As a 13-year-old in a North Korean prison camp, Shin Dong-hyuk overheard his mother and brother speaking. One word made him perk up — escape.
Knowing the rule, “Any witness to an attempted escape who fails to report it will be shot immediately,” Shin’s “camp-bred instincts took over,” as journalist Blaine Harden writes in “Escape From Camp 14.” Running out of the house and finding the school’s night guard, Shin did exactly what he had been raised to do — he ratted on his own mother and brother, explaining what he had overheard.
That night, he slept at the dormitory, not at home.
The next day, guards came and found Shin in the schoolyard. Handcuffed, blindfolded, pushed into a car and taken to an underground prison in Camp 14, he was confused why he, an informer, was being treated like this. Eventually, he realized that the night guard had taken all the credit for foiling his family’s escape plan — his mother and brother were both caught. Unable to trust the son of attempted runaways, guards held Shin in the underground prison for eight months, initially subjecting him to brutal torture and feeding him just enough tasteless food to survive his dark cell, which he shared with a kind old man.
Upon his release, he was handcuffed and blindfolded, then driven to a field near his childhood home — the same field where he had witnessed several annual executions for most of his life. A guard removed his handcuffs and blindfold and sat him down. Then, his mother and brother were dragged out and led to a gallows and wooden stake lodged in the ground.
Facing execution, his mother tried to catch his eyes, but he refused to look. As his mother hung, he felt at the time that she deserved death for endangering his life with the escape plan.
Tied to a wooden pole, his brother was next: Three guards each fired three shots, killing him instantly, which, Shin felt he also deserved.
[Excerpts from Jewish Journal article authored by Jared Sichel]