“Tragically it will probably happen again, so for your sake, remember us and remember our past as you look to your future.” – Ros Kusel – Cambodian – held in the teenage camp.
Paying my respects at the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh and S21 was not an easy day, but obeying the above words of Ros Kusel a Cambodian survivor, I feel it ok to share my day.
Choeung Ek is only one of over 300 killing fields in Cambodia. About 20,000 innocents were exectued and murdered here by the Khmer Rouge Regime under the reign of the paranoid and barbaric Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979. He declared 1975 as Year Zero and wanted to “purify” society! And his reasons for killing babies:
“Clearing grasses, will cut its entire root off.”
There was a small fee of $6 to include an audio tour, narrated by the said Ros Kusel. The admission fee contributes towards developing and conserving the site as well as helping the elderly and poor and also talented students.
The audio tour guides you around starting from the point that the trucks pulled up with the unknowing victims, the registration offices, torture points (Pic 1) and through the many mass graves. (Pic. 2). It is hard to believe what went on here, but it all became very emotionally overwhelming for me when I noticed the clothes protruding through the very ground I was walking on. (Pic 3). Whenever there is heavy rainfall and even after all these years, and many excavations, more clothes, rags and bones continue to surface. It makes you realise the unimaginable number of victims that lost their innocent lives here.
There was more heartbreak to follow.
After Pol Pot’s army forced city dwellers to flee to the countryside, to live almost as slaves, everywhere shut down; hospitals, shops, offices, schools. Tuol Sleng Primary School was amongst these and became S-21, used for imprisonment, interrogation, torture and killing. (Pic 4)
The classrooms in Block A became torture rooms (pic 5) and Blocks B, C and D were reconstructed into tiny cells. (Pics 6 & 7).
From prisoners records found, it is estimated that 20,000 people were killed here including un-recorded children.
Before the exit, a gentleman by the name of Chum Manh, sits with his book for sale. He is a survivor of S-21 and I was able to find out from him through a translater that he is now 70 years old and the only reason he survived was because he was able to fix a guards typewriter. In return for Chum maintaining this typewriter he was fed and his life spared.
Being at the sites where such horriffic events in history took place is heartbreaking. I can share facts, descriptions and figures with my readers but I cannot explain the sadness, hatred, confusion and heartbreak.