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German to reunite with North Korean husband after 47 years

AFP · 5 Aug 2008, 08:43

Published: 05 Aug 2008 08:43 GMT+02:00

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Renate Hong, 71, and her two sons arrived in the North Korean capital on July 24 for the first family reunion involving a foreigner in the secretive communist state, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported. It was not clear from the report if the reunion had actually taken place.

German embassy officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

“I’m so excited. No words can express this feeling,” Renate told the paper on her way to the airport on July 23. “Today, my dream is finally realized.” She met Hong Ok-Geun, now 74, when he was an exchange student in what was then communist East Germany. But their married life ended after just 14 months when he was ordered home to Pyongyang to 1961. She was pregnant with their second child at the time. Hong’s letters ended two years after that.

After her love story was publicized, the German Red Cross managed in February 2007 to locate her husband, who now has his own North Korean family. In August last year Renate visited Seoul and appealed to the leaders of both Koreas for help in arranging a reunion.

“It really feels strange to think that I will see my father for the first time in my life,” the couple’s first son Peter told JoongAng Ilbo on July 23.

The paper said the visit was arranged with the help of the North Korean Red Cross and the couple had exchanged letters last year with the help of German authorities.

“When I received the first letter, my heart stopped beating,” Renate said. “I could not hold back tears.” According to the paper, Hong Ok-Geun told her: “I was really touched when I received your letter. I had hoped that you would be my companion for life.” He reportedly said East German authorities had stopped her leaving the country in the 1960s to go to North Korea. “Politics sometimes makes a foolish error,” he wrote.

The couple met in 1955 when they were both studying chemistry at a university at Jena, where Renate still lives. They married in February 1960 and four months later their first son was born.

But in April 1961 Pyongyang ordered her husband and other North Korean students to return home - apparently for fear they would defect to West Germany.

Story continues below…

Hong sent his wife more than 50 letters in the first two years they were apart. But suddenly the letters stopped and hers were all returned. Renate never remarried and raised her sons herself, working as a chemistry teacher and then a chemist at a pharmaceutical company until she retired in 1997.

Peter became a dairy farmer and Uwe became a chemist like his parents.

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