Kim Jong-suk was born on December 24, 1917 in Hoeryong County, North Hamgyong Province, Japanese Korea. Suh Dae-sook writes that she was "the elder of two daughters of a poor farmer." However, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), states that she had a younger brother, Kim Ki-song, who was born February 9, 1921.
Kim Jong-suk followed her mother to Manchuria to look for her father, but they discovered that he had already died there. Soon after that, her mother died and she became an orphan. Most sources agree that Kim Jong-suk then joined Kim Il-sung’s guerrilla force in 1935 or 1936 as a kitchen helper. The KCNA, however, reports that Kim Jong-suk and Kim Ki-song joined the guerrilla forces after their mother and their elder brother’s wife were murdered by the Japanese.
During this time, Kim Jong-suk worked various odd jobs, was arrested by the Japanese in 1937 in an undercover attempt to secure food and supplies. After her release, she rejoined the guerrillas, where she cooked, sewed, and washed.
It was around this time that Kim Jong-suk reportedly saved Kim Il-sung’s life. Baik Bong relates the story in Kim Il-sung's official biography:
Kim Jong-suk in her youth
One day, while the unit was marching under the General’s [Kim Il-sung] command, five or six enemies unexpectedly approached through the reeds and aimed at the General. The danger was imminent. Without losing a moment, Comrade Kim Jung Sook [Kim Jong-suc] shielded the General with her own body and shot down an enemy with her revolver. The General also shot down the second enemy. Two revolvers spurted fire in turn and annihilated the enemy in a twinkle. But this was not the only time such dangers occurred, and each time, Comrade Kim Jung Sook rose to the occasion with fury, and protected the Headquarters of the revolution at the risk of her life.
Kim Jong-suk married Kim Il Sung in the Soviet Union, most likely in 1941. On February 16, 1941 (or 1942, sources vary), in the Soviet village of Vyatskoye, Kim Jong-suk gave birth to Kim Jong-il, who was given the Russian name "Yuri Irsenovich Kim," and the nickname "Yura." In 1944, Kim Jong-suk gave birth to a second son, Kim Man-il in Korean and "Alexander" or "Shura" in Russian. In 1946, she gave birth to daughter, Kim Kyŏng-hŭi. Augustina Vardugina, a woman from Vyatskoye, was in her teens when Kim Il-sung’s guerrilla group camped there. She remembers Kim Jong-suk, and how she would come to the village to barter military rations for chicken and eggs. Her son, Kim Jong-il, would be holding her hand.
A year after the establishment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and until her death, Kim Jong-suk was the first lady of North Korea. According to some accounts, Kim Jong-suk "was a small, quiet woman, not particularly well educated, but friendly and life-loving." Major General N.G. Lebedev, an executive Soviet officer during the Soviet occupation of North Korea, recalled Kim Jong-suk as "a vivacious and generous lady who always cooked enormous amounts of food for the hungry Soviet generals when they visited Kim’s home."
Kim Jong-suk died in Pyongyang in 1949. The official story is that she died from "the hardships she had endured during the years as a guerrilla fighter." The unofficial story is that she died in childbirth while delivering a stillborn child. Her death, however, is omitted from her official biography. Some say she died from tuberculosis, and there are other stories that she was shot and bled to death.
Kim Jong-suk as a young girl