Cover Story

Paying a debt to history

Issue: "View from the Axis," March 9, 2002

Norbert Vollertsen has been haunting the Holocaust Museum in Washington. He cannot get over the photographs.

"As a German, I feel especially shocked because of these photos. I feel terribly guilty," he says. "Whenever I'm in the museum, I want to hide," especially when groups of Jewish children brush by him.

Born after the end of World War II, in 1958, Dr. Vollertsen is too young to remember it, never mind participate. Yet it is the national memory of a Jewish Holocaust that drives his efforts to prevent a Korean one. As a German, as the son of a soldier who fought for the original Axis of Evil, Dr. Vollertsen feels he owes history a debt.

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"We have to learn from our history, and whenever there's something going on like what's happening in North Korea, we have to speak and not keep silent," Dr. Vollertsen says. "All the people in South Korea, all the Europeans, all the diplomats, they keep silent. They know about the misery in North Korea but they keep silent because of diplomacy, because of South Korea's Sunshine Policy"-a reference to a failing policy of engagement between North and South that covers trade and travel but has not led to peace.

Dr. Vollertsen's outspokenness earns him the enmity not only of the North Korean government but also of European diplomats. "I get no support from them," he told WORLD. "Europeans are cowards."

One person he has joined forces with is an American of Jewish descent who also has a reputation for straight talk: Michael Horowitz at the Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute. Preventing a Korean holocaust, they say, is one way to bring together the son of a German soldier with a man whose relatives were murdered by Nazis.

Dr. Vollertsen, says Mr. Horowitz, "has a tremendous combination of empathy and courage, along with relative indifference to his own personal economic well-being.... What he's doing now is an expression of the same impulse that led him into medicine."

Dr. Vollertsen vows to apologize "if it turns out North Korea is a worker's paradise." But he fears the world will discover "hopefully after North Korea is liberated one day, that this was the real killing field of the 20th century. And then they will open all those concentration camps and they'll say, just like in Germany, 'Oh! Oh! We are so shocked! If we had only known this! We had no information!' But the defectors have been talking about this for 10 years."


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