By Brady, NSLI-Y Korea, Academic Year 2014-2015
Last Saturday, October 25, 2014, I traveled, along with the other members of my program, to Seodaemun Prison History Hall. Seodaemun served the purpose of a sort of internment camp, where the Japanese military housed, tortured, and executed Korean citizens who opposed the forced occupation of Korea by Japan from 1910 until Korea’s liberation in 1945.
Walking through the halls of Seodaemun both saddened me and stirred a sense of indignation within me. We saw artifacts and documents showing the many attempts by the Japanese government to not simply oppress the Korean people; the Japanese government tried to erase Koreans as a culture and people completely by ridding them of their language, names, and the rest of their identities. As we went deeper into the halls, we saw the numerous torture devices and the deplorable living conditions of Seodaemun. There was one room that showed the faces of the captives I found particularly chilling. The faces I saw were those of citizens, not criminals.
It was written on a plaque that prisoners used to grab this tree when the guards dragged them to their executions. I noticed that from within this dark barked tree a new, brighter tree has begun growing. Seeing this, I felt there was strong symbolism to be found, but I’m not sure I’m wise enough to fully understand it.