In 1977, I helped Rabbi Marvin Hier found the Simon Wiesenthal Center. For 30 years, I had the honor of knowing and working with the famed Nazi-hunter, Simon Wiesenthal z”l, who helped bring 1,100+ Nazi War Criminals to justice. But carrying the name of Simon Wiesenthal also meant that we have had the responsibility to speak out on crimes against humanity wherever it rears its ugly head—from Cambodia to the gassing of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein to Rwanda and Darfur.
So when I began to hear rumors that North Korea was using poison gas to kill selected political prisoners, I felt compelled to travel to Seoul, South Korea, to personally debrief three North Korean defectors who had admitted involvement in such activities.
The oldest of the three was more interested in touting his skills in forging nearly undetectable $100 U.S. bills. When I pressed him on the human guinea pigs killed in gas chambers, he showed zero remorse, and stated matter-of-factly “…those (political) prisoners were as good as dead anyway.”
The second North Korean defector was a man possessed by images of dying parents,unsuccessfully trying to breathe air into their small child dying at the feet of the choking parents in a glass-encased chamber. He and his colleagues in white coats took copious notes as to how long the poison took to suffocate the doomed family– each detail duly noted and forwarded for further analysis to those in charge of the production and upgrade of North Korean poison gasses (some of which constituted Assad’s arsenal which originally threatened Israel but was ultimately deployed against his own civilian population).
The youngest defector haltingly described his team’s involvement in experiments carried out on live specimens—animal and human…
Where did these victims come from and why should we care?
For decades, North Korea has been the most controlled society and its regime among the most repressive. Taking a page from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, Pyongyang maintains a Gulag — a series of punitive forced labor camps, where as many as 200,000 ‘enemies of the state’ languish, accused of criminal activity or merely of having the wrong neighbor or parent. Inmates have virtually no rights, no knowledge of the outside world, and little hope of getting out. Nuclear families are difficult to maintain and some of the few escapees describe a system where the jailers choose which inmates can cohabitate and when or if they can have children who then also live in captivity.
As a rogue regime, Pyongyang has always given top priority to developing WMDs (weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical and biological), often directly cooperating with Israel’s implacable enemies— Syria and Iran. Indeed, in 2007, Israel destroyed a nuclear facility being built with NorthKorean help in Syria. Iran and North Korea are reportedly working together on extending long-range missile capabilities.
North Korean youthful leader, Kim Jong Un has a problem. Seems he’s been taking a lot of heat for recently having Jang Song Thaek, his uncle and mentor, arrested, publicly humiliated in front of the country’s ruling elite, called out as a traitor, put on trial and executed – all with the lightening speed of an NBA All-Star fast-break. There are reports that many members of his uncle’s family have been disappeared into the gulag. Suddenly, Kim’s carefully nurtured image of a youthful, vibrant, basketball-loving, Swiss-educated 21st leader is taking a beating.
Imagery, photo-ops, and other staged media events are critically important in North Korea and often auger changes, large and small to come.
It is interesting to note the many photos of Kim Jong-Un in the company of children that have appeared in the tightly controlled State media since he took became the leader. They are eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s carefully nurtured public image in the 1930s.