Stefan Schomann is a German journalist who has done extensive work on Germany’s involvement in the Korean War. His main area of focus has been on the work of the German Red Cross, which set up a civilian hospital after the war. His insight into the war is unique and he explains why Germany wanted to assist during the war. He also speculates as to why Germany wasn’t given credit for their support initially. Stefan Schomann visited Korea to conduct interviews and found that the people had hope for the future. His work is important for spreading knowledge about the Korean War in his country and abroad.
Germany's Humanitarian Aid
After World War II, West Germany sought acceptance from the other allied powers and wanted to assist in the war effort. Because they had demilitarized after the war, they could only assist with humanitarian aid. Stefan Schomann explains how they helped and why this form of assistance was important.
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Germany as a Supporter
Stefan Schomann explains why he thinks Germany was not designated as one of the participating countries from the beginning. He believes that they were ready to support from the beginning and it is justified to call them a supporter. He said that Germany’s contribution was “highly appreciated” by the Koreans he visited.
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"A Complicated and Contradictory Process.”
When asked about his insights on modern Korea, Stefan Schomann shares about his experiences with the people in Korea, including their willingness to grab onto hope for the future. He states that he seemed to be the only one pessimistic, and this results from his own experiences with German history. He says that while the future is unclear, he thinks it will be a “complicated and contradictory process.”
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[Beginning of recorded material]
I: It’s October 7, 2019 in Berlin in Germany. My name is Jung Woo Han. I’m the President of Korean War Legacy Foundation. We have about 1,000 interviews of Korean War veterans from the United States, British, Canada, Columbia, and then we went through from Greece, Netherland, Denmark, Belgium. Now we are in Germany. And this is very special project because by 2020, the Korean War will be the 70th,
and Korean government is making special website to commemorate. So this Germany will be one of them. Now it’s, uh, 22 countries, and Germany was just recently designated as, uh, one of the countries that provided medical assistance. So this is great, just right time. And I’m here with, uh, with a journalist who knows about how Germany actually contributed to the Korean War.
So it’s my great pleasure and honor, and by the way, this project is commissioned officially by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of Republic of Korea. Would you please introduce, uh, yourself, your name and spell it for the audience please.
S: My name is Stefan Schomann. So that is spelled S-C-H-O-M-A-N-N, Stefan Schomann. I’m a writer and journalist, and over the years I’ve published quite, uh, a number of articles and
one, uh, major book on the history of the Red Cross, particularly the German Red Cross. But even for me, this, uh, Korean chapter, the German Red Cross mission in, in Pusan from 1954 to ’59, was a rather unknown territory. I, I had heard about it but, um, it was, I think, a little bit neglected by, uh, let’s say the Red Cross, the history of the historians
that, that deal with, uh, the history of the Red Cross. And to fill this gap, we decided to, to publish a, well, kind of a, a magazine dedicated to this, um, historic mission. And for that purpose, I, I went to, uh, South Korea, went to Pusan last year 2017, talked to some last survivors of, uh, who had been working for the, for the, uh, German hospital there. And, uh, well,
subsequently wrote and published, uh, about this.
I: Um hm.
S: um, about this topic. So yeah.
I: Is there any special, uh, particular reason that you’ve been focusing on the Red Cross history if Germany?
S: It’s just very fascinating history. If you tell the, I think that probably no other organization or institution that is so, uh, examplarics are typical, um. So representing German history,
the good and the bad side of it. And so for a writer, it, it is actually a very attractive subject and, um, so that’s, I really, um, uh, found it very productive to, to, to work on it and, uh, because you have, you have all the major events of history, all the wars and, and crises and catastrophes. So usually it’s heavy stuff, um. But you have it from an, rather unusual perspective,
the perspective, it’s, uh, humanitarian, medical perspective. So you have a lot of, um, sources from nurses, from doctors, from civilians. So, uh, even though you’re dealing with military history at least partly, it’s not, uh, typical military perspective, um. So that is, uh, um, just very interesting for a writer.
I: So not many people know about this role of Germany that actually played in the War. So it wasn’t a military operation. It was medical, right?
So please will you fully explain what was it, when did it start and ended, and what was the scale of it? Just briefly. I have, uh, so many other questions to ask you. So, yeah.
S: Yes. So, I mean Germany, that is to say in this case West Germany, after World War II kind of, uh, switched sides and became part of the, part of the Western World.
I: Um hm, um hm.
S: And uh, um, wanted to, to be accepted again as a, let’s say, civilized, uh, and, and, uh, a different nation. It wanted to, it wanted to present itself to the world, um, in a better light.
I: Um hm.
S: And, um,
I: Especially because it was right after World War II
S: And World War II was, which was a disaster for the, for the whole country,, uh, and also on an international stage, Germany had, had lost its, it, it used to have a very good reputation. But it was ruined, uh.
And so they had, um, Germany and German government were very interested to, to, um, sort of give the image of a, of a new and better, uh, Germany. And so when the United States asked them to make, United States and United Nations because in that case and the Korean [INAUDIBLE] United Nations were, uh, one, one war party or actually were the mastermind of the, um, put together the,
the efforts of various nations. So Germany was asked to, to participate. But, uh, they could not participate military because at that time, they didn’t have an Army. Right after World War II, Germany had been demilitarized. So German Army did not exist again. So, uh, humanitarian mission was, uh, the best thing they could do and, uh, there was no doubt that there was a lot of need for, for that, too. And so, uh, originally the plan was that
Germany, German Red Cross, would send, uh, military field hospital to, to, uh, the, the Korean War theater. So that was decided in 1953l Before that already, some moderate support, financial support and some, some, um, some equipment also was, was already shipped to, to Korea, to South Korea, uh, partly through the Red Cross, partly through other channels. And then in, in uh, I think summer of ’53, the decision was made
to, um, to send this military hospital. But until they got there, um, the, the cease fire was already, um,
S: Signed. And so the War had stopped, and there was no, no longer need for, uh, for a military hospital. And instead, they decided to, um, to open a, a general hospital for, uh, for civilians.
S: for the, for the civilian population, especially for the refugees in, in Pusan. Pusan was 0:07:00
full of, I mean, I think more than one million of refugees had flooded, uh, the city because it was less destroyed than other, uh, cities. It was a little safer, um, and so, um, it was a medical, medical, uh, help was, was in high demand.
I: Hm. So when did they, uh, I mean was it completely Red Cross decision or was it, uh, Western German government decision
to commission Red Cross to send, uh, medical team?
S: Yeah. The way it works that you, that always, uh, the Red Cross cannot, you know, act on itself, cannot say oh, we want to go there, um. It’s always the government that, that asks the, the national, um, relief organization, in this case the National Red Cross, uh, Society. And, and the Red Cross, uh, accepted
I: Um hm.
S: this, uh, call. And it was like a partnership you can say
between the, the government and the Red Cross, uh. Government, um, made the decision and, and provided most of the money, and Red Cross executed the mission. They really, um, for, for five years they ran the hospital. It was very big operation.
I: Yeah. That’s very important because many Korean people may not recognize it. So it was official government decision, and Red, uh, Cross worked with the government to, to carry the mission.
I: Um, so what was the scale, and when they actually left for Korea and when they left Korea? Could you
S: Yeah. As I said, the decision was made summer of ’53, shortly before the cease fire, uh, started. But, uh, for various logistical, uh, political and other reasons, um, the team left Germany early ’54, January ’54. About 80 people, uh, doctors, nurses, technicians, um,
construction workers, yeah, like that. But until they could open the hospital, they first had to, had to find the right location which was a former girls’ school in, in Pusan. And then they had to, had to fix it. They had to transform it into a hospital. It was not really sort of constructed for that purpose. So it took a little longer than they wanted. But in, I think, uh, April, April 1 or, uh, of, of, uh, ’54, they opened. And t hen for,
for about five years, um, operated, uh, a huge hospital. And the unique thing was it was for everybody, particularly for the poor people. So nobody had to pay which, at that time, was, I mean, it’s almost like a miracle, um, because, uh, I mean, so, so many people had no, no money. They, they were homeless. They had lost everything. The country was really devastated by war. And so to get free medical treatment to, to have,
if, if you have some major health problem and normally you could not afford an operation, you, you risk your life. You, your life is at risk. And so this hospital really, in, they treated, I will have to check, but I think, um, altogether it was a quarter, over the five years, a quarter of a million patients have treated, received treatment there, um. About 1/10 of that number so maybe 20,000. I would have to check exact number, um.
They, they got operations. The other ones, they got some, like a treatment. But, uh, you can and, and also several thousand, more than 6,000 children were born there. That ‘s also
I: Six thousand children.
S: Six thousand yeah, yeah. Um, so, uh, I talked when I was in, in Pusan last year, talked to one gynecologist who, who, who. who worked there and who, who helped to bring some people to this world, and they’re still around, and he can be very happy about what he did.
I: Did they get the German citizenship?
S: Interesting question. I think none of them ever, ever tried to claim that, uh. It was always, um, Korean territory. Actually it was American military, uh. It was under American military rule even after the War because that was the sort of, it’s a legal, uh, situation. So it was not considered German territory. But Germany was one of the countries who, who, um, contributed, um, to the, to the reconstruction
and the, the rebuilding of, of Korean society right after the War.
I: [That’s in Italy] Wow, quarter million you said. Half million or quarter million?
S: Uh, quarter million, 250,000, yeah.
I: Quarter million, yeah. That’s amazing.
S: Yeah, yeah, over five years, yeah.
I: Why do you think that it has not been officially designated as one of the participating countries in the War from the beginning?
S: Well, because when the, when the hospital opened its. its doors, the, the War was already over.
I: Um hm.
S: And, uh, and it was,
as I said, it was a, a civilian humanitarian, um, uh, medical support. So it was not direct military, uh, um, military support. On the other hand, uh, the, the political decisions and the, had been made during the War. So, uh, the, um, Germany was, was, was ready, was ready to, to support the United Nations, um, um, efforts, uh, in, in Korea. And, um,
and also some of the medical support, some of the, um, equipment, uh, and, and also quite a bit of money had been, had been sent to Korea during the War already.
I: Um hm, um hm.
S: And so, um, you could, it is justified to say that Germany was an active supporter of, of, uh, South Korean side, and um. So in, in retrospect, I think this was acknowledged now by kind of a, um, committee, uh, that, that came together in, in
the Korean Ministry of, of Defense and, um, yeah. So
I: Um hm.
S: They came, they came late but not too late, and, uh, their contribution was highly appreciated. I mean everybody to, to whom I talked in, in Pusan, they have the greatest, um, admiration and the greatest, um, respect for the, the German efforts.
I: So you need to be recognized, and this is very important, and by the definition of the Korean War
by the American government, it start from June 25 of 1950 to January 31 of 1955.
S: Okay, yeah.
I: Yeah. That’s the official definition
S: Unclear, it was still the, and the War, the law of War was still, was still, uh
I: there and also to, to extend the benefit for the American GIs. So that’s why they have a different definition of the period
of the Korean War. And within that perspective, it’s obviously part of the War
S: That’s right, yeah.
I: Um, but more important thing is, you know, the reconstruction because Korea is now one of the strongest economies in the world, one of the most substantive democracy in Asia, and I don’t think any Korean War veteran would imagine that Korea would become like this today. But there is one more important thing because Germany was completely destroyed
in the War, too. But we know of the miracle in the Rhine River. So does that have anything to do with this decision and the commitment of this Red Cross for how many years?
S: Five years, yeah, five years
I: to five years. Does that have anything to do with it?
S: Well, it
I: You know my point, right?
S: Yes. I, I, yeah. It is a point because indeed it, it, it is quite surprising that, because at that time in the 1950’s, uh,
Germany still received foreign aid itself. They, they received humanitarian aid through the Red Cross organizations for example because Germany was really terrible. And, and, and they just started to recover like in 1953. The, the worst was over. But still they received until the end of the 1950’s. Germany itself received humanitarian aid in, in quite a considerable
I: Um hm.
S: sort of size, um. And I think that is
partly an explanation why they were willing to, to make such a, quite a strong and, and big commitment because they knew what it, what it meant to, to, to be devastated by war. So in a way, the situation in Germany, even both West and East Germany mirrored the situation in, in Korea. They just had sort of experienced a huge war and, and there was this political division of the country, belonged to two, two different political systems.
So there was some special, I think it was special sympathy and special understanding, uh, not only from the German politicians but also the, the, the public in German and, the, this Red Cross mission received a lot of support was in Germany, even though people said, could have said oh, we need, you know, we need help ourselves. We need the money. We need the doctors. But it was also clear Germany wanted to play a more active role. It wanted to, um, integrate itself into the Western,
you know, Alliance and to all kinds of political organizations and, uh, international, wanted to reenter the international stage. And so, um, you can say that, uh, the, the situation in, in Germany mirrored the situation in, in Korea and, uh, created a special, um, affection, a special interest in, in what happened there.
I: Um. uh, I may have to stop to change the battery. But, um, how this whole activities of German, uh, Red Cross been recorded here? Do you have any real journal or annals or any official record that we can dig out?
S: Well, I mean there’s, there’s the arc, archive of the, of the German Red Cross, and there’s plenty of, of paper, uh, there. And, and there have been publications right after, during and after the mission.
But then it became kind of forgotten.
S: So when we now when we kind of opened these files again, you have the impression that for 50 years, nobody really, um, cared about that. And it was, um, there was not much memoir of this mission which is surprising because it was very, it was one of the largest missions any national Red Cross ever done historically. I mean five years, um, and, and a whole after,
usually the humanitarian missions, they are shorter. But, but this was, I mean, they, they could have done for 10 years because it was a constant need, um, for that, um. Yeah. So there’s, there’s no documentation. But it’s not, it’s not up to date, um. And so that’s why we really have, um, um, went ahead to, to, um, to tell the story once again and properly and in detail and, and
still now you can still talk to a few less people who, who were actively involved, who participated, and, doctors, nurses, patients, translators and so on. And that is always very, um, precious if you, if, uh, this is why you do these interviews.
I: How many survivors of medical team? None?
S: Well on the Germans, uh, medics team on the German side, we only know of, of two people, um. Both were technicians, medical technicians who are still alive.
Of course, uh, quite old now. Um, in Korea a few more, uh, a few more people might still be around because usually the local nurses and doctors
I: You mean Korean.
S: Yeah, yeah, [both talking at once]
I: Koreans who participated.
S: I was, when I went to Pusan, I was particularly interested in hearing the Korean side of the story because, uh, the German side we have in the archive. We have the, this documentation. But very little, the, the Korean voice is not really there. And so that’s
what I wanted to, uh
I: That’s a
S: these interviews, um, just to, to, to, to, to get the version from, from the Korean side and, and, um, yeah. And then only the two, the two versions of the two generations together, they, they make the whole story.
I: So there are only two survivors out of 80/
S: There, there’s maybe, maybe there is a few more. But the, the strange thing is that, um, nobody kept track of them, and they also, um,
I: Must been very old, right?
S: Yeah. They, they must be very old. But there was no, you know, there was no organization , association after that. So
S: So, uh, it had to do also with the situation in Germany when they came back 1950;s, um, the country was prosperous again. And so everybody has, had its own agenda and, um, so the, um, there was no, uh, t here wasn’t much communication afterwards and, uh. And so only by chance it was actually the
Korean Embassy here in Germany who, who did the research and who, who found two, uh, the, the two maybe last survivors, um. Yeah.
I: Do you know any, I know that there is no national curriculum in the German history education. But do you, are you aware any teacher or educators writing text book or curriculums or lesson plan touches upon this German operation, Red Cross operation in the War?
S: No because generally the, the Korean War is, um, does not play a very prominent role in, in the German history that has to do with, you know, they are, they are such a dominance of the World War II because Germany was very actively, uh, involved. And, uh, and then the next war that was really sort of, um, got a lot of coverage in the media and the, the, uh, the, scientifically that was the Viet Nam War. The Korean War happened
in between. It was too close to, to World War II, to, to get maybe the, the attention that it, uh, were to deserve. And so it’s not only the story of the German hospital in the Korean War, it’s the whole Korean War who is kind of still a little bit, in, in the shade, uh of history.
I: So you can definitely say that this German Red Cross operation from ’54 to ’59, is not really taught here in Germany.
S: We, that’s why we did this documentation is to, to rise awareness and to, to provide, um, you know, a trustable material.
I: Do you have a, any documentation, documentary film about it?
S: We don’t. There, there must have been films done. But we don’t have any film footage. So we, we, you couldn’t do a documentary without that footage. So I’m afraid this is not an option.
I: Compared to other European countries that participated
in the War like Greece, uh, Belgium, Netherland and Denmark, I think Germans really cover about the Korean War. But what is the, uh, weight on the Korean War in your history curriculum as you know in general, and how do you think that we can make it known to our teachers and future generations about this German Red Cross operations in the Korean War?
S: Well, the Korean War historically was very important war. It was the first hot war within the [INAUDIBLE]
I: [INAUDIBLE] yeah.
S: But, of course, Germany, which is understandable, it, it was, it was, the country had been devastated. It was really, uh, uh, concerned about itself first. So it, and um, and so people did not, at the beginning, I think they, they just thought this is very exotic, uh, remote country somewhere, you know, East Asia. What does it have to do with us?
I: Who cares.
S: Who cares.
But that lasted only very, very shortly because very soon, I think, people realized oh, the things that are happening in Korea, it could also happen here in Germany. The, the country is divided. There’s the two superpowers and the allies. So people, people
I: Exactly the same case.
S: People realized, yeah. It, it’s, it’s a, it’s like a mirror. It’s like this
I: Um hm.
S: De’ja’ vu, uh, experience. And so, u m, I think then they, they really followed very, very closely because they were, people were very much afraid
that similar country could happen maybe in, in Germany. And, and it was, um, it was a real threat. There was, a, the Cold War. You, you, you didn’t know where they would escalate and, and become hot, hot war. And that’s exactly what would happen in Korea. So in a way, it was also a test. And that also probably motivated the German public and German government to play an active role, um. It wasn’t possible when the Korean War just started
in 1950 because Germany had just become, you know, the, the, the state of the, the Republic of Germany had just been founded again. So the whole institutions, they just had to build up, uh, society and, and the government again. But then, in 1953, ’54, um, things were working out, and you, you could think about some international, um, mission, in, in this case a humanitarian mission because, as I said, military mission
was not an option, um. And so as soon as it was possible for, for Germany, they actually, they engaged. They entered uh, the war theater, uh, yet was a humanitarian mission. So it is quite remarkable because in that early time, uh, they did not have, Germany, they didn’t have great means, um. They, they, they were in need themselves.
So it was, I don’t want to call it a sacrifice, but it was, it was a commitment.
S: Considerable commitment, um. And, but it also made a lot of sense from the German perspective.
S: You had to, they needed this come back on the international stage. They, also they needed, uh, institutions like the Red Cross needed to have international experience, needed to have, um, experience in war and conflict zones because that is one of the main purposes of the, um, Red Cross.
So it was also a, it was also a chance to, to learn something and to, to actively, um, to do something. And, um, yeah. So it, looking back it’s, it’s quite touching this, uh, that they were able to, to help so much, um. And it does not belittle the, the humanitarian effort that it had a political purpose at the same time.
I: So it’s long overdue to be recognized. But now we have a recognition. The, the task, real task is how we going to make it known to our young generations. What do you think? Is there anybody who really dig into it and, and, and rewriting, recounting the history? Is there somebody who are really interested in from even Red Cross so that we can develop it as a real full-blown story and history. How do, do you think we can do it?
S: Well, it’s not, it will not work on the purely academic uh, uh, track because, uh, then it’s just something, you know. It’s, it’s, it’s history. It’s old stuff. Uh, as soon as you tell individual stories, as soon as you tell human fate, um, which in war situations, uh, I mean everybody becomes a hero
S: because everybody either tragically or because you die or maybe if you, if you survive but you, um.
So life becomes more dramatic, um, during, uh, war and, and also in the immediate after war. And so I think that’s the way to tell the story is really to, what happened to individual soldiers, nurses, um, civilians, families, and that’s what we, we try to do with, with our publication, and I think that would be the best way to, to create, uh, an interest, um, to, um,
to tell really what, what, uh, what had happened to, to people. And so there’s a story like that, uh, Stories for the Heart, and for the mind at the same time.
I: Um. Um, what foundation is doing is to work with the educators in the United States so that they can make their own lesson plan, they make their own modules and, uh, collecting first and secondary resources so that they can use it and immediately available
for teaching the class because also in the United States, Korean War has been known as forgotten.
S: Um hm, um hm.
I: And that’s what I been focusing on and trying to challenge that reality, and this is a beautiful story that we need to excavate, and we need to develop a case by case, you know. We need to know who were there, what kind of people were them, and then what has been done and how, what is the result of it.
Do you have any suggestion to, to get it done like that, make it as a full blown recounting of the history, history that we need to remember.
S: Well, I, I think it’s, it’s the right way to, to, you’re doing these interviews with, with, uh, survivors, participants, um. And to, to transmit that, uh, to, to the younger generation that has not physical personal contact or, or connection with, with, uh, things that happened mor than
60 years ago. Um, and, uh, yeah. So as, as a writer, I always advocate for, uh, for, uh, telling stories because I think that there’s a, it, it’s human nature. It, it’s sort of an anthropological thing, um. Everybody is interested in, in human stories, no matter what time they happened and, um, you have to,
you have to know how to get them across.
S: And that’s where we come in, um. The, the better the stories are told and the better, better they’re documented and the better they are told, um, um, the, the stronger, the effect are gonna be.
I: But for the educational purpose rather than generally or scholarly, it need to be understood by the educators by themselves, the history teachers. And then this whole thing need to be
adjusted to the level of middle school or high school education, height of the students. Do you think we can find some teachers who might be interested in working with us to, to produce real educational curricular resources on this?
S: You mean here in Germany?
I: Yeah in Germany.
S: Hm. I’m not really connected much to the, the field of teaching. So, um, I think that the, the
German hospital would be kind of a tool that could create, uh, a special interest in the, in the Korean War because then it stops to be an exotic country that happened, you know, on the other side of the earth, uh. Oh, there were German doctors and nurses involved. Young people or old people, it could have been my father or grandfather, um. What I would have done in, in that exceptional situation. So, um, maybe they can act as translators or, or
they can, they can help introducing the, um, the situation in Korea, uh, as a whole. The same thing happened to me before. I did not know that much about the, the Korean War and, and then sort of dug into it and, and talked to people who, who still, there’s this, this era and, um, and then it became, it came to life.
I: You know, I just, uh, arrived from Copenhagen.
S: Um hm, okay.
I: And there I found
a daughter of a medical surgeon who was in the Jutlandia Hospital ship.
S: On the ship, yeah. That’s wonderful.
I: Yeah. And
S: Beautiful ship.
I: Yes, yes. And she passed away obviously.
S: Yeah, uh huh.
I: But her daughter, his daughter
S: Uh huh
I: has a 1 ½ hour film footage of, taken by her father
I: in Tegwa, not in Jutlandia because they were not, uh, allowed to, to record or film anything.
S: Yeah. Uh huh, uh huh.
S: Uh huh
I: When Jutlandia left Korea in 19, um, uh, ’51 August
S: Uh huh.
I: Just temporarily, they came there obviously. But he didn’t live with them. He went to Tegwa area, and then he set up the hospital, just like, uh, what Army doctors did.
S: Okay. Like a field, field hospital, yes, yeah.
I: And then he did a film footage.
I: Amazing film footage that never been really opened to any war, you know?
S: Uh huh.
I: I just got that.
I: If we open up this one,
I: working with journalists like you who are interested in it and then,, who is interested in, and also working with the Red Cross historian or doctors or the administrator there and have some, and teachers, we may find descendants of those doctors, nurse and engineers
I: and they might have, uh, so many different things that we, we
S: It could be. I mean we, our means were limited. So we did not do a systematical research of survivors
or the families. It, it has not been done. It could be. It could be done or you could try, uh, if you would have some, some funding or some people to, to do that. And then maybe you would find, we found some photographs for example. This, this is good. But unfortunately no, no film footage so far. I’m unaware of any film footage that had survived, um. But maybe there is. Maybe there is some.
I: Do you think any German government or Red Cross might be interested in funding this kind of work? Recounting
S: Well, I mean they, they have fun, funded now this magazine that will appear shortly and for, for, for the moment I think this is it, um. I don’t think they will be further, um, further funding from, from their said because there’s a lot. I mean, Red Cross is huge. And there’s quite a lot of
I: Needs, current needs.
S: And also it, it jut, it’s a lot of work as you know. So somebody
has to do it, um. But basically we would have, we would have the, the information that is necessary to start such a, such a research. So if ever anybody, um, would have particular interest and would, would, uh, you know, get the necessary means, then then it could be, surely we could do more documentation, yeah.
I: Have, uh, German use media covered on this new designation of Germany as one of the Korean War participants?
S: Not that I know of, no.
I: No? You haven’t write an article about it?
S: Uh, no I haven’t. I mean, uh, I think I, I did quite a lot to, to, you know,
I: To promote it.
S: To, to promote it and to, uh, uh, participate in this conference. And, and so it was, that was great that I had this opportunity. And, uh, now I think it’s, it’s other people’s turn and, and, um.
But it, it still has to be communicated, uh. And I think that like it, the German-Korean relationship, it, it sort of, um, I see it, there’s a new dynamic, uh, because of that. There is, I mean especially the, the Korean Embassy in, in Germany. They, they made an exhibition. They, they did research. They, they are constantly following up on this, uh, topic. So actually, it was them who also motivated the, the German Red Cross
to, to look into its’ archive because uh, then people at the Red Cross say oh, if, if the Koreans there. So interest, it, it must be really valuable, and it is. But it had been, as I said, it had been neglected for a long time, and only now it’s kind of rediscovered.
I: Um. It’s not somebody else’s turn. It’s your turn. You are the one who really dig out, and you, you are critical for Korean government to make the, the decision.
So I hope that we can cultivate the relationship and, and opportunities in many different way so that we can continue to dig out and make it full blown history. The history never been really illuminated and highlighted. What do you think?
S: Well, I mean to, to ask, we, we are a little bit surprised that now 60 years afterward, uh, this mission will get so much recognition from, from the, the Korean side.
So of course we, we also wonder what, what is, what is behind that. We are a little bit, uh, surprised pleasantly surprised, um. So, but why is it that now, just now in, in Korea there is also it seems a renewed interest in, in the past and in the, especially in the international, uh, scale of, of, of the War and, uh, and there’s this documentation that, that you do. So, um. But what’s the purpose of, of this, um,
quite extensive activity from Korean government and Korean historians, Korean public, um. Why is it now that the, the War has almost, it seems like a revival, um. Does it have to do with the present situation in Korea, the political situation, North and South or with the new, I don’t know, new identity, new self-confidence, of, from the Korean side. What, what is behind it, uh,
I: Do you want me to answer that?
S: Yeah, it’s a question for you.
I: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Mostly it was for the military operations. So out of 21, there was 16 countries
I: And then last five countries within Norway, India, Italy and Denmark, they are the ones who provided medical assistance. German was not recognized because officially it was after the War.
I: But now, it’s going to be 70th anniversary,
and in the minds of Korean people, though, the, the people who helped us during the War never been forgotten.
S: Um hm.
I: So we been doing this
S: Um hm.
I: But it was based on military and also U.S. sentric kind of approach.
S: Uh huh, yes, um hm.
I: But now, the
S: Okay. Uh huh.
I: new government wants to illuminate every aspect of it
S: Okay, yeah, yeah,
I: especially in the case of 70th anniversary.
S: Um hm.
I: And my focus is that Korea is a small thing,
little thing, poor thing, miserable thing, you know, desperate. In between Asia and, and China in, in Japan and China
S: Um hm.
I: and Korea never, never really been recognized in, in, in their capacity. It’s 11th largest economy in the world, one of the most substantive democracy. But still, in many countries history textbook
I: Korea is completely ignored or just lightly touched. And that’s what I wanted to challenge it.
S: Um hm, okay.
I: Why? Because it has so much merit in the Korean War
S: Um hm.
I: It was the beginning and the signal of the real Cold War
S: Yeah, yeah.
I: That has shaped the whole lives of the whole people for almost 60 years.
I: Even at the end of the Cold World War and Francis Sukiyama declared that the end of history. So we won over Communism.
S: Unfortunately not ending, yeah.
I: Never been the case. Never been the case.
S: Yeah, um.
I: Now we have another crisis coming out of it from the Korean Peninsula. U.S. China is at odds, right?
S: Um hm.
I: Because they are the real main enemies that fought together against each other during the Korean War.
S: Um hm. That’s right.
I: Korean War never ended, and when it’s going to be replaced with a Peace Treaty
S: Um hm.
I: there has to be a lot of international things need t o be done, too.
S: Yeah, uh huh.
I: So it has a very special place in international relations and human history of 20th century. That’s why I think it’s important and need to be digged out, so that we know what happened and why Germany was not recognized and why Germans don’t talk about it either. Korea was long overdue now to recognize it. But at least we did it.
S: Um hm.
I: Now I think it’s our time to talk about it
and let it know.
S: Um hm.
I: To, to put this whole thing into the right place in the history.
S: And also to remind the former allies that they have been, what their contribution was and, uh, maybe hoping that if ever similar support would be needed, these old friends would be ready. Yeah.
S: No, it makes sense, yeah. Um hm, um hm.
I: So that’s why we are doing it
S: Um hm.
I: And I have a,
I have, I’m confident that this needs to be done, and we’ll do it in a way, and we trying to find the partners from the other countries and, you know, the foundation. My foundation, Korean War Legacy and, and all the history, digital education. We have two hats.
S: Uh huh.
I: And being funded by the, you know, Korean government and, and industries. So we are trying to do it. And my goal is to find the right people to do, start these things.
And I worry about funding later. And we want to have funding. So that’s where I am. And it’s my great pleasure and honor to meet you. Um, what do you think about the modern Republic of Korea and the Korean Peninsula situation, especially with, uh, North Korea and U.S. about the new [INAUDIBLE], ending the War and Peace Treaty, Trump, Kim Jung Un, [Mun Ju In]? What do you think?
S: I don’t know what to think. To me, to me it’s really sort of, uh, unclear where, where all this can end, uh. When I was in, in, in Seoul in, in May, I mean the, the, the historical handshake had just taken place I think end of April. Everybody was very excited, um. And to me, you know, if you have written a book on the history of Germany, you, you cannot help becoming a, a pessimistic if you’re not one already, uh, uh, uh, regarding history.
I: Interesting point.
S: And uh, so I was in, in Korea I was surrounded by optimism and only I, the foreigner who, who was the only skeptical and, and pessimist, wait, wait, wait, uh. But so you, you could feel, I mean, you could, you could see that everybody’s under such a pressure. The, the, this whole situation is, is so, uh, demanding day by day that as soon as there’s some hope, people are ready to, to go for it, you know, uh.
And so, um, they were very, uh, excited and, and optimistic and, and uh, had some utopian idea, um, without really having much reason. But um, so, and, and since then not, not too much has actually happened
I: Um hm
S: [INAUDIBLE] It, it’s better than before because
I: Yeah, that’s right.
S: People talk, and there’s some effort and there’s some, some more, uh, there’s definitely more flexibility now. But it’s not, not clear that
that it would really lead to a, um,
I: Substantial change.
S: Substantial and, and, and, uh, um, unquestionable positive for each side. It will, it will be, I think it will be complicated and, and contradictory process as usual, um. And so that, that was very special experience that I had this opportunity to share with the Korean people the, um, the pressure, um. And then, as a, as a German, uh,
you can refer to that. You can because we also had it. I mean, in the, in the Cold War
S: um, and so
S: and you, there was a constant threat. It was sort of not maybe enough urgent or not, not, you did not immediately panic. But there was kind of a, a, underneath you were al, always ready to panic, especially when if you lived in, in West Berlin, uh. I moved here in the 1980’s so it was surrounded by the world. And, and this is gone, u h. But in Korea, uh,
it is still the, the Cold War is, is still continuing. And as you said, the, the War has never ended, I mean formally. There was no, no please, Peace, uh, Treaty. And so, um, I think German public is, has, has, must have, should have a special understanding for, for the situation in Korea and also for the alternative if ever the country has a chance to get reunited. Who knows.
S: One day, I think, it will. But that doesn’t mean that, that,
I mean, it will not, life will not become easier because of that. It’s, it’s, uh, it, it’s a huge talent. But at least we, my generation, we have a similar mindset or a similar experience and, um, and that’s also why a lot of Korean officials that are so, the, the public in general. I think they, they take special interest in the, in the process of German reunification because one day it might, uh
S: as a model.
S: And so, uh, that creates a special bond between Germany and, and the two Korean countries.
I: Stefan, do you know any particular stories out of this operation, Red Army, I mean, I’m sorry, Red Cross, Red, Red Cross operation, German Red Cross operation in Pusan
S: Um hm.
I: Do you know of any particular stories like uh, you know, how children were saved or anything
I: That you know? Do you have anything?
S: Yeah, yeah. There’s, well,
I: Any particular story that you wanna share?
S: There’s, there’s, there’s a lot of touching stories because as soon as you start digging for them, you, you usually find them and, and, uh, and you’re always surprised because these things, as a writer, you can never make up, you know. You can never invent, uh, these things. Well, I mean, there’s one melodramatic, uh, story that, um, uh, one of the, uh, an x-ray technician,
Korean x-ray technician
I: Uh huh.
S: um, he told me he, he lived in the hospital. And so late at night he, he heard some activity on the, you know, outside, people are moving, words or something, uh. Maybe a little dramatic. So he, he went out, went to the operation room, and there already was, uh, one of the German doctors and it was two people, a young man and a young woman who, uh, obviously tried to suicide themselves
with some poison, and he
I: You mean Korean.
S: Korean, uh, I think both of them from North Korea if I remember correctly, refugees or, um, and they had tried to commit suicide together. It was, uh, they, they loved each other. But they saw no, no hope, no future, and they decided to end their live, lives. And then the, uh, German, uh, medical staff tried to save their lives and they, they succeeded in doing so. And, um
within a few days they, they, they recovered, and then doctor came back and, and really cared for them and, and what have you been doing? Why, why did you do that or what’s, what’s your situation? And then learned their story that they were desperate and saw no, no hope, no future for them. And, and, um, they offered them a job in the, in the laundry, in, in the, in the hospital’s laundry. They gave them a job, um. And, uh,
later on they married and, and they survived and they had children. So, uh, and, and, uh, the doctor, ironically called them my Romeo and Juliet. So he, he saw that kind of, you dramatic dimension of their story. And, um, yeah. That’s, um, that’s something.
I: Um hm.
S: And also I read a letter of a former patient, a lady who, uh, as a young girl, had, um, there’s an English expression for that,
um, she, she had to have, um, operation of her legs. Otherwise, she could not walk anymore, um. It was really crucial. But she had no, no money. She also came from, you know, some poor village. And, but they, the German doctors did the operation and, and successfully. So since then she can, she can walk. She could resume her education, um. She married.
She had a happy life. And just reading her, the letter that she wrote, uh, a few years ago, to thank German Red Cross or Germany, it was very touching. Um, because, yeah. It, this gives, when, when you’re talking about the figures, you know, 250,000 people have been treated there, it, it’s still, its statistics. It, it does not have a face. It does not
S: It does not trigger emotions. A statistic doesn’t do that.
Um, but a story does. And so, uh, and the letter was written in some, in a simple but very touching language. So, um, yeah. Also another precious little story.
I: Hm. We need to develop more.
S: Yeah, yeah. There, there’s still more stories. There’s 250,000 stories at least, yeah.
I: Two hundred fifty thousand stories.
S: You need this, I mean such as, because all the patients, everybody has a potential story.
I: Is there any
official archives about this mission?
S: Well, there is the, the, the general archive of, of the Red Cross, uh, in, in, in Berlin, of course, they have all the material, um. But it, it’s, there’s no particular archive for that. And we, we sort of had to regroup the, the material because it had no, had not been touched for a long time, um. But, uh, I mean the whole, the whole paperwork is there.
But what it’s usually missing is, is this, the personal, the human touch, the personal touch. I mean a lot of it is just correspondence of the organization. It’s, uh, uh, administrative things and formalities and, and, um. But, um, um, and also at that time, you know, if, if the, the doctors of the, the, the staff there, they had little, little time to, to write things down
because every day there were constant flow of, of patients. So, um, nowadays it would be done differently. You would have maybe like, uh, some media team accompanying the mission and, and you would have, uh, film footage. You would have articles written. But at that time, they really focused on the, on the actual work which was medical work and, that they did well, um. But, um, not too much has been documented. It has been
I: But at least you know that there is a archive in, in Red Cross.
I: Hm. So that may be the first direct materials that we can dig out, right?
S: Yeah. You’re welcome to, to, to take a look at it.
I: Any other resources, sources that we can look for?
S: Well, the, the, the, the archive of the Foreign Ministry would surely have uh, uh, uh, correspondence about that and, and some material. We, we did not have the time to, to check that.
But that would be a place where I would sort of look for, for additional, um, documentation.
S: Um, also, the U.S. Army because they’re, they’re, the hospital was under the, um, it’s under the authority of, of the U.S. Army, I mean the United Nations. But the United Nations
I: U.S. Army, yeah.
S: Army was executive agents mostly. In fact, it was the U.S. Army. And also, they, they had a lot, I mean they’re shipping all the equipment
and, and, and, uh, so there was quite a close cooperation with, uh, with the, um, American and maybe also some other, um, country representatives in, in Pusan, um, mostly about practical things and, um. But they, they, they surely also have some, some documentation
I: I see
S: that, that American, U. S. Forces, yeah.
I: As a very close observer and as a
main party that actually make this whole thing possible, do you have any special message about the Korean War, 70thanniversary, to the Korean people or any German participants? Do you have any idea? Do you have any perspective about it?
S: Well I mean like with, with any war, if you look at it, anything else is better than war. I mean, it was really shocking, uh, to, to which, uh, to which rate the, the country had been destroyed by the War, um.
It was probably one of the fiercest wars ever. And, uh, when I visited the, the War Museum in, in Seoul, um, the main, the main documentation is about the Korean War. But actually it starts in pre-historic times and, and it goes until almost the, the present. And if you look only at that, you, you think the, the, the history of Korea is, is just a constant, uh, sequence of, of wars, uh, which fortunately is, is, it is not.
So, uh, but the, the, I think the, the, the most important lesson is, is very obvious and, and everybody will, will, will agree with that that, um, that peace is precious, um. And it’s, it takes, I mean, it takes two generations to, to rebuild a country. That’s also what happened in, in Germany basically. And um, yeah.
So we were, we are very fortunate actually that since then, both South Korea and, and Germany, there was no war again. It’s unusual. It, it’s, uh, it’s, uh, against the law of history. So it’s exceptional.
I: So you are creating new history, and that should be, yeah. German always been the most important factor in peace or instability, war, right? In European history here.
You were in the middle.
S: Well, geographically yes.
I: What do you think about, what, what we need to be careful when, in our, in this process, the contemporary process of normalizing the relations with North Korean regime and also between North Korea and United States and the role of South Korean government. What do you think, what do you think that we need to be careful about possible path toward reunification?
S: I, I’m, I’m really not in a position to give any advice to the Korean people. But I can only tell you the, the impression I had from two visits in, in the past years that, uh, South Korean society is, uh, it seemed to me, it seemed a very civilized country, very civilized, uh, society, um, where people, um, really care about, um, the basic questions of, of human life. So it, it seemed to me, uh,
remarkably responsible, uh, society and remarkably aware, um, quite, quite sort of, um, familiar for a western visitor, more familiar than, for example, I frequently, uh, go to China. So China is more exotic, uh, in, in some ways and, uh, it’s really a totally different world, um. Korea is, is a,
it seems almost like a western country. The, the [INAUDIBLE] society there, uh. But also things like, you know, if you just watch the traffic, it tells you a lot about a country’s mentality. Oh, traffic can vary. I mean it’s heavy, especially in Seoul. But it, it’s well organized, and it’s, it’s not aggressive, um. So I really like that. So, uh, I think, my impression of Korean people is that we need people who, um,
who, who see the importance of, of, of peace and of, of civilian life and to not easily, uh, put, put this, uh, stability to, at risk. And they have been remarkably successful with, with that. So it was good to see the country that came from, it was really sort of down to zero and, and then it came back and now, um, it’s a very well-developed society and, uh, uh,
it is a, um, I, I was, uh, very interested in cultural topics. So I, I went to concerts and, and, uh, spoke to writers and creative people. And so it has a, has a wonderful, very productive art scene. It has great artists, uh, performers. So, uh, yeah. It’s a very rich society. And, uh, as I said, it, my impression is people are very well aware that this is precious and, and they are,
they are, uh, trying to, to keep that.
I: Any other story about the Red, uh, Red, uh, Cross operation?
S: I mean, I was, I was really fascinated when, when I heard what, what the Indian uh, uh, I’m not sure whether it was the Indian Red Cross or it was probably the medical unit of, of the Indian Army, uh, what they had experienced. I mean they, they were, uh, they were involved during the War,
so they sort of, um, experienced the full, the War at full swing if you, uh, can say so. And, uh, their story’s incredible. It sounds like a Hollywood movie.
I: Um hm.
S: So I’m actually or a Bollywood movie would be. So I’m actually waiting for the first, uh, uh, movie being done on, on this, uh, incredible mission of, of the Indian, um, medical, uh, support for, for Korea.
I: I am visiting South Africa and Turkey next month
S: Uh huh, okay.
I: And then next year
I’ll try to connect with India
I: Italy, Norway, Sweden. So we’ll keep talking about it. But I hope that this, uh, relationship, our first meeting about long overdue history to be fully recounted and so that we can learn about it and we can build more relationship together. So
S: Okay, well.
I: I really appreciate your time and your availability and willingness to talk about it. This is very important
S: I hope you can, you can use it
just one small step
I: Yeah. But I think we’ll, I’m confident that we’ll, we’ll, you know, make it as a full, full story, okay?
S: Um hm.
S: No, as I said, I, I was very happy that I could, could contribute something to, um, to bring this forgotten chapter back to, back to life and back to the public, uh, consciousness, um.
It is very remarkable. Nowadays it would not be special, that we are used to these international missions. But in the 1950’s there was nothing. I mean Germany, it was, it was totally ruined. And, um, so it, it, it meant a great effort for them
S: and not, not everything was, was perfect. I mean the, the, the actually the mission was heavily criticized also for, for various reasons. But, um, I think
altogether it was a, a great achievement and, uh, um, so I’m, I’m happy to see that what, what these people, they, they put in so much of their time and their life that now it’s kind of recognized, even though it’s a little late and most of the people have died. But, um, yeah. It was, um, it was a great, uh, commitment.
I: Yeah. We need to recount it.
I: Thank you again. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity and for your contribution to make it as an official,
and we’ll go from here. Thank you.
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