Sort of in Otto Warmbier’s Shoes

My name is Daniel. I was an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea, and am now a writer who has

published three books including South Korea: Our Story by Daniel Nardini.

                         Fred and Cindy Warmbier, the parents of the now deceased son Otto Warmbier,

have come out publicly about the terrible things that happened to their son. It seems all too clear

that Otto was indeed tortured and that he spent an agonizing last days slowly dying from what the

North Korean government did to him. It reminded me of the dangers I had to deal with while I was

visiting a friend in East Germany over 28 years ago. Otto Warmbier was supposed to have been in

North Korea only for a week. It didn’t happen that way. I was supposed to have been in East Germany

for 20 days. In the end, I was able to leave after 20 days, although I seemed to have pissed off the 

East German government by “staying too long.” My East German friend and I began to realize that

the longer I stayed in East Germany, the greater the danger that I could be arrested and possibly

tortured and forced to confess being a “spy” and given a life-long sentence. Why did this not

happen? There were two important intervening things that was occurring in East Germany. First,

tens of thousands of East Germans were trying to escape any way they could. This alone was 

taking the majority of the resources and manpower of the East German government to deal with

the situation. And second, less East Germans were willing to work for the government even when

they were forced to do it. The will to resist the East German government went hand-in-hand with

those trying to flee the country. There was no doubt in my mind that the East German government

was watching me, but they had far greater priorities at that point. The point in history I had entered

East Germany was at a time when the East German state was beginning to fall apart—with the

Berlin Wall coming down two and a half months after I left. Had it been at any other time in

history, and I would have faced exactly what Otto Warmbier faced. I had lived during what many people

now call the year 1989 the “year of miracles.” I wish Otto Warmbier had such a miracle; he would

still be alive today.  

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