Sunday, October 3, 2010

German Embassy to honor Koreans who worked for Busan hospital

This black-and-white photo shows German doctors and nurses who had worked at a hospital in Busan. Behind them is the hospital building.
/ Courtesy of JoongAng Monthly

By Kim Se-jeong 

At the German Unification Day reception in Seoul this week, the German Embassy, the host, will have some special guests: 40 Korean doctors and nurses who served in the German hospital in Busan after the Korean War (1950-1953). 

The 40 constitute only half of the medical staff of both Germans and Koreans thattreated patients at a temporary facility between 1954 and 1959 in the southern port city. 

German Ambassador to Korea Hans-Ulrich Seidt said, “In recognition of their dedication and efforts, Germany would like to thank them” to a group of journalists gathered at the embassy last Wednesday. 

The hospital, an initiative by Germany and the United States, opened in April 1954 and shut down on the last day of 1959 as the land was returned to the original owner.

A total of 276,940 had reportedly been treated at the hospital, free of charge. 

But the goodwill story was buried with the shut-down of the hospital, having only survived through the word of mouth by people in the Busan area. 

It wasn’t until earlier this year when the story was rediscovered. A Korean journalist did an article on the hospital, giving life to the forgotten story. The ambassador was among the amazed audience.

“It is a special gift for Korea and Germany, which observe the 60th anniversary of the Korean War and the 20th anniversary of reunification,” the ambassador was quoted by the journalist as saying. 

The embassy made an official announcement on its website, asking the nurses and doctors to contact the embassy. 

The German hospital in Busan planted a seed for Korean nurses to be sent to Germany starting from 1966. 

Under a special contract between the Korean and the West German governments, 10,226 female Korean nurses were sent to Germany in the span of 11 years. 

The amount of money the nurses transferred home became part of the seed money used to build the Korean economy.

When it comes to medical science, Germany and Korea has a shared history. A German doctor Richard Wunsch took care of Gojong, the Korean emperor, between 1902 and 1905. His granddaughter Gesine Felix will come to Korea in November to receive a prize named after her grandfather from the pharmaceutical firm Boehringer Ingelheim.

Sharing West Germany’s unification experience, ambassador Seidt said, “The biggest question for West Germany (during separation) was to come up with an offer that couldn’t make East Germany do anything else but accept.”

The offer had two important elements. One was that it always came as a package with the West demanding something, even small, in return and the other was that it had an outspoken political message. 

“West Germany didn’t conceal that the offer had a purpose to change the way the eastern system worked,” he said, a message that has implications for South Korea, which has never quite succeeded in getting around to do the same.

For South Korea, even an attempt to get a political message across has seen retaliation by Pyongyang, which even developed illicit nuclear weapons to defend itself. 

A brand-new leadership introduced last week at the Workers Party conference showed only the determination to maintain, if not more, the status quo. 

Seoul has been on the side of giving, especially so under former Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. It however accumulated only dissatisfaction among taxpayers, who finally ousted President Kim Dae-jung’s sunshine policy after 10 years, and elected a hard-line president to office in 2008.

Asked to comment on unification costs, the ambassador said coming up with a figure is a “realistic and useful idea,” giving support to President Lee Myung-bak, who mentioned the same thing in his Liberation Day speech on Aug. 15.

According to the Unification Ministry, the government is following up on the speech by forming a special committee to spur public discussions and to launch studies to get an estimate on how much it could cost. 

Seidt also lauded the proposal of a second Gaeseong Industrial Complex, that Lee made public during a press interview in Russia earlier this month, as a useful and realistic one. 

In connection with the 20th anniversary of German unification, South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek is currently visiting Germany.

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