I have seen many sights and experienced many things on my journey through life up until this point. What I saw and learned on May 4th 2007 however will always stay with me.
All throughout my visit to Vietnam I studied the wars the people were subjected to fighting, and the toll it has taken on them. I saw a great spirit and understanding on their part, and I was eager to undertake the same study in Cambodia.
I had heard the name Pol Pot, and understood a little of what the Khmer Rouge had done between the years 1975 & 1979, however no amount of literature can prepare you for two places in Phnom Penh which tell the story so undeniably.
On the 4th May 2007 I visited Toul Sleng genocide museum, and the killing fields of Choeung Ek. I will not go into great detail of the background of the Khemer Rouge's history, however I will try and give a brief summary as an introduction for the pictures I have taken, and my eye witness account as I continue.
Pol Pot was a man who led a guerilla campaign to oust Cambodia's regime which was seen as weak and 'too western'. He was known best as 'Blood Brother No1' and was a radical Marxist who's main aim was to make Cambodia free from Western influences and 'cleanse the soul of the nation'.
He succeded in his guerilla campaign and took over the capital on April 17th 1975. Few people could have anticipated the hell that was to follow. He, along with others, was the architect of one of the most radical and brutal revolutions in the history of mankind. 1975 was proclaimed as 'Year Zero', and the Khmer Rouge attempted to 'ethnically purify' the entire country, to free itself of all mixed race Cambodians, all former government workers, and every man, woman & child who worked with 'western ideaology' i.e. doctors, teachers etc. Up to 3 million people were killed in the 4 years, and two of the places I visited on May 4th told their stories in horrific detail.
Toul Sleng was formally known as Toul Svay Prey high school, but was taken over by Pol Pot's security forces and turned into a prison known as Security Prison S21. 17000 people were detained here in the 4 years, only 7 having survived. They were photographed, questioned, tortured, and then many were re-photographed, before being taken away to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek. It is hard for me to describe how I felt walking through the jail cells of a place where once children learnt the skills they would need in life. Each room had photos of every one who was held there, there was a board full of pictures of children who were killed. There was a room where blood still adorned the walls. There were rooms were the Vietnamese forces found the last 14 people dead, their horribly mutilated bodies were photographed before being buried in the courtyard. I watched a harrowing video of one woman's struggle to evade capture and be free with her lover, the video ended with her file photo and declared that she was 'destroyed' on 17th March 1977. I then entered a room where her bright, beautiful face seemed to stare at me and I couldn't take my eyes off her for a long time. I spent about two hours visiting there, before being taken to the killing fields of Choeung Ek.
All baring 7 of the 17000 men, women, children and infants that were detained at S21 were brought to Choeung Ek for immediate execution. They were blindfolded, driven about 20 mins to the site, unloaded, then brought to the already dug mass grave. The Khmer Rouge wished to save on bullets, so one-by-one all were made to kneel down in front of the grave. A soldier then used a blunt weapon (hammer, axe, bamboo stick) to kill the person, before kicking their bodies into the grave. I thought the prison was bad enough but i was yet to fully be told of the horrors that existed during that time. My guide took me to a tree where loud music was played so the terrified individuals could not hear the scream of their fellow prisoners. He then told me that everyone was made to sign a contract stating that they 'agreed' to be killed. Many signing out of fear, and many hoping that death would bring a quick end to their suffering.
The most horrific experience was still to come however. I was led to a tree where infants were picked up by their legs and smashed against a tree to kill them. This being done while the mother watches on. She then being raped and killed in the same fashion as her family and friends around her.
As I walked around I realized I was walking on peoples clothes and bones which were slowly surfacing through the soil as a result of recent heavy rains. This made me stop in my tracks and try to take in all I was witnessing which lasted many silent minutes. As I left i thought about every Cambodian I see bearing a smile and wonder how they manage to be the people they are with all they have been through. I then wondered how someone can be in a state of mind to undertake this kind of act, my final thoughts were for the people around the world who still are made to suffer in this way, as unfortunately, we still do not learn from our history. This happened only 30 years ago!
I ask for forgiveness for writing in such great length, however I really wanted to try and convey what I saw and attempt to bring to life for you all a sad and tragic story.
Until next time