Today, the United Nations released a report on Human Rights violation in North Korea (the killing machines of humanity I say) recommending strong action against one of the living laboratories of the Holocaust. The report says ‘the world must act’, yet it has been a long, dead spell of geopolitical games allowing people to be butchered, by the idiots like Kim Jong-un or his predecessors.

I am sharing here, today, my book review of ‘Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West’ that I had written last may after reading the book, a book (a rare, authenticated, firsthand account – there have been very few cases of prison-camp survivors of North Korea) that reflects on what the report says, on what is happening in North Korea.

It’s straight. No colours. Single-point concentration and just one message!

And it hits sharply.

Family, father, mother, brother, sister, friends – all these words were just faceless, nameless heaps of flesh, devoid of any philosophical meaning of the term ‘soul’, competing for that ‘always’ meager amount of the foodstuff given twice a day (and that, too, irregularly). The survival of every nameless was mortgaged to the pervert decadence of the savage indoctrination.

He knew no emotions. Getting somehow the daily dose of that meal, which we, in the ‘civilized’ world can never think of even touching, was the only motive to live the next day. The best survival instinct was betrayal – betray everyone, no trust – get your share of the rotten meal anyhow – midst abuses, whippings, isolations, rapes, sodomy, and killings.

All for no reason – or something that your ancestors or relatives had done!

He was not alone. There were tens of thousands of them – the book puts it 150,000 to 200,000 prisoners – in the labour camps of North Korea.

Blaine Harden’s ‘Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West’ is a strongly worded, emotive book, running high on the zero-emotion quotient of the central character, written in a provocative language, detailing out the life history and escape from the labour camp 14 of Shin Dong Hyuk who was born and brought up there.

escape-from-camp-14-fc2Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

The biographical memoir makes you squirm; breaks you into thoughts; kills you by the absence of the thoughtlessness; pins you on the inaction of ‘thinking civilizations’ across the world.

Unlike the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, North Korean camps have survived for over five decades now. Content of the book is indicative of thousands of murders in these camps every year and yet the prisoner count remains the same. It directly tells us the reign of state terror in North Korea has fed on killing millions of its famished population.

But like the Nazi camps, the ‘Selection’ process of the Nazi mentality is very well alive in the North Korean labour camps. In these camps, only two categories exist – prisoners and guards. Most of the prisoners don’t know why they are here. Guards treat them as animals – killing them, for reasons like stealing some grains of corn to getting pregnant after being raped by the guards.

Rooms for inmates are worse than prison cellars. Schools extend just one focused training – indoctrination of limited feelings, extreme fear and utmost devotion to the jokers Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il (and now the next crook on the block – Kim Jong Un); schools where teachers kill small girls and boys by beating with blackboard pointer to release their anger.

The only skill imparted is learning to work in the labour intensive prison factories. The etiquettes manual tell never to look into the eyes of the guards and teachers and never question them.

‘Snitching’ is a word that dominates this narration; defines the underlying theme of this book. Every camp inmate is indoctrinated to snitch on others, even the family members that led Shin pass the information of escape plan of his mother and brother to the guards resulting in their public execution. He hated them. He hated his father.

And Shin was not alone. Almost of the camp inmates who had never seen the outside world were the same creatures as Shin was – animals with pervert survival instincts.

The way they had been raised, nothing could change their destiny until they found a way out of the hell – an impossible prospect.

And that is why ‘Escape from Camp 14’ is an extraordinary tale of escape of an animal Shin from the invisible North Korean concentration camps on the journey to become the human Shin.

He feels guilty for his act now that led to the execution of his mother and brother. He regrets that he didn’t say any word to his father on the eve of his escape in 2005. He now knows the feeling behind emotive words like ‘family’. One way to begin life afresh is probably changing your name, that is what Shin In Geun, the North Korean refugee thinks. So he is now Shin Dong Hyuk.

Yet he is still a broken persona living layered lives. It will take a long time for him to lead a totally normal life, if he can, in leaving behind the 23 years of his life in the land of the ‘Great and Dear’ leaders.

The multiple layers of secrecy and an insensitive international community have allowed the North Korean government to continue with the camps. These camps exist nowhere in official records of any country. There has been significant amount of work done by activists and journalists like David Hawk and Blaine Harden but why the international community is not acting is frustrating when tens of thousands are being killed every year.

The book is not about Shin; it is about life in the North Korean gulags; it is about the absolute cruel run of the North Korean regime; and it is about demeaning everything that is human.

Horror of the North Korean regime flows effectively, from one page to the other, from one chapter to the next – keeping you hooked to book, thinking, is there a limit to all this!

Try it to feel it.

May 16, 2012

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –


It is humanity that is always killed. Killing of human lives and mutilation of human existence is the crudest manifestation of it and has continued since the dawn of the civilization.

Hunting, gathering and shifting of nomads, war between early human settlements, imperialist wars, religious wars, rebellions, civilization clashes, world wars, racial wars, Holocaust, cold wars, internal and state-sponsored terrorism – it is always the humanity that is killed; it is always the human lives that are sacrificed.

It has continued to this age of the ‘global village hypothesis and has got embedded in the developments-on-work to realize the ‘hypothesis’. And the way the 20th Century has been and the 21st Century has begun, the human killing is going to continue unabated.

Nations have replaced the empires and politicians have donned the roles of the kings. And ‘many kings’ and ‘changing kings’ only exacerbate an existing perennial problem – the human greed.

The line between the need to survive and the need to please the greed has always been very thin and with increasing avenues to corner more of the limited resources in increasingly layered societies (or to say territorialized civilizations), it is fast losing its distinctiveness.

The modern-day structure of the existing civilizations has come into the shape after the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, the subsequent Industrial Revolution and the resultant European greed (and not quest) to rule over the world.

The world or the ‘global village’ (more in economic terms than for the concerns of the human parity), of the day has had its genesis in that human greed.

This greed had given the world two world wars in the last century killing tens of millions. This greed had given the humanity Holocaust, an unimaginable manifestation of dark nature of the human civilization. This greed had given the world a prolonged cold war that killed millions in the covert war between the two superpowers eager to widen their influence territories in the world. They promoted open and covert wars; war between the nations; wars in the nations.

In the last century, when the colonial empires and the belligerent nation states like Germany, Italy and Japan were bowing out, newer imperialist powers were taking shape. And therefore, the end of the colonial imperialism didn’t change much. Instead, the world became a battleground for the ‘formations’ of the greed of these newer nations (read democratically and autocratically run empires) or the ‘global superpowers’.

It left a legacy of distraught borders between many nations. It left a legacy of puppet leaders in many nations controlled by the superpowers. It left a legacy of regular covert wars to increase the territorial influence by stuffing (yes stuffing) more and more nations in the respective camps (of superpowers). It left a legacy that gave rise to global terrorism and a breed that generates terrorists across the globe now.

It left a legacy of irresolvable controversies (more of human greed) between the nations and in the nations.

By the time, the cold war collapsed in the last decades of the last Century, these irresolvable controversies had become monstrous in their contours. And the rise of a multi-polar world with no real ‘supercop like superpower’ only worsened the situation.

The nation states used as dummies by the super powers had become a sorry state of affairs. They had either installed democracy or the autocracy of monarchy or military. Many continue to remain so. But many, after the end of the cold war, could not assess where to go. They have lurched between failed democracies to oppressive autocracies. They continue to remain so. And the resultant chaos perfectly suits the greed of the ruling class, be it democratically elected or autocratically installed.

They needed a diversion and it came in the form of ‘nationalist rhetoric’. And the legacy of the distraught borders served pretty well to interests of the greedy class. The ruling classes in these countries indoctrinated the imaginations of the populations stuffing them with fear of the enemy in the next country beyond the border. They branded the whole countries as evils and force-fed this imagery. And they have successfully, with varying degree of failure, done so, establishing their rule. In such countries, the ruling faces change but the indoctrination remains the same.  And today, such courtiers are the biggest sponsors of terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism, the war killing tens of thousands every year.

Alternatively, in case of civil war in nations, the similar developments happened on ethnic and religious lines. Here too, the leaders of one community exploited the fear and hatred sentiments of the masses to engage them in fighting for their own borders. Such ethnical and racial cleansing is still killing tens of thousands every year in many parts of the world.

The killing machinery having its origin in human greed has continued unabated in every such nation escalating the spectacle of an outbreak of man-made human calamity in future.

The condition is especially carcinogenic in autocratically run countries with controversial borders or countries with disturbed internal atmosphere like China, North Korea, many other African, Asian and South American nations like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Congo, Somalia, Syria, and Sudan to name a few (yes, there are many!).

I have written in context of the state-sponsored killing of Sarabjit Singh in a jail of Pakistan: Sarabjit Singh was an Indian national who strayed in Pakistan from his village on India-Pakistan border. Victim of mistaken identity, he was prosecuted for spying and was sentenced to death though he was never given fair hearings.

He spent over two decades in Pakistani jail. With increasing international pressure and a good response by India in releasing Pakistani prisoners languishing in Indian jails, the rulers of Pakistan were facing tough questions on not releasing Sarabjit.

The Military and ISI (Intelligence) combination that runs Pakistan saw it as a threat as the civilian government could have released Sarabjit and it would have been a serious step in improving people-to-people contact between the two nations and could have served to lessen the hostile imagery. That would be ominous for the Pakistan Military that has ruled the country most of the time since its origin after the Indian Independence in 1947 feeding on the evil-imagery of India in Pakistan. A poor country with insufficient resources and chronic corruption, the rulers in Pakistan need some diversion and a ‘hostile India in the perception of the common Pakistani’ has served well to their scheming.

But, as the Sarabjit issue had become a matter of national politics in both the countries with some Pakistani groups advocating for a fair trial to Sarabjit and his release, they could not have him eliminated by hanging or shooting out.

So, the cowards as they have been, sponsoring state-run terrorism and back-stabbings, they got Sarabjit killed in a plot where some inmates of the Pakistani jail, where Sarabjit was lodged, brutally assaulted him that ultimately took his life today.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –


Writing about ‘Escape from Camp 14’ reminded me about Elie Wiesel’s ‘Night’, the memoir, that details out THE DEGENERATION OF LIFE in the Nazi concentration camps. A classic that I visit to, again and again.

While ‘Escape from Camp 14’ is about the journey of a man, born and forced to live an animal life, finding the human in him; ‘Night’ is about how a man, born to lead a human life, is forced to a life worse than of animals.


Book cover of ‘Night’ by Elie Wiesel, sourced from the Internet 

At over 120 odd pages (the Penguin India edition that I have), the ‘slim’ ‘Night’ numbs you by the simple words of confusion about life, faith, death and relations as told by a young Elie Wiesel reflecting the tormenting days of his life in different concentration camps including Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

‘Night’ begins normally with observations of a teenager about a quiet Jewish countryside in a remote town Sighet, under Hungary’s occupation then. It tells how a typical Jewish family lives there, how a boy dutifully tries to be religiously observant, how the community there feels insular to the outside world’s activities and concerns, currently under a world war, believing that it cannot reach them.

‘Night’ exposes the inherent human weakness – clinging to the very last of the failing hope that the god would come and exercise some miracle – we see it in Elie’s father when he believes that something could still be worked out when almost of the Jewish community is already sent to Auschwitz; we see it later on as the memoir progresses when Jews in the concentration camps think every now and then about the world war coming to an end praying the god; we see it in the escapist thoughts when the Jews of Sighet initially take German soldiers as good Samaritans even if their every freedom is curtailed the very day German soldiers arrive in the town; we see it on every such occasion when the characters of this memoir think that they are not going to be gassed and sent to then crematorium whenever they get a comparatively lesser fiendish a guard.

‘Night’ is representative of the dark side of man that can poison and kill millions. Millions of Jews were gassed, burned and exterminated in furnaces and ‘Night’ tells that sordid tale through the eyes of the teenager Elie who struggles with his conscience first, about his trust in god that he finds incoherent with the acts beginning the day they board the cattle train to Auschwitz, and grows on to degenerate into the cattle mentality of surviving anyhow even if it means sacrificing your father and shapes into the ultimate distrust in anything like god – what else can be expected when someone becomes mute spectator to the Nazi killing machine of Hitler’s Germany – the ‘Selection’ of humans as animals gassing and burning them in thousands daily. Elie survived the months in the concentration camps while living near to those crematoriums.

‘Night’ is just not a Holocaust literature; it is also a sensitive book on a father-son relation. ‘Night’ tells us the internal struggle of human conscience when Elie writes about that ‘night’ that changes all. The night they board the train makes their human comrades inhuman at they very go – the way his community people beat the old woman crying consistently after her family is taken away. No sympathy – just the savagery of the jungle to survive – that ‘night’ began it. Elie watches himself change. Though he remains very much a father’s son, father being his only symbolic emotive quotient and support throughout the captive life, he thinks at occasions of his father as burden, only to blame himself the next moment. There come moments when he watches his old, frail father being brutally beaten by the guards but tries to avoid the eye contact.

And the teenager Elie was just one life out of the millions in the concentration camps, who thought like this; who inherited this internal war for the years to come; who got unending ‘night’ hours imprinted in their conscious to haunt them.

©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey –