While in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, we decided to learn more about a very dark spot on their recent history. To say that my knowledge on the Cambodian Genocide was limited would be an understatement. I had heard some about the brutality of the killing fields, but I had no idea until visiting Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which is now housed in what was called S-21 during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
*Some of this information can be hard to read*
S-21 was originally a high school that was transformed into a “prison” by the Khmer Rouge. Anyone who expressed a different opinion from the Khmer Rouge, anyone who was of a non-Cambodian descent anyone who was educated, their children & even monks were brought here. They were tortured over and over until they either died or finally confessed to something just to stop the pain. After they confessed, they were taken in groups to the Killing Fields to be executed, often in brutal ways to save ammunition.
These rooms held beds where men & women were locked up and tortured. Some rooms displayed the shackles used to hold them, some had photos of people in the shackles and most had historical information on the Khmer Rouge and its reign.
This area below is where people were tortured hung with their arms tied behind them until they lost consciousness and then they would dip their heads in water to bring them back around just to interrogate them again.
These are some photos of the mass graves at the killing fields. People were often forced to dig these graves, since they were so weak and injured the graves were often quite shallow. To keep save ammunition they were often killed by poison, spades, bamboo rods and children’s heads were crushed against trees. It was serious brutality, the type that made you light headed to read about, but that is important to remember.
Stacey and I started on the upper floors of this section. There was a lot of information about the people killed here, the people who survived here and more. This razor wire was put up because people were trying to kill themselves by jumping, even after this guards had to keep prisoners from jumping into this wire.
The prisoners were made to do horrific things. They slept on the ground, shackled, laying with heads facing away from each other, not allowed to speak, afflictions like lice & rashes were often brought on by unhygienic conditions, people were forced to consume human feces and urine. It was truly horrendous.
Stacey and I moved down to the bottom of this building that housed the cells in which people were tortured. I was instantly claustrophobic & in disbelief. I lasted only moments. Different forms of torture were explained. people were drowned, waterboarded, fingernails were ripped off & alcohol was poured on them, women had their nipples pinched with scalding hot pliers and so much more.
After walking through with knots in my stomach, feeling overwhelmed with emotions and aching for the lives of the estimated 20,000 prisoners who came through these grounds the most incredible thing happened. Two men were sitting in the courtyard near where they sold soft drinks & bottled water. These two men were survivors of the S-21. Two of only twelve who survived.
I shook this man’s hand. His name is Chum Mey and he was kept alive to work on the machinery of the people who tortured him. The most amazing part of meeting him was when he placed his hand on top of mine, looked me in the eyes and smiled. Here he was, in a place that brought him so much pain and he had this smile, filled with joy even though he lost his wife & child before his eyes, was tortured and made to fix things used against his people. He had still found joy. What an incredible man.
Stacey and I had thought about going here and to the Killing Fields, but we couldn’t emotionally handle it. This was a tough site to visit, but like other tough sites, it’s important to go, to remember what happened to these people. To acknowledge it. To make sure that their lives aren’t forgotten and that this doesn’t happen again.
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