News and Insights

To get rid of Sun Myung Moon the North Korean authorities sentenced him to five years in a death camp

North Korea
Part of North Korea with capital Pyongyang in the West and industrial city of Heungnam (Hungnam) on the East coast. Photo: 下一次登录 / Wikimedia Commons. Public domain image. Cropped

Before he was transferred to a concentration camp 20th May 1948, Sun Myung Moon was held in a cell in Pyongyang. There he met Weon-dok Kim, a major in the North Korean army, convicted by the communists of spying for South Korea. He had several strong spiritual experiences and dreams where, among other things, his father asked him to prepare to meet an extremely important person from South Korea. In the dream, this person was surrounded by a brilliant light.

When the 28-year-old Moon was shown into the cell, and the two got to know each other, Weon-dok Kim realized that he had now met the right person. From then on, he became Sun Myung Moon’s disciple.

The two were transferred to a concentration camp outside Heungnam (Hungnam), an industrial city on the east coast. There were about 1500 prisoners there. The cells were designed for 20, but 40 were crammed in.

The conditions in the camp, known as a death camp, were terrible. Every single day there were prisoners who died. The communist regime always made sure to replace those with new ones.

Many were political prisoners, dissenters whom the authorities wanted to get rid of. Instead of executing them, they sent them there to die a slow death. Most died of hunger and exhaustion after a few months.

Heungnam fertilizer factory
From a storage building in Heungnam with huge piles of hardened ammonium sulfate. Picture taken in the 1930s when the large factory was run by a Japanese company – Nippon Nitrogen Fertilizer Co., Tokyo. Photo: Nippon Nitrogen Fertilizer Co. Public domain image

The camp was three kilometers from one of the world’s largest fertilizer factories, Korea’s nitrogen fertilizer factory. In the storage buildings lay huge piles of hardened ammonium sulfate. The prisoners’ task was to crack loose pieces, which they then processed until they were small enough to be put in 40 kg bags, which they carried to the scale for weighing and finally carried them up on freight cars.

The inmates were divided into teams of ten. Each team had to produce 1300 bags a day. In practice, they had to manage three bags per minute. If they did not manage their daily task, they did not get food in the evening.

Moon quickly realized that he had been sent to the camp to die. It was impossible to survive there for five years.

Sun Myung Moon praying in death camp
Sun Myung Moon praying in Heungnam while fellow prisoners were sleeping. Illustration: FFWPU

He understood that if God was to continue to use him, he must first win the spiritual battle against the forces of evil, which in such a death camp seemed to have a solid grip on him. The weapons Sun Myung Moon used were prayer, love, and a disciplined life. No matter what he would have to go through, he decided to always regard those who kept him locked up, as God’s children and forgive them their abuses.

Even under such inhumane conditions, where the inmates had to perform hard physical work while being given the poorest food, Moon had to constantly put the spiritual at the center. It was extremely difficult under those horrible circumstances.

Occasionally, a prisoner would die in the canteen while the inmates were eating together. Fellow prisoners would then rush over to the dead person and pick food out of his mouth. They were so terribly hungry. They behaved like animals and could hardly think of anything else than food.

Sun Myung Moon had to pass this test of extreme hunger. For two weeks he gave away half of the little food he was served, to others. He set himself the goal of longing as much for God’s love as his fellow prisoners longed for food.

Sun Myung Moon explained his way of thinking,

“I knew that the secret to overcoming evil was to let it attack me first. I could then overcome it later.”

Father Moon described his amazing attitude when he prayed at that time,

“I never prayed from weakness; I never complained; I was never angry at my situation; I never even asked His help, but was always busy comforting Him and telling Him not to worry about me. The Father knows me so well. He already knew my suffering. How could I tell Him about my suffering and cause His heart to grieve still more. I could only tell Him that I would never be defeated by my suffering.” (New Hope – Twelve Talks by Reverend Sun Myung Moon, 1973)


“Sent to Death Camp to Die” – text written by Knut Holdhus based on historical materials.