German woman hopes to see long-lost North Korean husband after four decades

23rd August 2007, Comments 0 comments

23 August 2007, SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Renate Hong cradles a single, fragile lotus flower petal she has saved as the last token of love from her North Korean husband, whom she has not seen in more than four decades since they bid farewell at an East German train station.

23 August 2007

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Renate Hong cradles a single, fragile lotus flower petal she has saved as the last token of love from her North Korean husband, whom she has not seen in more than four decades since they bid farewell at an East German train station.

After 44 years of not knowing his fate and raising the couple's two sons alone, the 70-year-old Hong was given new hope to reunite with her husband earlier this year when she learned he was still alive in North Korea, now remarried with children.

To press her emotional case to see her first love again, Hong traveled this week to Seoul with appeals to leaders of both Koreas to raise the issue when they meet for the second-ever summit between the countries in early October.

"We never imagined that we would be separated to this day," she wrote of her husband in letters Thursday to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

Renate met Hong Ok Gun in 1955 when he was a chemistry student in her hometown of Jena in then-East Germany, one of many North Koreans sent abroad under a program that began in 1952. It was love at first sight when he caught her eye across a university lecture hall, a rare foreigner who could also speak fluent German.

Ok Gun wooed Renate with dance moves learned from the year before when he had arrived in the country.

They married in February 1960 and their first son was born that June. But while Renate was pregnant with their second son in April 1961, Ok Gun was ordered by his government to return home along with all other North Korean students.

The two corresponded after their separation and had initially planned to live together in North Korea. However, Ok Gun wrote after his return that life would be too tough for the young children in the North.

She sent a plea to the North Korean Embassy for her husband to be allowed back to East Germany, but officials responded that he was needed at home.

One of Ok Gun's notes contained the only present he was able to send: the lotus flower petal. Then in 1963, the letters stopped.

After years without word of her husband's fate, Renate was informed earlier this year by the German Red Cross and Foreign Ministry that 73-year-old Ok Gun was alive in the North Korean city of Hamhung with a new family.

"I always realized he would have a family in North Korea _ why should he live alone?" Renate told reporters Thursday. "But the news that he was married and had children was also a bit painful."

Still, she was grateful for any knowledge about her husband. Some 15-20 families in similar situations with departed North Korean fathers _ who have contacted Renate since her story recently attracted publicity in Germany _ are still looking for answers.

The soft-spoken Renate, who never remarried, refrained from criticizing the North Korean government for forcing the couple apart.

"I don't want to talk about politics, I just want my sons to know their father," she said.

On Wednesday, Hong visited South Korea's Red Cross Society, which has arranged reunions for thousands of Koreans whose families were split by the division of the peninsula.

The Red Cross said it would not be able to help her because she was not South Korean, although it suggested something could be arranged if there was agreement between the German and North Korean governments, which have diplomatic relations.

Renate said she is convinced that Ok Gun wants to see her and his sons if given the opportunity. But she acknowledged the couple's reunion will be bittersweet after the many years of dashed hopes of reuniting her family.

"We will speak only about the past, because we have no future anymore," she said.

AP

Subject: German news

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