efforts not only by educating and preparing these youth, but also probably for military support in Korean War efforts,” asserts Hosaniak.

Prisoners of War

Researchers also found documents pertaining to American and British Korean War POWs.

“These files have documents of each soldier with an individual photo attached prepared by the North Korean and Chinese secret [police]. The original files are handwritten in Chinese and Korean by those security officers who interviewed the prisoners,” notes Hosaniak.

An IPN file lists all the names of the American and British POWs as being of Polish origin, who had parents who had emigrated from Poland.

According to information obtained by the researchers, a confidential Chinese report gave instructions on how to conduct psychological manipulation on the prisoners in order to recruit them for the military effort or for future collaboration with secret police services upon their release.

Current North Korean human rights discussions

Human rights discussions have been absent from talks between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their three 2018 summits, as well as Kim's summit in June with U.S. President Donald Trump.

North Korea's foreign ministry warned those measures could reverse the current diplomatic detente and North Korea's disarming could be blocked forever.

President Trump recently announced he will meet Kim for a second time in late February to continue denuclearization talks.

The agenda for the upcoming summit has not been announced, but rights activists have made repeated calls that the North’s human rights abuses be part of any discussions with Pyongyang.

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    Steve Miller

    Steve Miller is a veteran broadcast journalist with over a decade of experience. He is currently the Executive Producer of VOA's audio programs including its long-form podcasts and hourly 5-minute newscasts. Before joining VOA in 2016, Steve covered the Indo-Pacific region while living in South Korea, where he explored the region's rich history and culture while reporting on geopolitics, human rights, and tourism.