The Exodus to North Korea Museum

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Voices from the Repatriation

“I bade farewell for good to the corrupt capitalist society where I was always filled with uneasiness and despair… On December 20, 1959, we, the first group of Korean nationals returned from Japan, some 1000 all told, were welcomed in Pyongyang by 150,000 people. The whole city was ringing with cheers of the welcoming crowds.” (Article by a “returnee” in North Korean multilingual propaganda magazine Korea, 1960)

“We could dimly see the shoreline in the distance. Little boats went to and fro between us and the shore. Then we sailed in towards the docks. There were people standing there to greet us – crowds of people. When I saw the port and those people, I thought ‘oh no!’ I think everyone felt that when they saw the scene in front of us – ‘oh no!’” (A “returnee” recalling his arrival in North Korea, 1962)

“Frankly speaking, it is for the interest of the Japanese government to get rid of these troublesome Koreans. The Japanese government is spending about 2.4 billion yen to support their livelihood. No country is obliged to keep a foreigner at the expense of the national treasury.” (Japanese Red Cross Society, The Repatriation Problem of Certain Koreans Residing in Japan, Tokyo, 1956)

“We could provide them work in residential and industrial construction in Pyongyang and the provinces, where there is a shortage of labourers, and in industry and above all in coal mining, as well as in our rural economy.” (North Korean Leader Kim Il-Sung’s private explanation of his decision to invite Koreans from Japan to “return” to North Korea, 1958).

It is painful to witness the disillusionment of the returnees. It is accompanied by rage and words of insult towards the Red Cross and towards the ‘humanitarianism’ of which it always speaks, and which does nothing but send them down the slope to a miserable country and a miserable situation.” (Michel Testuz, representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Japan, reporting a conversation with a North Korean defector, 1966)

“The Department [of State] had received a telegram from Seoul setting forth a request of the Korean Government that we ask the [Japanese] Prime Minister to stop further repatriation to North Korea. The US, however, intends to maintain its past position on the repatriation issue. The Secretary stressed that the US continues to support the principle of voluntary repatriation to any part of Korea.” (US Secretary of State Christian Herter, 1960)