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January 26, 2005

German nun endured N.Korea camps, taught deaf-mutes

From: Reuters AlertNet - London,England,UK - Jan 26, 2005

Source: Reuters

By Martin Nesirky

TAEGU, South Korea, Jan 26 (Reuters) - One of the last two German nuns who endured years in communist North Korean camps was buried on Wednesday after a service attended by deaf-mute people she helped during more than six decades on the peninsula.

Sister Caritas died unexpectedly but peacefully on Monday whispering "Guardian angel, guardian angel", the head of her priory, Sister Gertrude, told Reuters. Sister Caritas was 91.

Her story spans Hitler's Germany, Japanese colonial rule, World War Two, the communist take-over and Russian presence, the Korean War, brief exile and a return to the ruins of the U.S.-backed South half a century ago.

Her life-long friend, Sister Bertwina, is now the sole survivor of the original large group of German missionary nuns, monks and priests who came to Korea in the 1930s as Hitler tightened his grip in Germany.

She said Sister Caritas had brought help to the poor and disabled, notably deaf-mutes, throughout a life filled with happiness and infectious laughter.

"She was like a mother," Sister Bertwina said at their Benedictine priory on the fringes of Taegu, South Korea's third-largest city, two hours southeast of the capital Seoul by bullet train.

"They did not believe they could possibly live without her."

An interpreter signed for those deaf-mutes who attended a service in the priory chapel conducted by Cardinal Kim Stephen, retired head of the Catholic Church in South Korea.

He specifically asked to take the service because he had known Sister Caritas during her decades working in Seoul with those who cannot speak or hear. He drew laughter describing the nun's humour and praised her endless enthusiasm.

Sister Caritas was buried on a hill overlooking the priory. Sister Bertwina stayed below, now too frail to walk that far.


In their latter years in what passes for retirement when you are a nun, the two sisters chatted almost daily about their life in Korea and often conversation turned to their time in North Korea.

They worked there, notably in Wonsan on the east coast, from the mid-1930s until the North Koreans imprisoned them before the 1950-53 Korean War and subsequently sent them to desolate labour camps that cost the lives of many of their compatriots.

Talking with outsiders, they played down their hardships before they were exiled in 1954 but the suffering was great.

"It's not something you can forget," said Sister Bertwina. Cardinal Kim and other priests said both women were remarkable for never expressing hatred for their captors.

Despite losing a friend she first met at school in Germany when she was about 18, Sister Bertwina, now 90 herself, seemed happy rather than sad as she recounted her fellow nun's passing.

"As she devoted her entire life to helping the poor and handicapped, Christ will surely have greeted her with open arms," said Sister Bertwina, who taught novices when she worked.

"It won't be long. My time will soon be up. And then we will meet again."

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