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History Rewind: 1946 Hamhung student protest (Part II)
4/19/2003

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Lt. Kang's recollection continues: "There was a good reason for Bang Hak Se's aggressive stand. Bang failed to forestall the terrorist attack on Kim Il Sung (March 1, 1946) and received tongue lashing from Kim Il Sung. Bang, Moon Duk Il (Section 12 head, purged in 1951) and Kim Pah (Section 2 head, purged in 1950) were told to arrest the terrorists by March 30 or they would be punished. Consequently, Bang was in no mood to be kind to the students."

"The marchers linked their arms and hit the streets at about 13:00. The Korean security officers followed the marchers and took pictures of the ring leaders. At about 15:00, the marchers and the security officers came face to face in front of the provincial office. Unexpectedly, a mounted security man openly threatened students with a pistol and this stupid act touched off the pent-up anger of the marchers. "

"The students picked rocks and sticks and began to attack the office. They smashed windows and office furniture in a fury. Lee Pil Gyu called Col. Skuba and asked for immediate assistance. In about five minutes, 100 or so Red Army troops arrived in trucks and on motorcycles and opened fire over the head of the students, whereupon the students fled in all directions for their life. Fortunately, no one was hurt."

Lt. Kang says: "During that night, Lee's men arrested about 50 students using the photos they took of the ring leaders. They were helped by school teachers. The arrested students were interrogated day and night at Hamhung Prison. Some of the students said they were opposed to Kim Il Sung's land reform that would take land from families that owned it for generations. Even the Japanese refrained from taking family-owned land property. "

"It was clear that the students were not terrorists and so they were released with the exception of five key leaders. Lee feared that holding them might lead to more students marches. These five students were mostly from landed families and some had fathers who had fled to South Korea." Those students who were let go were rearrested for attempting to organize another protest march. They were sent a Gulag in Siberia - there was no trial.

Lt. Kang says that he met the students exiled to Siberia eleven years later in Pyongyang. "I worked loyally for Kim Il Sung and had become general political commissar and Section #1 head of the ministry of interior. It was Spring of 1957 when 70 or so of the students exiled to Siberia were repatriated to Pyongyang. Among them were those from Hamhung. They worked at Siberian lumber yards and accumulated some Russian rubles paid by the Soviets for their labor. Since they were not allowed to take rubles with them to Korea, they bought musical instruments, watches, cameras and other commodities scarce in Pyongyang at the time. Interior ministry officials bought these from the students with Korean money."

The repatriated students were locked up in the basement of the interior ministry. Lt. Kang says: "It was about two hours after the students had arrived when Kang Yang Wook, Kim Il Sung's maternal uncle and vice chairman of the Korean People's Party (jo-min-dang), phoned me - 'Sir, what are you going to do with the students from Siberia?'. Kang was one of the confidants of Kim Il Sung and wielded enormous power but he was always deferential to me on account of the fact that he was one of my students when I was a party cadre instructor."

"The Party sent us a directive: 'Lock up all returnees and scrutinize their political inclinations. Depending on the outcome, release them or send them to mining or farm labor camps'. Kang, apparently not being aware of this Party directive, asked me to release his cousin. I told Kang that I would have to follow the Party directive but if he would vouch for the young man, I would consider releasing him. In about 30 min, a 25-ish woman in a one-piece dress showed up and said: 'I am Reverend Kang Sang Wook's cousin and a teacher in Pyongyang. The young returnee in question is my brother.'

"She gave me a statement vouching for the young man and I let her have her brother. In about a month, most of the returnees were released. However, five of them were still unrepentant and had to be sent to mining and farm labor camps. I learned later that two of the released escaped to South Korea."

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