Imagine this, just for a second. In three years, Pol Pot and his deadly Khmer Rouge managed to wipe out about 21 percent of the entire Cambodian population, an estimated one to three million people. IN THREE YEARS!! Some argue that this was the worst genocide that the world has ever seen. (Check out Wikipedia for more historical details).
When Phnom Penh fell, the Khmer Rouge initiated “Year Zero” and ordered the mass-evacuation of the entire city. They encountered little resistance, as they scared all of the evacuees into believing that a massive American bombing campaign was imminent. The soldiers assured the citizens that they would return to their city in a few days time. The real motivation behind Pol Pot’s evacuation of the capital city was his frustration with urban Cambodians who still practiced capitalistic habits of trade and business. Moving them to the countryside to join the agrarian communist utopia solved the problem.
But only one to two million people were needed to build this utopia. The rest were just a burden. And the slaughter ensued…
The disturbing images that follow are from our visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Musem and The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek). Viewer discretion is advised.
As the sign above explains, the genocide museum was originally a high school that Pol Pot transformed into a prison, S-21 (Security Office 21), in 1975. Between 1975 and 1978, over 17,000 people were detained and tortured or killed before being taken to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields).
The top floor rooms were reserved for VIP prisoners. These were usually intellectuals or people of power and were thought to have information on political dissidents or traitors. They were methodically tortured during interrogations in the most gruesome ways and left to die, as the terrifying photos below depict.
Tiny, crude cubicles were created in the downstairs school rooms to house other prisoners. They were shackled to the walls or floors and forbidden to speak to one another. The inmates were fed four spoonfuls of rice porridge and watery leaf soup twice a day, and they were hosed down every four days. The strict prison rules forbid basically any action without permission. Any disobedience resulted in severe beatings or occasionally a force-feeding of human feces and urine.
These paintings, painted by one of four survivors, Bou Meng, depict the methods the Khmer used to torture the prisoners at Choeung Ek. The water torture devices are pictured below, after the painted representation of the torture method.
Bou Meng’s talent as an artist is the only thing that kept him alive at S-21. All four of the survivors had special skills, which the Khmer Rouge decided to exploit.
The school-turned prison S-21 was hell on earth for thousands of Cambodians.
Here, I pose with survivor, artist Bou Meng. What I couldn’t fathom was the depth of his courage and strength that allowed him to return to this place of hell, where his wife was tortured and killed, again and again, to greet tourists.
Skull map of Cambodia.
Next, we moved on to The Killing Fields, a place where hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were brought to dig their own mass graves. The religious, educated, and ethnic non-Cambodians were targeted.
A directive of the prison was to “not waste bullets.” Instead, people were to be slaughtered by using the sharp side of a palm frond to saw their throats (slowly), bludgeoned or stabbed to death, or just buried alive.
Mass graves… 129 communal graves in total, 86 of which have been exhumed, containing the remains of 8,985 people.
And this, most of all, is what stuck with me after I left this place…
I don’t understand how any human being, no matter how evil, could ever be capable of swinging a baby by its feet and smashing its head against a tree for slaughter.
I was left with an unquenchable misery at the thought of such horrendous evil in our world. The innocent slaughtered.
This memorial stupa contained skulls from some of the mass graves to honor the lost.
Those are -all – skulls.
After leaving the genocide museum and killing fields, our group was very somber, quiet, and depressed. It’s an extremely hard thing to witness, but it does not touch the horror and the hell that these people actually went through. It is very difficult to see the terrible evidence of the pure evil that exists in this world (this happened 35 years ago–in many of our lifetimes!!).
I do apologize for bringing you such depressing nastiness on a Saturday (gosh!), but it is imperative that we know and understand these horrors in history to ensure that they stop happening! Please feel free to share this post in an effort to increase awareness of this atrocity.
I promise a more light-hearted post next time! Thanks for stopping by!