How will we stock 5th exhibition hall?The third and fourth exhibition halls in the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History are dedicated to the industrialization, democratization and modernization of the country. The exhibitions introduce the miners and nurses sent to Germany and the construction workers in the Middle East. From 1963 to the late 1970s, over 8,000 miners and 11,000 nurses were sent to West Germany every year. They remitted more than $100 million ?to Korea. The working clothes, gas lights and emergency radio sets used by the miners and diaries by workers in the Middle East are on display.
“I am choked with tears to see your tanned faces. We may be poor, but let’s give a wealthy country to our children,” said President Park Chung Hee to the miners gathered at the town hall of the West German mining town of Duisburg on Dec. 10, 1964. He was visiting West Germany to request economic assistance. Because Korean airline companies only operated double-propeller planes, he had to travel on an aircraft provided by Lufthansa.
It’s been 50 years since the first group of miners was sent to Germany. The government and miners and nurses sent to Germany worked together to build a memorial center for the Korean workers sent to Germany, and it is to open on May 20. Kwon Yi-chong, 73, an honorary professor at Korea National University of Education and a former miner in Germany, was present when President Park spoke in Duisburg. He says the memorial hall will exhibit articles used at the mines, such as arches from the pit, rock drills, safety hats and salary cards brought from Germany in November.
The workers sent to Germany were not the only ones who worked hard for the country’s growth. “I used to report to work early, get ready for the day’s job and began working as soon as the bell rang. I was so focused on my job that my fingers got pricked by the needle and my palm got blisters from the scissors.” The female workers in sewing factories in the 1970s were called “factory girls,” and their diary entries remind us how hard they worked.
The Guro Industrial Complex, the symbol of the blood and sweat of industrial workers, will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year. As the first step of a memorial project jointly organized by the City of Seoul and Geumcheon District, the Guro Industrial Complex Workers Experience Center is to open on May 2. The basement features six tiny dorm rooms from the 1970s, the first floor is the exhibition hall, and the second floor has a facility to show videos.
They are not simply trying to bring back the old memories. Korea was not rich, and there was political oppression, but we were full of vitality and desire to improve at the time. Now, it seems that we are not as energetic as in those days. If the older generation made Korea as rich as it is today, we, too, need to leave something for the future generation. We should think about what we will leave behind to fill the fifth exhibition hall in the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun