Otto Warmbier in North Korea
Otto Warmbier in North Korea Reuters

JTA - The family of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student imprisoned by North Korea who died after his release last week, hid his Jewishness from the public as negotiations for his release took place.

Warmbier, 22, a Cincinnati native, was traveling on a student tour of North Korea last year when he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for stealing a propaganda poster. After international outrage and over a year of imprisonment, North Korea released him last week, saying his health had deteriorated severely. Warmbier’s doctors said he suffered extensive brain damage.

The family chose not to disclose his Judaism as negotiations went forward so as not to embarrass North Korea, which had announced that Warmbier had stolen the poster on orders from the Friendship United Methodist Church in Wyoming, Ohio, Mickey Bergman, who worked on negotiations for the student’s release, told the Times of Israel.

“If that’s what their story is, there’s no point fighting it if your objective is to get him out,” Bergman told The Times of Israel. “When you realize he’s Jewish, you realize how ridiculous that claim is.”

Arutz Sheva reported last week, before his death, that Warmbier was active at the University of Virginia campus Hillel after a 2014 Birthright trip to Israel. His mother is Jewish, but the family is not observant.

A public memorial for Warmbier was scheduled to be held Thursday morning at Wyoming High School, officiated by Rabbi Jake Rubin, the University of Virginia campus Hillel director who traveled with Warmbier to Israel, Times of Israel reported.

He will be buried at a non-sectarian cemetery. While the family will receive visitors at their home, they are not sitting an official shiva, according to the Times of Israel.