Otto Warmbier’s Parents Kept Jewishness A Secret To Avoid ‘Embarassing’ North Korea by the Forward

Otto Warmbier’s Parents Kept Jewishness A Secret To Avoid ‘Embarassing’ North Korea

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Otto Warmbier’s parents kept his Jewishness — and his love of Israel — a secret throughout his captivity in North Korea, so as not to embarrass the oppressive regime, according to The Times of Israel.

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 for stealing a propaganda poster from a Pyongyang hotel. In the regime’s hour-long trial of Warmbier, they accused him of planning to trade the poster to Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, in exchange for a used car.

“The family chose, rightfully so, not to share [his Jewishness] while he was in captivity… because they didn’t want to embarrass [North Korea] by explaining that he actually was Jewish,” said Mickey Bergman, one of the negotiators for Warmbier’s release.

That information could have unraveled the regime’s case against Warmbier, and possibly ended negotiations.

Warmbier, who’s mother is Jewish, went on a birthright trip to Israel in 2014. After he returned from the trip, he began to get more active in his campus Hillel, at the University of Virginia.

“When I was forced to step away to avoid holding up the group for the third time, it honestly felt like saying goodbye to a loved one,” he wrote in a blog post. “It was difficult to wrap my mind around the concept of such a pinnacle — I had done what so many Jews wish to do.”


Ari Feldman

Ari Feldman

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. He covers Jewish religious organizations, synagogue life, anti-Semitism and the Orthodox world. If you have any tips, you can email him at Follow him on Twitter @aefeldman.

Otto Warmbier’s Parents Kept Jewishness Secret

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Otto Warmbier’s Parents Kept Jewishness A Secret To Avoid ‘Embarassing’ North Korea

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