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북녘 | [Reminiscences]Chapter 16 5. Kwon Yong Byok

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[Reminiscences]Chapter 16 5. Kwon Yong Byok

  

   

 

 

5. Kwon Yong Byok 

 

 Kwon Yong Byok was a reticent man. A propagandist is assumed to be an\orator, but this man spoke little even when he was the head of the propaganda section of his division. He always made his point succinctly; he never used superfluous words\or reiterated what he had said. One could hardly judge his thoughts\and feelings by his looks.


He hated lies\and bombastic speeches more than anything else,\and he kept his word under any circumstance. He suited his actions to his words,\and this was his excellence\and his personal charm.


It was this charm that won him our confidence\and the heavy responsibility of leading the Changbai County Party Committee at the time we were fighting on Mt. Paektu\and around West Jiandao, the major theatre of our operations.

The job of the man in charge of the Changbai County Party Committee is highly important for several reasons. The Changbai County Party Committee was one of the pivotal party\organizations. It was the first to be informed of\and to implement any line\or any pressing task laid down at meetings of the Party Committee of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army in the Paektusan Secret Camp. Our tasks\and decisions were conveyed to West\and North Jiandao,\and to the homeland, mostly by the Changbai County Party Committee, the Homeland Party Working Committee\and the East Manchuria Party Working Committee,\and the results of their implementation were also reported to the KPRA Party Committee mainly through these channels.


The important position\and role of the Changbai County Party Committee is explained by the fact that, staying in the secret camp on Mt. Paektu, we had to use West Jiandao as a stepping stone to develop the revolution in the homeland\and Manchuria; also by the fact that the KPRA Party Committee had to guide Party-building\and the anti-Japanese revolution as a whole through the HPWC, the EMPWC\and the CCPC, since a party of a new type had not yet been founded after the dissolution of the Korean Communist Party.


Just as Xiaowangqing was the centre of the anti-Japanese revolution in the first half of the 1930s, when we fought by relying on the guerrilla base in eastern Manchuria, so the Paektusan Base, which included West Jiandao, served as the centre of the anti-Japanese revolution in the latter half of the decade. The Paektusan Secret Camp was the core, surrounded as it was by a wide area of the homeland adjoining Mt. Paektu\and by the Changbai area. In Changbai there were many of our secret camps. In\order to protect\and maintain these camps, it was necessary to bring Changbai under our control\and train its inhabitants as revolutionaries.


A sharp confrontation with the enemy was inevitable in our effort to develop the ARF\organization in Changbai. The Manchukuo authorities were crude in their statecraft, but Japan’s intelligence services\and the “punitive” forces, consisting of Japanese\and Manchurian armies\and police, were formidable. Just as we had to pass through Changbai to advance to the homeland, so the enemy had to come by way of Changbai to attack us, hence this area was of great strategic importance for both friend\and foe.


That was why we set a high standard for the\selection of the man to lead the Changbai County Party Committee. In\order to be equal to the heavy responsibility, he needed guts, magnanimity,\organizing ability, untiring energy\and the ability to agitate for the revolutionary cause. Leadership of an underground front also called for accurate judgement, a meticulous work method, flexible tactics,\and a wide mental horizon in particular.

In choosing a man with these qualifications, I immediately thought of Kwon Yong Byok. Kim Phyong also recommended him.


Kwon was neither my schoolmate nor my fellow townsman, nor had we shared bed\and board, good\and bad days in our struggle in the guerrilla zone. In the first half of the 1930s, when the guerrilla zones were thriving, I was in Wangqing,\whereas Kwon was in Yanji. He had been on the expedition to Jiaohe,\and only in October 1936 did he come to the Paektusan Secret Camp to join the main force.


He had participated in the anti-Japanese movement early in his middle-school days. After he was blacklisted as a rebellious student\and expelled rom school, he fully committed himself to the revolution, as I had done. While I was in eastern Manchuria in 1930, I heard an anecdote about Kwon, either rom O Jung Hwa\or rom Pak Yong Sun. The anecdote was about his tragic experience at his father’s funeral\and his extraordinary power of self-control.


Hearing the news of his father’s death one day, he left the place of his work\and hurried home at dusk. He had scarcely positioned himself in his mourning robe before his father’s coffin, when the mounted gendarmes came for him, having guessed he would return. They dragged him\and his family out of the house\and asked him whether he was Kwon Chang Uk, his childhood name. Instantly seeing that none of the gendarmes knew his face, he answered politely that his younger brother Chang Uk had left home long before\and that he had not even sent a death notice to him because there was no knowing\where he was. His elder brother Kwon Sang Uk was away at the undertaker’s shop at the time, so he assumed his role.


The gendarmes, furious at their failure to capture Kwon Yong Byok, set fire to the house in which the coffin lay. They kept a watch on the house until it burnt down to the ground before they left.


Watching his father’s dead body burning, Kwon bit his tongue\and lips, swallowing his grief\and wrath. On returning to his work place, he was unable to drink the liquor his comrades offered to him. His lips\and tongue were so badly hurt, he was unable to eat even porridge for days.


Kwon was known among the communists in eastern Manchuria as a young fighter with an unusual power of self-control. They said that to defeat the enemy\and achieve a great cause, a revolutionary needed Kwon’s self-restraint of overcoming any impulse\or mental agony.


However, not all the people who heard of the atrocity at the funeral praised Kwon. Some people said they did not understand why Kwon had not resisted the enemy. “How could a son behave like that?” they demanded. “He should have prevented the insult to his father’s remains by whatever means.”


Those in favour of Kwon brushed aside the protest. “If an\ordinary man resists the gendarmes, it is understandable, but Kwon could not expose his identity to the enemy. If he had resisted, he would have been shot then\and there,\or at best he would have been imprisoned. Then he would have been unable to fight for the revolution.”


I heard that when leaving home to take up the revolutionary cause, he had said to his wife:

“I am not a man to return home alive.\or even if I did, I can’t tell how long it will be until the revolution emerges victorious, perhaps ten\or twenty years rom now. So please don’t wait for me. Earn your own living. I won’t blame you if you cross my name rom the list of living people in this world\and marry another man. The only thing I ask of you is to bring up the boy properly\and tell him to follow in my footsteps when he is grown up.”


His farewell greeting to his wife became yet another cause for disputes. Some people said it was a too cold-hearted, others protested that it was an insult to women in general. “Why didn’t he tell her to wait for him until his triumphant return home? If he really loved his wife he should have said so. Does he think that Korean women haven’t enough sense of honour\and loyalty to wait for their husbands who were devoting themselves to the revolution until the country wins independence? It is shameless of him to look down upon women.”


If his words of farewell were interpreted straightforward, he might have been criticized more severely.


In my opinion, however, only a man determined to dedicate himself to the revolution without hesitation could say such things,\and only a man who truly loved his wife could ask such a thing. None but a man ready to fight to the death to carry out the revolution is capable of such a grim\and honest self-expression. I found true humanity in his words.


Many years after, that is, in the spring of 1935, I met Kwon Yong Byok for the first time at Yaoyinggou. At that time a short military\and political cadre training course was under way for\selected comrades rom the guerrilla units\and revolutionary\organizations in eastern Manchuria. Kwon was among the trainees.


Making his acquaintance at a time when many young patriots had been killed in the foreign land during the violent anti-“Minsaengdan”\orgy, I felt as overjoyed as if I had met an old friend.

We introduced ourselves to each other. I remember we had a very intimate talk, for a first interview.


He mentioned his farewell to his wife.


“You should have bid a fonder farewell to her to spare her distress,” I said.


“Her distress was inevitable, so why should I have tried to put it off?” Kwon said, shaking his head.

“Do you still think then that you won’t return to her alive?”


“I want to see my country independent\and I also want to return home alive, but I don’t think I shall be so fortunate. I have no desire to stay in the background in the final battle with the enemy. I must always stand in the front ranks just to take my father’s revenge. How can a man, determined to fight to the death in the front ranks, think of survival? I don’t hope for such good luck.”


He spoke the truth.


As subsequent events proved, he was always in the thick of the most dangerous fighting, both in the underground\and on the bloody battlefield. When the 2nd Regiment was on an expedition to Jiaohe, Kwon Yong Byok was the secretary of the party branch of the 2nd Company. More than once the regiment found itself in danger of total annihilation rom enemy encirclement, but each time Kwon, along with O Jung Hup\and other comrades, saved the day.


Kwon Yong Byok was also the first man to cross tle Amnok, breaking through the tight line of border guards to deliver my message to Pak Tal.


Another reason for placing him in charge of the Changbai County Party Committee was that he had had some experience of underground work in Jiandao in the early 1930s.


The greatest of his merits was his ability to work among the people. He was good at rallying people\and gave them efficient leadership.

Hwang Nam Sun (Hwang Jong Ryol) still clearly remembers how skilful Kwon was in dealing with an elder of the village of Wengshenglazi. The elder was a man of furious temper. Operatives had often visited the village in an effort to establish a foothold in it, but they had failed, having been confronted by the old man\and expelled. They had tried to infuse political ideas into the minds of villagers before becoming familiar with the people. Worse still, they had failed to behave properly towards the village elder. They had simply given him a wide berth\and said he was feudalistic, instead of trying to win him over. The old man was obviously a diehard, like old man Pyon “Trotsky”10 in the village of Wujiazi.


Kwon Yong Byok approached the old man quite differently. Knowing that the village elder refused to deal with ill-mannered people, Kwon greeted him politely on his first visit. He knelt down on the floor\and bowed according to the Korean custom, then introduced himself, saying, “Venerable elder, I am a poor migrant labourer. I came here because I have heard that the people of this village are kind-hearted. I hope you will look after me\and lead me.”


Pleased with the well-mannered, good-looking young man, the old man said, “You are a decorous young man. I don’t know whose offspring you are, but I can see rom your manners that you are well-bred. The villagers are kind people, so let us live in harmony here.” The old man even treated him to lunch.


To win over the old man of Wengshenglazi was considered as difficult as occupying a height on a battlefield. Kwon occupied the height without difficulty by bowing to him once in the Korean manner. He was now able to give revolutionary education to the village with ease.


Pending his appointment as the head of the Changbai County Party Committee, we let him inspect the county to give him an opportunity to study the situation there.

After a month of field inspection, he came back to the secret camp.


In February 1937 we had a meeting with him\and other underground workers at the Hengshan Secret Camp,\where we\organized the Changbai County Party Committee. At the meeting Kwon Yong Byok was officially appointed head of the county party committee. Ri Je Sun became his deputy. At the meeting it was also decided to expand subordinate district party committees\and party sub-groups.


That day I pointed out to Kwon Yong Byok that he must widen the area of his work, extending the tasks of party building\and the formation of ARF\organizations deep into the homeland. I set out various other tasks, such as recommending volunteers to the revolutionary army, winning over people in the service of enemy establishments\and admitting them to revolutionary\organizations, collecting military information,\and so on. I also specified the duties of the Changbai County Party Committee.


After the meeting I immediately sent Kwon off to the enemy area along with his assistant Hwang Nam Sun. For the sake of their work, they were disguised as man\and wife. This was necessary also for their own personal security.

Hwang Nam Sun had some experience in underground activities, having worked underground at the village of Chicangu, Shirengou, when she was fifteen.


One day, while she was helping a peasant at his house in the village, she was surprised to see that the cooking pot in the kitchen was the same one that she had used at her house in the village of Fuyancun guerrilla zone.


“How come my cooking pot is in the kitchen of this house?” she wondered. “Did the peasant get it rom the ‘punitive’ troops? Is he working with them?” This thought kept her awake for several nights.

Learning of her suspicion, the members of the underground\organization at the village concluded that he must be the enemy’s running dog\and suggested that the family be expelled rom the village. But Hwang Nam Sun said she would try to find out the truth by being patient. She finally learned that cooking pot had been stolen, then thrown away by “punitive” troops who had attacked her village in the Fuyancun guerrilla zone. They had destroyed the villagers’ household goods\and set fire to every house. Her cooking pot had been picked up at a burnt-down house\and carried away by the suspected man, who had been forced to carry the enemy’s supplies as a carter. The peasant, cleared of suspicion, was now admitted into the Anti-Japanese Association. His wife was allowed to join the Women’s Association.


By contrast, Rim Su San, sent to the same village of Chicangu for underground work, failed dismally. Though a man of theoretical knowledge\and sleek in appearance, he did not know how to mix with the people. He was given the cold shoulder\and treated as a parasite. Cooped up in the house of a member of the Anti-Japanese Association\and eating three meals a day at the expense of his host, he\ordered the people about. Even when he came out of the house once in a long while, he used to walk around pompously, hands clasped behind his back, firing unpleasant questions at the people he met, as if interrogating them. Even passers-by were irritated by him. Failing to establish a foothold among the villagers, he was compelled to return to the guerrilla zone.


A man who sees himself as a special being reigning over the heads of the people is doomed to be rejected by the masses. He who floats like a\drop of grease on the surface of water instead of mixing with the people will never win their sympathy\or trust.


At the time Kwon Yong Byok\and Hwang Nam Sun were being prepared for their work in Changbai, many underground workers rom Changbai County were at our secret camp. They all received their missions for the underground rom me that day. Kwon accepted his assignments gladly, but I did not feel light-hearted, for I thought I had overburdened him. Changbai was a wide area covering Qidagou through Ershiwudagou, so extensive that even a legal party worker would find it difficult to deal with. In addition to guiding party work in the county, he had to involve himself deeply in the homeland movement.


What I remember most vividly about the underground workers’ leave-taking at the time of their departure for Changbai is the farewell party at which they ate pieces of potato candy, a gift rom the Diyangxi peasants on the occasion of the lunar New Year’s Day. As we were short of food, we were unable to treat them to a sumptuous feast, but the candy party made a strong impression on me, somehow.


Seeing off Kwon Yong Byok, I spoke to him as follows:


“I entrust Changbai to you. You must bring Changbai\and the whole area of West Jiandao under our influence. This will give us the support of the people\and build up our manpower reserves. If we fail to win over West Jiandao, we shall be unable to carry out large-unit operations in the homeland across the Amnok. We must advance to the homeland this spring\or this summer, come what may. rom now onwards, you must work well among the people. Your mission is to build party\organizations\and at the same time rally the people behind the ARF. It is a difficult job to win over the people,\and success in this work depends on you. I trust you....”


On the morning of Kwon’s departure we had fought a battle, so he left us in an unsettled atmosphere. Going by way of the dashifu’s house at Shiqidaogou\and Ri Je Sun’s house at Ershidaogou, Kwon arrived in safety at Tuqidian-li, Shiqidaogou, his base, as designated by Headquarters. Shiqidaogou was located in the heart of Changbai County. The village was also called Wangjiagou because a Chinese landlord surnamed Wang had thrown his weight about in the village. rom there it was also easier to infiltrate deep into the homeland via Hoin\and Hyesan across the Amnok. Wangjiadong is one of the villages in Wangjiagou.


Kwon took up his residence in Tuqidian-li in the guise of So Ung Jin’s maternal nephew, a nephew who had lost his job after working as a day labourer at the railway construction site between Kilju\and Hyesan. So Ung Jin was an experienced underground worker who had been engaged in revolutionary work as a member of an anti-Japanese\organization in Yanji after finishing middle school. He had moved to West Jiandao when his identity had been discovered. So Ung Jin, Choe Kyong Hwa\and other members of the revolutionary\organization in Shiqidaogou helped Kwon to settle in Wangjiadong without being suspected. They obtained a house\and a small area of farmland for him, as well as a residence permit rom the police station by bribing the head of the police station with opium.


From then, Kwon Yong Byok\and Hwang Nam Sun began a “conjugal” life in the cottage provided by\organization members under assumed names, Kwon as Kwon Su Nam\and Hwang as Hwang Jong Ryol. Later Kwon confessed that he had addressed Hwang as Comrade Hwang more than once, to their embarrassment.


Kim Ju Hyon, who had been to Shiqidaogou at the head of a procurement party for military supplies, told me that the “newly-married couple” had been greatly praised by the villagers because they had thrown themselves wholeheartedly into both the pleasant\and unpleasant work of the village as soon as they moved in.


Whenever he found anything in any family that needed a man’s hand while going rom house to house for his underground work, he helped the family, by chopping firewood, cutting fodder\and sweeping the yard. At homes\where a wedding\or funeral ceremony was in preparation, he helped by making cakes\or butchering pigs.

People who saw him skinning, dismembering\and gutting a pig said unanimously that he would humble a butcher’s pride. The villagers invited him whenever they had an ox\or a pig to butcher.


The two operatives won people’s hearts with their manner\and work enthusiasm. They declined other people’s offers of assistance, but they considered it natural to help others. Kwon believed that to be a burden to his neighbours meant a failure in his work as an underground operative. He therefore did his own farm work with the enthusiasm of a real farmer.


In the early days of Kwon’s activity in Wangjiadong, members of the ARF in that village gathered firewood for him to help him in his busy underground work. But he declined even this assistance.

“I am grateful to you, but you must not do that,” he told them. “If you bring firewood to an\ordinary peasant, the enemy may begin to suspect us. So you must stop helping me even though you want to do so. Only in this way can you really help me.”


The ARF members devised an alternative. They did not bring the firewood straight to Kwon’s house, but left it by stealth on the edge of Kwon’s barley field on their way back rom the mountain. Again he dissuaded them. He got his own firewood\and carried manure to the fields by himself.


He went to bed late\and got up early all through his work in Wangjiadong. He was said to sleep no more than three to four hours each night in other places of work as well.


Frequently one saw him travelling around with a shabby bundle slung on his shoulder. People who did not know the secret of his work concluded that he was in the habit of sleeping outside because he was not happy with his wife. He had to make the rounds of the area under his charge every month, walking a hundred miles rom Qidaogou, Xiagangqu, to Ershiwudaogou, Shanggangqu. There were many villages in Changbai County,\and he visited nearly all of them. That was why he had to sleep fewer hours than\ordinary people.


Once when he came to the secret camp to report on his work, I noticed his bloodshot eyes. I advised him to take care of his health so as to be able to work many more years for the revolution. He answered that it was extremely interesting work to build up\organizations.


Kwon Yong Byok\and his comrades’ energetic activities resulted in the formation of underground party\organizations in nearly all the major villages of Changbai County by the early spring of 1937. A large number of party teams, ARF chapters\and branches came into existence under his care\and grew up\and expanded quickly. The paramilitary corps also worked briskly under the protection\and guidance of party\organizations. During the night hours our people, led by Kwon Yong Byok, not by Manchukuo officials, worked freely to build up public support for the revolutionary cause.


Kwon was now under heavier pressure of work than ever before. Many reliable operatives he had trained went to the homeland. The underground revolutionary\organizations in Shiqidaogou became a veritable breeding ground for underground operatives.


Kwon also trained young people through the paramilitary corps. Its members did farm work during the day\and acted as guards for underground revolutionary\organizations at night, making preparations for participating in the armed struggle when necessary.

In consultation with the village heads, who belonged to his\organization, Kwon ensured that the night patrols of the Self-Defence Corps were formed with the members of the paramilitary corps. The members of the paramilitary corps, in the guise of lawful night patrols, protected the underground revolutionary\organizations instead of serving the enemy.


Under Kwon’s direct guidance many paramilitary corps members were trained to become fighters. Also under his direction Choe Kyong Hwa developed, then became the head of the youth department\and the head of the special members in the Wangjiadong Chapter of the ARF,\and took charge of the\organizational affairs of the party branch in Wangjiadong. His son also grew into a fighter in the Children’s Corps. Knowing Choe’s cherished desire to fight in the army, Kwon recommended him to me.


Although he was always upright, conscientious\and honest with his friends, Kwon Yong Byok was extremely skilful at deceiving the enemy. He did this by means of disguise\and dissimulation at every critical moment, protecting himself, his comrades\and his\organizations against discovery. Planting hardcore members of his\organizations in important posts within enemy establishments was one such form of disguise.


In\order to provide safe working conditions for the village headmen belonging to the underground party\organization\and the ARF, as well as conditions for supporting the guerrilla army without losing the confidence of the enemy, Kwon sent letters signed by the KPRA supply officer to the village heads, which the heads then handed in to the police station. The letters demanded that they, the village heads, should prepare certain aid goods\and bring them to certain places by certain dates. The letters also warned that if any of them told about the message to the police, they would not be safe.

 

The police took the village heads to be loyal\and praised them for bringing in the letters. But the headman of Wangjiadong kept the letter to himself in accordance with one of Kwon’s schemes. This exception attracted the enemy’s attention. One day the chief of the Banjiegou police station summoned him\and roared in a furious temper, “You are in secret communication with the ‘communist bandits’. We have evidence. Confess!”


The village headman replied with composure, “I am serving as a village head for you in spite of the danger of being shot by the revolutionary army. I am disappointed to hear you say that I am in secret communication with the ‘communist bandits’.”


“You are dishonest. If you were honest, you would have brought this kind of thing to me. Other village headmen have all brought them. Why do you feign ignorance?” The police chief took out letters signed by the supply officer rom his desk drawer.

Only now did the village head produce a letter rom his pocket. He said, “I have also received this letter of warning. Why should the revolutionary army make an exception with me in their demand for supplies? This is the letter. I did not hand it in for your own sake. When you are given a letter such as this, you have to take certain measures. What measures can you take? Even hundreds of well-trained ‘punitive’ troops have been defeated\and have retreated. Can this small police station take any sort of effective action? This letter will only embarrass you. The best way to deal with the revolutionary army is to let well enough alone. We will deal with the matter ourselves, so I suggest that you feign ignorance.”


The police chief accepted his advice\and rom then on placed special confidence in him. Kwon’s scheme worked without a hitch.


From my own days in the underground, I knew what a struggle it was to disguise oneself, one’s comrades\and\organization in an enemy-held area. It was a task that demanded enormous intelligence\and creativeness.

Kwon Yong Byok carried out this heavy task reliably.


In anticipation of our advance to the homeland, we\organized a reconnaissance of the town of Pochonbo in the spring of 1937 through cooperation between the army\and the people. The Changbai County Party\organization was assigned to carry out the same reconnaissance.


Fully aware of the importance of the operations for advance to the homeland, Kwon made up his mind to undertake the assignment himself,\and plunged into preparations for departure.


He had to find some excuse for leaving home. In\order to carry out the reconnaissance mission, he had to stay away for many days,\and if he were to make a long journey without a plausible excuse, he might be suspected\or even shadowed by the enemy. For a peasant to be absent rom farm work in the busy season would be considered abnormal. Kwon hit upon a bright idea.


He dispatched a member of the\organization to the post office in Changbai to send a telegram to him with the message that his father died. The telegram was delivered to Kwon on the same day. The postman had revealed the message at Wangjiadong, so that all the villagers\and even the enemy learned of the “news”.


Old men came to Kwon with condolences\and asked him sympathetically why he was not going to his father’s funeral. Kwon replied that he, a sharecropper, was apprehensive of leaving his crops unattended for many days in the busy season. The neighbours urged him to go, saying that nothing was more important than a father’s funeral,\and that they would take care of his crops for him.


He left Wangjiadong, carried out the reconnaissance mission\and reported the results to me. Nobody suspected him. He pleaded so earnestly with me to take him along to the battle of Pochonbo that I permitted his participation.


By the time he got back to Shiqidaogou rom the battle, members of his\organization had made all the arrangements for him to play the part of a mourner. Like a son who had just buried his father, he wore his mourning robes\and met sympathizers rom the village. One can imagine his feelings at having to tell a lie to the good-natured, innocent village elders.

Kwon Yong Byok carried on his underground work carefully\and skilfully, toeing the basic line laid down by Headquarters, sending reports of the matters that needed reporting to his superiors,\and dealing at his discretion with those problems which were within his jurisdiction. In those days, when modern means of communication, such as telephones\and radio transmitters, were unavailable\and when inconvenient means, such as notes, had to be used for communication with Headquarters, operatives often had to deal with problems by making their own decisions in the field rather than reporting to superiors for instructions. Kwon Yong Byok reported to Headquarters only on important problems relating to the political line, which needed our decisions. He settled most of the problems in the field through consultation with the members of his\organization, then reported only the process\and results to us. Because of the great distance between his workplace\and our secret camp,\and because of our occasional absences rom the secret camp, it was impossible to report all problems to Headquarters\or deal with them in accordance with its decisions.


As he knew the situation better than anyone else, Kwon never raised problems\or did anything that might be a burden to Headquarters.


Only once did he ask for my advice on the measures to be taken in connection with the construction of internment villages. The enemy pressed on by force with the construction of internment villages in West Jiandao for the purpose of “separating the people rom the bandits” just as it had done in eastern Manchuria. The people in Changbai hated to be forced into these villages. Kwon felt the same way. In internment villages the peasants would suffer greater hardships,\and underground work\and the movement to support the revolutionary army would be much more difficult to carry out. Nevertheless, it was impossible to oppose the construction of such villages without considering the consequences. The enemy set fire to the houses of the people who refused to enter the internment villages\and evacuated the people by force. Those who resisted were shot. What was to be done? The county party committee held a meeting\and discussed the matter, but was unable to reach a decision.


I told Kwon that opposing the scheme of internment villages was a reckless act\and advised him to persuade the people to enter the villages. In a way, the misfortune might be a blessing. Obviously in internment villages our activity would be greatly hampered, but I told him not to worry, for the enemy would not be able to stem the current of sympathy between the army\and the people, nor would it be able to check the torrent of support for the guerrilla army, just as it was impossible to dam up a river with a barbed wire fence\or to stop a gale with merely a wall.


Back at his workplace, Kwon led the people in the construction of an internment village in Guandao. Even the most obstinate people followed his example\and built the houses\and the wall surrounding them with enthusiasm. Under Kwon’s direction the members of the underground\organization feigned obedience to the enemy’s scheme. Ironically, the Guandao internment village was finally evaluated as the No. 1 “peaceful people’s village” by the county police authorities.


The members of the underground\organization in Shiqidaogou occupied all the important offices in the Guandao internment village. So Ung Jin became the commander of the Self-Defence Corps, Song Thae Sun his deputy, Jon Nam Sun the village headman,\and Kwon Yong Byok headmaster of the village school. It was the same situation in other such villages.


Kwon’s underground front extended beyond the bounds of Changbai deep into the homeland, including North\and South Hamgyong Provinces\and North Phyongan Province. Kwon distinguished himself not only in military action but also in the strained underground struggle to inculcate the idea of revolution in the popular masses.


In the summer of 1937 he sent a letter to me through a correspondent. The letter reads in part:


“Comrade Commander: To be candid, I was annoyed at having to leave the unit, for I thought I was being relegated rom the first to the second line. How could I express my sadness at that time? Although I had heard until my ears burnt that rallying the people behind the ARF was the way to hasten the victory of the revolution against Japan, it was still impossible to take leave of you, Comrade Commander, with a light heart when you offered me a farewell handshake. But I soon lost my prejudice while working here,\and I now no longer feel that the underground front is only a second line. In fact, I would now say it is the first line. I realize the value of this life as I see the daily expanding\organizations\and the growth of people. I am grateful to you, Comrade Commander, for sending me to work on this fertile land.”


When he said he felt the value of life while\organizing people\and inspiring them with the revolutionary idea, he spoke the truth. I can say that\organizing\and mobilizing people is an ongoing task the revolutionaries must not overlook even for a moment. Giving people constant ideological education\and\organizing them is the lifeline of our revolution, the key to its victory\and its imperishability.

If a revolutionary shuns this work\or slights it, he will go stale politically\and cease to be a revolutionary.


Being well aware of this principle, Kwon put all his heart into the work of\organizing people,\and was arrested by the enemy while fighting heroically along that path. His greatest regret in prison was that the\organizations, which he\and his comrades had developed in the face of such hardship, were being destroyed en masse. He thought that the best thing he could do was to save every single man possible\and safeguard the\organization.


Kwon Yong Byok tried to save the bleeding revolutionary\organizations as much as possible, even at the cost of his own life. He sent to Ri Je Sun a secret note written with his fingernail. The note said, “Shift all the responsibility on to me!”


Knowing Kwon’s intention\and decision, Ri Je Sun sent a reply note without delay, which said, “We are one in mind\and body!”


Kwon knew well what the note like a telegram message meant.

The two comrades were locked up in different prison cells,\and no more slips were exchanged. But their hearts throbbed as one,\and with singleminded determination to fight to the death, they started the operation to save the\organization.


When the prisoners were being examined at the Hyesan police station, Kwon Yong Byok said in secret to Tojong Pak In Jin:

“Your visit to Mt. Paektu is known to nobody except the General, you\and me, so if only you keep silent about it no one will incriminate you.”


Ri Je Sun whispered to Ri Ju Ik about a similar case.


Thanks to their self-sacrificing rescue operations, Pak In Jin, Ri Ju Ik\and many other prisoners were released without being dragged on trial,\or were sentenced to much lighter punishment than expected. They were able to outlive their prison terms\and greet the liberation of their country. Such secrets as the vertical chain of leadership by which Kwon was in contact with\organizations in Changbai\and in the homeland, together with the content of his work with them, remained a mystery that the turncoats were never able to discover. Therefore these\organizations\and their members survived intact\and continued to work in secret. In\order to save the\organizations\and his comrades, however, Kwon Yong Byok resolutely chose death, along with Ri Je Sun, Ri Tong Gol, Ji Thae Hwan, Ma Tong Hui\and other fighters.


While he was being transferred rom the Hyesan police station to Hamhung, on the train, Kwon continued to show his solicitude for his comrades. At that time he had seven won. Resolved to spend his last money on his comrades, he said to a police escort:


“Officer, buy me fruit\and biscuits with this money. You have handcuffed us, so you have to do it for us on behalf of the Japanese authorities, even though you may be reluctant.”


The other comrades also produced thirty-odd won to add to his sum.

Strangely enough, the policeman complied with the request without any fuss.

Kwon distributed the fruit\and biscuits equally among the comrades. The hundred-odd fighters ate them, exchanging silent glances\and smiles. That was a spiritual closeness only communists could enjoy.


The police escorts were surprised at the family atmosphere. “Communists are strange people. Are you continuing to share

close friendship even while on your way to punishment? Is that communism?”


“Yes, we communists are like that. When Japanese imperialism is defeated, we will build a country\where all the people are brothers.”


“But Mr. Kwon, the authorities will not give you the freedom to build such a country. You will have to mount the gallows some day.”


“I myself shall die, but my comrades-in-arms will carry on to build an ideal country.”


Kwon repeated this with emphasis in his statement at his public trial:

“I am not a criminal. We are Korean patriots\and legitimate masters of this country. We have launched a great war against the Japanese to drive out the piratic Japanese imperialists rom our country\and bring a free\and happy life to our nation. Who dares to put whom on trial? You are the real criminals, those who must be tried. You are criminals who have committed acts of robbery\and murder, who have occupied our country, slaughtered our people\and plundered our country of its wealth. The day will come when history, making a fair judgement, absolves us as defenders of our nation\and buries you.”


Kwon Yong Byok died, shouting “Long live the revolution!” on the gallows of Sodaemun Prison, Seoul, even as the Soviet armed forces advanced westward, liberating lesser nations in East Europe, as Tokyo was submerged in a sea of fire under American bombing,\and as the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army at Mt. Paektu\and in the maritime provinces of Siberia prepared for an all-out offensive against Japan to liberate the country. His only son, who was 15\or 16 years old, was then driving a manure cart in the streets of Chongjin.


In the summer of 1950, when the Fatherland Liberation War broke out, I stayed in Seoul for some time, directing the work of the liberated area. On my first visit to the city, I wanted to see many places. The first thing I did, however, was to visit Sodaemun Prison. Many of my friends\and comrades had had bloody experience of the prison. As soon as they marched into the city, the heroic soldiers of the People’s Army smashed the prison gates with their rumbling tanks\and freed the prisoners.


Sodaemun Prison was the shameful site of crimes\and atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese imperialists in this land. It was in this notorious prison that Kwon Yong Byok, Ri Je Sun, Ri Tong Gol, Ji Thae Hwan\and other fine sons\and daughters of the Korean nation, who had courageously resisted the Japanese imperialists, lost their precious lives. My uncle Hyong Gwon died in Mapho Prison. When I was fighting in the mountains, I thought of paying a visit to their graves in Seoul when the country was liberated. I was not able to realize my wish until five years after the liberation because the country was divided along the 38th parallel. It was impossible to find out their nameless graves, but the sight of the roofs\and walls of the prison seemed to calm my aching heart. To relive my long-pent-up sorrow, I burst into tears as I stood there, haunted by the souls of comrades who for five long years after the liberation of the country had had no opportunity to be mourned over by their comrades-in-arms.


“I leave behind me my only son. If I have a wish, it is that my son take up the cause\where I left off.” This was Kwon’s last will\and testament, made to his comrades-in-arms in Sodaemun Prison.


As I came out into the street after the inspection of the prison, his words echoed in my mind. Noble words such as these could be uttered only by revolutionaries like Kwon Yong Byok, who lived an exemplary life. Even now I still recollect these words now\and then.



 Related articles

[Reminiscences]Chapter 15. Expansion of the Under-ground Front 7. A Written Warranty for a Good Citizen

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  1. Expedition to Fusong

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  2. Hundreds of Miles rom Xiaotanghe at One Go

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  3. Guardsmen

[Reminiscences]Chapter 16. Crossing\and Recrossing the River Amnok  4. Across the Whole of Korea



   

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