Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

Escape from Camp 14: One Man's Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

Blaine Harden

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0143122916

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The heartwrenching New York Times bestseller about the only known person born inside a North Korean prison camp to have escaped

North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.

In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.

The late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was recognized throughout the world, but his country remains sealed as his third son and chosen heir, Kim Jong Eun, consolidates power. Few foreigners are allowed in, and few North Koreans are able to leave. North Korea is hungry, bankrupt, and armed with nuclear weapons. It is also a human rights catastrophe. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people work as slaves in its political prison camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photographs, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist.

Harden’s harrowing narrative exposes this hidden dystopia, focusing on an extraordinary young man who came of age inside the highest security prison in the highest security state. Escape from Camp 14 offers an unequalled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations. It is a tale of endurance and courage, survival and hope.

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So it was inconsistent to allow another generation to be born.” Guards could win admission to college if they caught an inmate trying to escape—an incentive system that ambitious guards seized upon. They would enable prisoners to make an escape attempt, An said, and shoot them before they reached the fences that surround the camps. Most often though, An said, prisoners were beaten, sometimes to death, simply because guards were bored or in a sour mood. Although prison guards and their

foolishly signed contracts in which they agreed to be bound by North Korean law. After the settlement, North Korea’s lawyers said it was “staggeringly unfair” to suggest that the country engaged in insurance fraud. But publicity generated by the case alerted the world’s reinsurance industry to avoid North Korea, and fraud wound down. When Kim Kwang Jin helped send the twenty-million-dollar bags of cash from Singapore to Pyongyang, he said that Kim Jong Il was delighted. “We received a letter of

curious about what his mother and brother were up to. His mother was cooking rice. For Shin, this was a slap in the face. He had been served a watery corn soup, the same tasteless gruel he had eaten every day of his life. Now his brother was getting rice. It is difficult to overstate the importance of rice in North Korean culture. It signifies wealth, evokes the closeness of family, and sanctifies a proper meal. Labor camp prisoners almost never eat rice and its absence is a daily reminder of

graduation meant that, at age sixteen, he had become an adult worker. He was ready to be assigned to a permanent job inside the camp. About sixty percent of Shin’s class was assigned to the coal mines, where accidental death from cave-ins, explosions, and gas poisonings was common. Many miners developed black lung disease after ten to fifteen years of working underground. Most miners died in their forties, if not before. As Shin understood it, an assignment in the mines was a death sentence.

from hunger in front of an SS officer, the other would prop him up. “Survival … could only be a social achievement, not an individual accident,” wrote Eugene Weinstock, a Belgian resistance fighter and Hungarian-born Jew who was sent to Buchenwald in 1943.2 The death of one member of a pair often doomed the other. Women who knew Anne Frank in the Bergen-Belsen camp said that neither hunger nor typhus killed the young girl who would become the most famous diarist of the Nazi era. Rather, they

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