Kim Jong Il biographers appear to be conflicted about the young man’s whereabouts in the year 1960. Was the nineteen-year-old future leader traveling around the German Democratic Republic, or was he getting things rolling at the university in Pyongyang which still bears his father’s name? Or perhaps both? His official biography, in any case, has him firmly at Kim Il Sung University.
I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have a new clue, unearthed on my last day of work in the Berlin archives earlier this month. It’s included in a letter from Kim Il Song to East German leader Otto Grotewohl, dated 24. February 1960, in which Kim is describing some specifics of a North Korean delegation which had been invited to an East German “Frühjahrmesse [Spring Festival]” in the city of Leipzig.
Kim’s correspondence with Grotewohl is usually full of formulaic language of socialist brotherhood and gratitude and all that, but Kim seems focused here on the minutiae of the trip in a way that feels unusual to me. The North Koreans had waited a long time to respond to Grotewohl’s original invitation (which had been sent on 30. November 1959), and Kim’s letter seems to indicate that the North Koreans had changed their minds and finally decided to send a delegation, led by DPRK Ambassador to East Germany, Pak Il Song [who is called Park Ir Sen in the documents; I need to check his romanization, however].
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