Killing in the name
Trip Start Jun 12, 2011
124Trip End Oct 22, 2012
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Of the approximately 20,000 people who were kept there between 1975 and 1979 only 7 survived. 14 bodies were found at the prison when the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh in 1979 and their bodies were buried in the grounds and their graves can be seen at the site. Of those 7 (who survived only due to having skills that were useful to the Khmer Rouge) only 3 are now living the remaining mainly having died of old age. We actually met one of them there, though I was a bit lost for words what to say to the man.
We hired a guide to show us around so we could learn a bit more about the history. She explained that both her father and brother were killed by the Khmer Rouge. She was 7 at the time and was separated from her family and put to work in the fields. She explained how some days she had to work up to 14 hours a day with little to eat or drink. At that time many people died of starvation. Talking to her made me realise the reality and that most people we would meet here would have been affected in some way by this atrocity
An extract off Clare's web site gives a bit more summary of what happened under Pol Pot:
"In 1975 under the command of Pol Pot, the Khymer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, to empty it of all its inhabitants, and did so in 6 hours. This was the start of Pol Pots mission to create a peasant society, cut Cambodia off from the rest of the world and start again with Year Zero.
Pol Pot's Cambodia was a place where educated people went undercover in an attempt to escape execution, children weren't allowed to go to school, and no one was allowed to grow their own food, listen to music, love, or do anything that wasn't in line with Pol Pots ideal of peasant life."
Then we travelled 15 km out of Phnom Penh to the killing fields at Choeung Ek where around 17,000 of the prisoners held at S-21 were taken to be executed. Walking around the mass graves is quite harrowing as clothes and bones of the victims can be seem protruding from the ground, washed up by flood waters. Many graves have now been exhumed with 450 bodies being found in one alone. The victims were generally bludgeoned to death to save precious bullets. You really felt like you were at the site of a murder and it all seemed very real.
At the killing fields there is a rememberance stupor where there are thousands of the victims skulls on display and other bones and clothes that were exhumed on display in a big glass tower as a memorial to those who died and a reminder for future generations not to allow this to happen again.
The whole experience left me feeling a bit shocked to see the darker side of the human condition.