Shin Dong-hyuk’s escape from North Korean gulag

As Shin Dong-hyuk crawled over his friend’s lifeless body, the 23-year-old North Korean could feel the electric current shooting through him. Luckily, for Shin, the two pairs of pants he was wearing, coupled with his friend’s corpse, shielded him for the most part from the deadly voltage pulsing through the barbed-wire fences.

Those fences had trapped him since his birth inside Camp 14, a North Korean prison on the Taedong River in the hills about 50 miles northeast of the capital city of Pyongyang. But on this frigid afternoon, Jan. 2, 2005, something happened at the camp that had never happened before — someone escaped.

Shin’s friend, Park Yong Chul, had made it to the fence first, pushing his upper body through the lowest two strands of electrified wire. The current, though, was so powerful that it glued Park to the fence, killing him within seconds.

As journalist Blaine Harden writes in “Escape From Camp 14,” the gripping account of Shin’s life in the forced labor camp, “The weight of his [Park’s] body pulled down the bottom strand of wire, pinning it against the snowy ground and creating a small gap in the fence.”

Shin crawled through that gap, but not before exposing both of his legs to the wire, incinerating his skin. In terrible pain, he ran down the mountain away from Camp 14, becoming the first known person to have been born in and lived his whole life in a North Korean prison camp, and then to escape.

By evening, after traveling a few miles, he had found a few ears of dried corn, some cotton shoes and a worn military uniform that would allow him to ditch his prisoner’s garb and avoid unwanted attention. Shin had no money but was trying to make his way 370 miles north, to the Chinese border, to freedom.

He was wary of running into police, but he was also thin and starving.

He blended perfectly into North Korea.

[Excerpt of Jewish Journal article, authored by Jared Sichel]

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  1. Pingback: After Shin Dong-hyuk’s escape from the North Korean gulag | North Korea Refugees

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