Featured above are remarks by President Obama about Polish resistance figure (and later Georgetown professor) Jan Karski, whom he awarded a posthumous Medal of Freedom today. Karski is considered a major hero of the anti-Nazi movement, who sought valiantly to alert the world to the atrocity of the Holocaust; he died in 2001. As you can hear in the above statement, President Obama made reference to “Polish death camps,” a phrasing that touched off a firestorm amongst Polish political figures, insisting Obama should have made it clear the camps were under the control of Nazi occupied Poland. The calls for apology came fast and fierce. Said Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski: “The White House will apologize for this outrageous error. [Prime Minister Donald] Tusk will make a statement in the morning. It’s a pity that this important ceremony was upstaged by ignorance and incompetence.”
And for the “unlucky” North Koreans: This is an interview with Dong Hyuk Shin, a 26-year-old North Korean who was born in—and escaped—one of the country’s concentration camps. In North Korea, if you’re accused of political dissent (which includes, for example, sitting on a picture of Kim Jong-Il), you and three generations of your family are thrown into a gulag. So if, like Shin, your mother is accused of opposing the regime, and she gets pregnant in the camp, you’ll be born there, and that’s where you’ll stay for your entire existence. Unless, like Shin, you manage to escape. This is a long video (Shin himself starts at about 21:00), but we guarantee your eyes will not be dry by the end. Oh, and here’s a New York Times article with more information on the DPRK’s prison camps, if you care to read more.
kohenari says: Just curious: in your Demjanjuk post, why did you say he's 91 over and over? What conclusion are your readers supposed to draw from the repetition?
» We say: We were trying to underline that, even though the sentence is so short, it’s effectively a death sentence for the man, who has had numerous health problems. He’s also in the awkward position of being a “free man” without a country to call his own during his appeal, and his advanced age only makes that issue worse for him (for example, he probably doesn’t have much in the way of family nearby). As a symbolic act, this case is important, but it’s not very practical because of his age. To put it simply, the act is so unspeakable that they’ve chosen to follow though with trying him, despite the fact that it’s impractical.
» The South says no dice: And for a very good reason, to boot. North Korea, for all the jokes westerners crack about its diminutive, insane leader, is no laughing matter for those who want out. Right now around 200,000 North Koreans are believed to be in concentration camps (testimony from a rare escapee here, it’s long and brutal but worth watching) worthy of the legacy of the term – medical experimentation, gas chambers, death by starvation, the whole lot. The threat of having one’s family sent to the camps (children born in the camps are forced to live their entire lives, however short, never knowing of the world outside) is the state’s major deterrent to defection. As such, dragging these four defectors in to confirm their defection to their families is essentially an elaborate, unspoken threat, along the lines of “come back, or they and their young will rot in prison for as long as they’re able to.” This is the sort of terrible dilemma that a nation is forced to make when up against a state under such villainous command.