The short precious life of Otto Warmbier

Otto Warmbler found joy in the Jewish State. What a contrast to a barbaric regime where individual life means nothing.

Jack Engelhard,

Jack Engelhard
Jack Engelhard
צילום: מתוך האתר האישי

Otto Warmbier finally came home – home to Cincinnati, Ohio to finally rest in peace. He died in the embrace of his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier.

Only a parent can fully understand the ordeal. 

From his family came this: “It is our sad duty to report that our son has completed his journey home.”

The journey took 17 months to complete; that’s how long Otto suffered in North Korean prisons on some ridiculous charge of stealing a propaganda poster. This, while Otto was on a visit to that autocratic country as part of an adventure. He was 22, a young man quickened to appreciate the best of every nation.

From Kim Jong-un’s North Korea he got the worst. He’d been sentenced to 15 years hard labor…for no reason except to be cruel.

There was something special about Otto Warmbier and for Israelis there is something especially heartbreaking about a son held captive.
In those regimes, every life is worthless. To us, every life is precious.

Otto Warmbier was brought home from North Korea in an unresponsive medical condition, an obvious victim of the darkest torture. 

From Israel, Otto saw the brightness. He visited the Jewish State back in 2014 as part of the Birthright mission. He became infatuated with the Jewish State. He fell in love with all things Jewish. Back at the University of Virginia, where he was a student, he became active at Hillel. Rabbi Jake Rubin called him, “A beloved member of the Hillel community.”

There was something special about Otto Warmbier and for Israelis there is something especially heartbreaking about a son held captive.

The Israelis know the feeling. That is why this story, which has nothing to do with Israel, not directly, has touched so many Israelis.

They know the pain and they know the drill. They knew it back in 1980s when IDF pilot Ron Arad was taken by Hezbollah terrorists. The entire country stood in tense agony while negotiations were in the works to get him released. Israelis pull together at such times. They rally and became a close-knit family again. But nothing could be done, not for Ron Arad.

Faced with another hostage taking, this time Hamas, and this time IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, the anguish of five years of captivity was too much to bear, for family and for nation. In full view a no-swap policy and despite heated arguments going both ways, Israel released 1,027 Arab prisoners to get Shalit back home. (Today he’s a sports columnist in Israel.)

Not everyone was happy with that deal. 

But what price for a son? Every Israeli fears that phone call. So does every American, of course. 

Both countries have men and women in harm’s way. For both countries, no price is too high. This appears to be the going rate. But that conclusion always comes with deep soul-searching, terrible choices and controversy. There is no ready answer 100 percent. To give in can invite more kidnappings.

They know this where tyrants rule. That is why they can play games with us that are so crazed and so cruel. 

Otto’s father thanked and praised President Trump for his efforts to bring Otto back home in any condition. Safe and sound would have been the dream.

But Obama did nothing while he had the chance. 

On learning of Otto’s release, Trump reflected: “There is nothing more tragic for a parent than to lose a child in the prime of his life.”

Parents know the risk. Half the world is brutish and uncivilized. 

The young can’t be stopped from finding this out for themselves – and at times at terrible consequences, whether as soldiers or as seekers of adventure.

Every now and then, like now, we are reminded how rare it is to be living in places where decency and sanity prevail. The rest of the world is not us.

Otto’s father, in addressing the mournful homecoming, chose to focus not on the tragedy but on the joyful years spent with his son, this “remarkable person.”

Yes, our kids, they are all remarkable. There is no price on our love for them, as helpless as we are to protect them.

New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva. His books, including “The Bathsheba Deadline,” are available from Amazon and other retailers. Engelhard wrote the international bestseller “Indecent Proposal” and the award-winning Montreal memoir “Escape from Mount Moriah.” His latest is “News Anchor Sweetheart.” He is the recipient of the Ben Hecht Award for Literary Excellence. Website:


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