[Reportage] Pain of surviving family members of Jeju Uprising victims still deep after 70 years

Posted on : 2018-04-04 18:33 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Elderly can never forget the tragic scenes that happened when they were children
President Moon Jae-in looks at a memorial marker to the victims of the Jeju Uprising at the Apr. 3 Peace Park during the 70th anniversary memorial event. The park honors those victims whose bodies were never found.
President Moon Jae-in looks at a memorial marker to the victims of the Jeju Uprising at the Apr. 3 Peace Park during the 70th anniversary memorial event. The park honors those victims whose bodies were never found.

Over the past 70 years, the 10-year-old girl has become an 80-year-old woman, but she has never stopped missing her father, mother and older brothers. Though the cherry blossoms in downtown Jeju City had already started to fall on Apr. 3, the cherry blossoms on the road to Jeju Apr. 3 Peace Park, in Bonggae neighborhood, were at their peak. The sound of weeping and mourning could be heard here and there among the headstones in the park for victims of the Apr. 3 Uprising and Massacre who were never found. Circling above the headstones were crows that had apparently made the park their home. There are 3,896 headstones for the missing, which include not only the 2,015 individuals who were on Jeju Island but also those who were in prisons in other parts of the country, and the site strongly resembles a huge cemetery.

While the memorial service for the Apr. 3 Uprising and Massacre had never been held in weather as clear as this, the pain of the surviving family members was evident throughout the park. Hyeon Yang-ja, an 82-year-old woman living in the Nohyeong neighborhood of Jeju City, wailed as she sat in front of the stone marker for her older brother Hyeon Sang-hun, who disappeared from a prison in Daejeon at the age of 20. “Poor brother of mine. All your older brothers are dead, too. If I didn’t come, no one would look after you,” Hyeon said in the Jeju dialect.

Kim Yeong-ja weeps while holding a portrait of her father who was killed in the Jeju Uprising. Kim was looking for his headstone at the Apr. 3 Peace Park
Kim Yeong-ja weeps while holding a portrait of her father who was killed in the Jeju Uprising. Kim was looking for his headstone at the Apr. 3 Peace Park

Hyeon is from Daranggut in Nohyeong Village, which was one of the villages that were hardest hit during the violence. Six people in the family of her eldest sister and five people in the family of another older sister were killed in those events.

“I cried with frustration,” Hyeon explained. “I visited this time, but I won’t be able to come next time. I’m sick, and it’s hard to walk, so this year will probably be the last time.”

The cries of Kim Ok-ja, a 77-year-old woman from Eodo Village, Aewol Township, Jeju City, also lasted a long time. During the Jeju Uprising, Kim’s grandfather, her grandmother, her great-uncle, her father and her father’s four brothers all lost their lives, and she raised eight glasses of liquor for them.

“They hid in a cave on the slopes of Mt. Halla with my father, and after they were arrested they spent a month in a distillery that was being used as a concentration camp. My father was the last one out, and he was sent to Seodaemun Prison. I visit the Apr. 3 Peace Park during public holidays, too,” Kim said.

“Every April I am just in so much pain. I was so sick of this country. But I’m so grateful for President Moon Jae-in to come here and comfort the bereaved families like this,” she said.

Kang Mi-ok, 77, and Kang Sun-ok, 82, sisters from Jeju City’s Bonggae neighborhood, were sitting in front of the marker stone for their older brother, who vanished from a prison in Incheon. “If we don’t come, we feel so upset. While we’re here, it feels like it’s our duty to visit,” they said.

Jeong Heung-gi, 76, and Kim Yeong-ja, 78, a married couple from Gashi Village, Pyoseon Township, Seogwipo, make their way to the Apr. 3 Peace Park on Apr. 3 of every year. “I saw my grandmother, my mother and a younger sibling shot and killed right in front of me. My grandfather was shot in the left arm, so he grabbed me and a younger sibling and hid in a bamboo grove, which saved our lives. But my grandfather never got medical attention, and he passed away the next year,” Jeong recalled.

“I’m very glad and grateful that the president came this time. I was so mad that the government tried to bury the Apr. 3 Uprising and Massacre during the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations. But as a bereaved family member, it’s a real joy for the president to visit and promise to completely resolve the Apr. 3 Uprising and Massacre,” Jeong said.

 which honors those victims whose bodies were never found.
which honors those victims whose bodies were never found.
Moon makes first presidential visit since Roh Moo-hyun in 2006

While there was a brief stir when Moon and his wife entered the stone markers for the disappeared on the morning of Apr. 3, the bereaved family members fully welcomed the president’s visit, which was the first since Roh Moo-hyun visited in 2006.

Koh Cheo-ok, an 86-year-old woman from Uigwi Village, Namwon Township, Seogwipo, said that she and her father had fled into the hills after her grandparents and her father’s oldest brother were shot and killed by government troops sent to suppress the uprising. “When the police busted in, my father fled in another direction. He was apprehended and imprisoned in Daejeon, where he later went missing,” she said.

Kang Gye-hwa, 84, lost her two older brothers during the uprising. “The family line came to an end during the Apr. 3 Uprising. Several presidents have said that they would come but never did. It’s only natural for the president to come here and pay his respects to the people who suffered unfair deaths. I was so glad to see President Moon Jae-in show up,” she said.

“The president told us we did nothing wrong. The thought that my parents and brothers were killed despite doing nothing wrong makes me cry,” said Kim In-geun, 80, who lost his father in the uprising and was the only one of nine siblings to survive.

Jin Chun-ja, 84, and Jin Yeong-ja, 81, two sisters, lost their father during the uprising, and their older brother later disappeared from prison. After crying for a while in front of their brother’s stone marker, they caught a glimpse of Moon arriving, flanked by his security guards. “Is that the president? I’m so happy that he came,” one said with a smile.

“The president’s apology is really huge. We don’t have a lot of time left to live, and we hope that he’ll take an interest in the issue of compensation and reparations, too,” said Bu Yeon-ja, 88.

“That speech was a masterpiece, and you couldn’t throw away a single sentence. I got a lump in my throat at the part where he said the sites of the massacres weren’t the only places where the boundary between life and death was drawn by ideology,” another member of the bereaved families said.

During the service, Moon comforted Yang Sang-u, 65, and his family, who live in the Hwabuk neighborhood of Jeju City, and laid a wreath of camellia flowers on the stone marker for Yang’s father, Yang Du-bong, who is one of the missing. While Moon was reading his message, tears shone in the eyes of some of the bereaved family members.

Jin Chun-ja and Jin Yeong-ja cry in front of the headstone of their older brother at the Apr. 3 Peace Park on Jeju Island.
Jin Chun-ja and Jin Yeong-ja cry in front of the headstone of their older brother at the Apr. 3 Peace Park on Jeju Island.
Apr. 3 Peace Choir sings memorial song to honor the victims

The Apr. 3 Peace Choir, which is composed of members of the bereaved families, sang “Unsleeping Southern Province,” a song about the Apr. 3 Uprising that had been basically banned from Apr. 3 memorial services in the past. The memorial service in 2014 provoked criticism when the organizers had the choir perform “Beautiful Land,” a song that bears no relation to the Apr. 3 Uprising.

The conclusion of the memorial service was also different from previous years. While Moon was leaving through the central aisle of the venue after the service ended at 11:25 am, bereaved family members and others attending the event rushed forward to cheer him and shake his hand, but Moon’s security guards didn’t push them back. Moon came forward and personally took the hands of bereaved family members.

One and all, Jeju groups connected with the Apr. 3 Uprising warmly welcomed Moon’s comments about completely resolving the uprising.

“I regard this as the best remark that the head of state could make at the present time. It was a masterful speech in which one president provided emotional closure for an issue created by another president,” said Lee Gyu-bae, director of the Jeju Apr. 3 Research Institute.

“President Moon bore in mind the appropriate assessment of the Apr. 3 Uprising, and I really liked the fact that he has a proper perception and understanding of the uprising,” said Lee.

“I think it’s positive that President Moon made a specific promise about the desires of the bereaved families and the people of Jeju. I really hope that today’s promise will be kept during this administration,” said Yang Jo-hun, director of the Jeju Apr. 3 Peace foundation.

“This was an opportunity to let go of much of the anguish that has been pent up in the hearts of the bereaved families over the past 70 years. It was so moving for President Moon to sincerely say the things we had been wanting to hear. It was all there in the speech, when he conveyed words of apology, consolation and gratitude to the bereaved families and the people of Jeju Island and when he said that spring is coming to Jeju. President Moon’s sincerity and earnestness came through in the speech,” said Yang Yun-gyeong, chair of the Apr. 3 Bereaved Families’ Association.

By Heo Ho-joon, Jeju correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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