The Red Army Descends on Pyongyang

Hwang Jang Yop's Memoirs - 15
 |  2010-02-14 23:16
Pyongyang Commercial School was on Mansudae Hill, with the provincial government building behind. The provincial building was one of the finest buildings in Pyongyang. The Red Army assigned it as their headquarters and allotted City Hall to North Korean officials, while the Communist Party's headquarters were assigned to the Revenue Office.

While I was teaching at that school, I read books such as "The Story of Poverty" by Hajime Kawakami, "The Communist Manifesto" and "Anti-Dühring." The school lacked teachers badly, so I was very busy trying to teach several subjects at once. Having been an abacus calculator in my youth, I taught abacus calculation, but I also taught social science (the introduction to communist theory) and sometimes went as far as algebra and geometry.

Many new students came to the school. Some were accepted as football or baseball players although they were not good students, so the composition of the school was very complicated. There were also some students who were even older than me.

One day a Russian military jeep entered the school grounds and military officers came to the Principal's office. They demanded that we yield the school building to the Red Army. They unilaterally announced that we would have to transfer to a Japanese girls' school near Pyongyang Station. We had no choice.

While the school was transferring, Red Army officers even confiscated school supplies that we had been selling to the students. We made it clear that they were necessary for the students and tried to stop them but it was no use. We had to give up, assuming that the Russians even regarded school supplies as war trophies.

The location of the Japanese girls' school was no better than that of Pyongyang Commercial School, however the building's condition was much better, and there were lots of books, too, which made me very happy. The school building was quite big; we shared it with the high court and a training school for judges. There was a dormitory too; I became the dormitory supervisor.

There were a lot of teachers older and more experienced than I, but the students especially liked me and it was not because I had gone to the same school. It was because I truly loved them without pretense. I devoted myself to Pyongyang Commercial School, my alma mater and very first workplace.

Back then there were a lot of incidents of Russian soldiers bullying and even attacking pedestrians without just cause. I, too, was caught by Russian soldiers several times at night. Whenever such things happened, I just about stopped myself from offending them and got away with it. However, even when I was able to handle the situation by myself there was always a group of students watching my back from afar. They were the soccer and boxing teams. I was very touched when I found out that they had formed a sort of squad to follow and save me from danger.

Those Red Army soldiers who caused the most trouble were in units mostly made up of criminals. They usually committed theft or rape, and even shot people. There was one incident where eight of them raped a junior student in a girls’ school.

My family had been getting by since I began working as a teacher and food distribution started. Father said that as soon as land reform began he would hand our land in Yihyeon-ri over to my uncle. He and mother were also to be given a share of land for two people, so he said he had decided to start farming.

Yet, although I was working as a teacher, I still suffered serious poverty. I did not have any decent clothes to wear. I did not have even a single fountain pen, which was an absolute necessity for a teacher. But I had three favorite students; Yun Jae Yong, Lee Myeon Oh, and Park Jeong Ho. I especially loved Yun Jae Yong. Yun’s father had been a policeman during the Japanese occupation. After the liberation, however, his lungs grew very weak so he went home for treatment in Jeungsan-gun. Yun’s aunt lived in Pyongyang, and she occasionally cooked food and brought it to school. What we mostly ate was corn, so we waited eagerly for her visits.

Yun’s kindness did not stop there. When he found out that I did not have anything to wear, he brought his father’s uniform, minus the epaulettes. My commercial school senior, Kim Deok Won, gave me a fountain pen as a gift, which I gratefully accepted.

The atmosphere was still uncertain, though. In a warehouse right next to the dormitory, there were two wagons and other useful tools. However, as making a living gradually became difficult, those things got stolen one by one.

There was also a Japanese POW camp next to the school. Russian soldiers used to go there and ask for girls, but sometimes they came to our school by mistake. Russian soldiers were very dangerous because whenever they got drunk they beat people up and fired their guns all over the place. Not to mention, of course, that they couldn’t communicate with us.

One night, when we were just about to lock up the dormitory and go to bed, we heard some of them making a loud noise outside. Afraid that they might come and cause trouble, we turned off the light and pretended to be asleep. They cursed loudly and kept knocking on the door. They were very threatening and dangerous, so we decided to hide in the school warehouse. The school was on vacation at the time, and there were only four of us there; Yun Jae Yong, Lee Myeon Oh, Park Jeong Ho and I.

The noise eventually seemed to stop. But soon they started knocking again. We just kept quiet until we didn’t hear any more noise from them. They must have gone. We went back to the dormitory quietly and snuck back to bed, trying to calm down.

The next day, we went to the warehouse, only to find it open. There was a blanket and the coat of a Russian officer inside. Some Russian soldiers must have stolen the blanket and left it in our warehouse; probably a search party had been trying to find those soldiers and made the noise the previous night. Since we had not opened the door for them, they were not able to find the things in the warehouse and left.

We did not have enough blankets and I did not have a coat either, so I dyed the coat black and wore it myself. The blanket, all of us shared. Pyongyang Commercial School passed the winter of 1945 in that very building, where it stayed until the summer of 1946.
Advertisements, links with an http address and inappropriate language will be deleted.

Won Pyongyang Sinuiju Hyesan
Exchange Rate 8,000 8,000 8,050
Rice Price 4,000 3,970 4,190