Vol. 14


Family Separated Forever

1948; Pyongyang, North Korea; and Seoul, South Korea

A long time ago my grandmother and her family lived in North Korea. My grandmother’s great-grandmother Heungsook Chung lived with my grandmother’s family and took care of the house with their maids. When my grandmother was one year old, she and her family, including Heungsook Chung, her daughter and son-in-law, and their daughter Jeongok Lee, went to South Korea because the Communists1 had begun to take over North Korea two years before the Korean War2 would start.

My grandmother’s family left everything behind except some gold, because they thought that they would return home very soon — after the Communists left. After the family left North Korea, Heungsook Chung told her son-in-law that she wanted to check their house and make sure that everything they had left was okay. She especially wanted to check on the cabbages that they were going to use to make kimchi, which is a Korean food. There were about 300 cabbages that they had stored underground.

Heungsook Chung kept asking her son-in-law to send her back to North Korea, just to make sure that the house and all of their belongings in the house were okay. My grandmother’s family thought that she would be able to return to South Korea right away, so they decided to send her back to North Korea to check on the house. But they did not want her to go alone, because she was old. So her daughter and son-in-law sent their daughter, Jeongok Lee, who was only sixteen, along with her. Jeongok Lee cried because she did not want to go, but her father told her that she didn’t have a choice — she must go. So Jeongok Lee had to go with her grandmother back to North Korea.

Shortly after Heungsook Chung and Jeongok Lee got to North Korea, the Communists closed the border back to South Korea. Heungsook Chung and Jeongok Lee weren’t allowed to return to South Korea, and if they tried to cross the border that separates North Korea and South Korea, then they would get shot by soldiers who were keeping guard. They could never return to South Korea because of this. It broke their family’s hearts, knowing that they wouldn’t be able to return and they would never see them again.

The family couldn’t communicate with Heungsook Chung and Jeongok Lee at all. They weren’t allowed to send letters to them, to ask them if they were okay, or to call them. They had no idea what happened to them. They didn’t know if they had tried to cross the border but got shot, or if they got sick, or if anything had happened.

Jeongok Lee’s mother was sad because she knew that she would never be able to see her daughter again or be able to communicate with her, but she still had dreams about her until the day she died at the age of 100. After Heungsook Chung and Jeongok Lee had left, nobody in the family saw any trace of them ever again, and the family was separated forever.

Esther Sohn; Ohio, USA


1. A Communist is someone who believes in Communism, in which farms and businesses are controlled by the government rather than by individuals. The Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and North Korea are Communist countries.

2. The Korean War (1950–1953) was fought between North Korea (with support from the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union) and South Korea (with support from the United Nations, most troops coming from the United States).



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