10 March 2013

North Korea: the mistake of lieutenant Novichenko

Usually I get my fill of NK - related news from Judeopundit and rarely feel a need to visit the NK own news site, but today I went there to see what's up and stumbled on a peculiar news item that almost, but not quite, escaped my attention.

Kim Jong Un Sends Message of Condolences to Bereaved Family of Ya. T. Nobichenko
Pyongyang, March 7 (KCNA) -- The dear respected Kim Jong Un sent a message of condolences to the bereaved family of Ya. T. Nobichenko on Thursday.

The message said:

Upon hearing the sad news that Maria Ebmenovna Nobichenko, wife of Ya. T. Nobichenko, close friend of the Korean people and internationalist soldier, passed away to our sorrow, I express deep condolences to the bereaved family of the deceased.
Not versed in NK history, I still felt that the article is somewhat peculiar and went to google for the Ya. T. Nobichenko.

Who appeared to be a late Soviet junior lieutenant Yakov Novichenko, who in 1946 no more and no less than saved the life of Kim Il Sung, the tyrant and the founder of the succession of tyrants that turned a whole country into a concentration camp.

Here is a story of the act that may have played a major role in the NK history. It is told by Won Tai Sohn, M.D., a retired physician and professor living in Omaha, Nebraska.

More details on the miraculous save* in a Russian article with a slavish headline Life for the Leader:
On March 1, 1946 a rally in honor of the 27th anniversary of the March First Movement took place near the central [train] station. On that day, a Soviet officer, Yakov Novichenko, was in command of a guard unit. Suddenly a grenade flew in the direction of the podium, where Kim Il Sung was speaking. Novichenko caught it on the fly, but couldn't get rid of it in the midst of a crowd - the rally was attended by about 300 thousand people. He managed to cover the grenade with his overcoat and pulled his arm back, behind a pillar. The grenade exploded. The officer was severely wounded, the explosion tore off his hand, he got a stone shard in the eye. Novichenko has survived miraculously. In the hospital he received a cigarette case with the inscription: " To hero Novichenko from the chairman of the People's Committee of North Korea, Kim Il Sung."

In the late 80's the name of Yakov enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the DPRK. Some Koreans even changed the name to become Novichenko. In the Soviet Union there was a movie "A second for the heroic deed", based on this dramatic episode.
Kim Il Sung remained grateful to his savior, keeping in touch with him and his family. The son of the tyrant was grateful too, but to a lesser degree, according to the reports:
The North Korean leader, though, was apparently too preoccupied with affairs of state to meet the 80-year-old widow of a Russian soldier who saved Kim's father's life 55 years ago. TASS reported that Maria Novichenko was left standing on the platform at Novosibirsk after Kim failed to alight from the train during its 20-minute stopover. Instead, his representative passed on gifts from the leader and assured her that he would meet her on his way back from Moscow.
As you can see from the beginning of this post, the grandson remembers the deed too.

So, what can one say about the story? On one hand, we have an authentic Soviet hero**, the stuff of legends, with an exceptionally quick brain and totally selfless. On the other hand - a heroic deed that saved the life of one of the bloodiest and inhuman dictators of the XX century. Couldn't the quick thinking Soviet officer stick the grenade into the tyrant's craw or some other orifice, possibly saving himself the agony of his wounds?

I am not a fan of the "what if" genre, but who knows how many millions of innocent lives could have been saved, had our hero decided not to save the vermin...

Well, that's the story more or less. And since we were on the subject of junior lieutenant Yakov Novichenko, here is something that relates both to Mr Novichenko and the continuing inhumanity of the NK regime (not a very reliable source, but with a reference to another one that could be checked):
North Korean regime even compelled an actor to undergo plastic surgery when producing a film about the Soviet Army officer who saved Kim Il-sung, founder of the Stalinist regime, it has been reported.

The Russian TV channel, TV-Center, reported on Jan. 25 revealed this, whilebroadcasting a documentary film named ‘Comrade Kim, the Prince of Chosun(Korea),’ which covers power succession from grandfather Kim Il-sung to third generation Kim Jong-un of North Korea. In 1985, Chosun Art Film Studio of North Korea and Mosfilm Studios of the USSR co-produced a movie, ‘Eternal Comrade,’ about the Soviet Army’s first lieutenant Yakov Novichenko, who had saved the leader of North Korea from grenade attack to assassinate him just less than one year after Korea’s independence from the Japanese colonial rule.

TV-Center disclosed that the NK authorities forced Li Yong-il, the actor who performed as Kim Il-sung in the film, to get plastic surgery, quoting Russian surgeon Igor Volf.
And, since plastic surgery and North Korea were mentioned, here is an even less reliable source with a funny tidbit:
Most people look to plastic surgery as a way of turning back time.

But Kim Jong-un, the 27-year-old heir to the North Korean regime, has reportedly taken the opposite tack by going under the knife to look more like his grandfather.

Speculation is rife in North and South Korea over the striking similarity between Kim Jong-un and Kim Il-sung, the founder of the family dynasty.
Whether it's true or not, in his level of madness the young fatso surely took after his ancestors.


(*)There are different accounts of the details of the heroic deed, such as this one:
Novichenko could not get rid of the grenade at once as many people were standing around him. The officer fell to the ground covering the grenade with his body.
Below is a North Korean sculpture that immortalizes the deed based on this interpretation.

(**) Without diminishing in any way the bravery of Yakov Novichenko, there is something that preordained the behavior of Soviet bodyguards, as can be derived from that old Soviet joke (from the sixties or seventies of the last century):
A POTUS' bodyguard and a Soviet General Secretary's bodyguard meet over a glass of beer, discussing their respective lives, the families, the jobs etc. Eventually they get to the quintessential body-guarding question:
Russian: Will you take a bullet for your president, John?
American: What, do you think I am bonkers? Surely not. I have a wife and children to think about. And how about you, Ivan?
Russian: I will surely take that bullet for my General Secretary. After all, I have a wife and children to think about...
So there...