It has taken a week for me to sleep properly after visiting two horrendous places on our beautiful planet. Others, do not sleep well some 30 years after many of the atrocities were carried out by the Khmer Rouge at the behest of Pol Pot and his band of not-so-merry-men. He died under arrest in late 90’s before being found guilty and his four henchmen and women are still under house arrest in the midst of an absurd trial process.
Suffice to say, we visited S-21 an old school, that was evacuated like all schools in Cambodia during a crazy 3 days in 1970’s when the Khmer Rouge drove everyone out of the towns and cities and into the rural lands to become farmers.
There was no need for education or an educated person, so elimination of anyone with an education, which meant that if you wore glasses or had soft hands or could speak French or English you were off away to the Killing Fields for slaughter.
If you were a young man or boy you would be equipped with weaponry of any sort and if your resisted or cried, off to the Killing Fields, no age barriers. Women had a job on the farmlands and that was that.
Numbers are still unclear but some 20,000 people are said to have been taken to Security Office 21, converted from school into a prison and into torture chambers. Prisoners were kept in tiny makeshift wooden or brick cells, beaten, whipped, drowned, slashed and all sorts of cruel and inhumane torture applied until confessing that they themselves and their family or friends were traitors and dangerous to the Khmer Rouge cause.
After confession they were driven out of Phnom Penh some 14 km to Choeung Ek, The Killing Fields closest to the capital city where they were unloaded, accounted for and in darkness the same night walked into the field and one by one hit over the head with a shovel and into a mass grave. The prison chief went so far as to kill babies to prevent them returning to avenge their parents, so he instructed his officers to swing the babies by their feet and hit their heads into a tree and into a mass grave.
I am writing this post with a level of discomfort, for a variety of reasons. Reading about this story many years ago and watching movies and remembering Cambodian refugees fleeing for their lives when I watched the news is horrendous in my short lifetime. But to actually see and walk in the footsteps at S-21 and see a couple of the very few prison survivors, old men now, worn down by the trials of life, being wheeled out to sell their book and have their photo taken in the very same place that terrified them, is so sad.
We had decided to hire a scooter for the day so we did not have to wait on a bus tour or negotiate with a tuk tuk driver to get to the Killing Fields. With Sharki3 at the helm and navigating like a pro, I just had the task of getting us through the crazy traffic, weaving in and out and slipstreaming the crossroads, while we tried explaining to each other what we had witnessed. What we did not know was how affected we would be by our visit to Choeung Ek.
It’s in the middle of nowhere and is called Choeung Ek Genocide Center, the audio guide came free with entry and was the first time we have bothered with these for many years, it turned out to be a great decision, as people explained the process and what happened out there in graphic detail. Perhaps 80,000 bodies are in the mass graves, some decapitated, children, babies, women, Khmer, Vietnamese, Thai, Europeans, Australians but the masses are a generation of Khmer women and men, lost forever.
There is not much left of the buildings used to house anyone, as these were makeshift and were dismantled when this place was discovered by accident, when people returned from the farmlands after the Khmer Rouge was defeated. These few returning people noticed these new buildings and could not work out what they were, until they saw body parts protruding through the ground.
The sad tree that witnessed first hand the poor babies being swung against its trunk, stands there as a stark reminder to the cruelty of mankind.
I never thought these kind of atrocities would happen in my lifetime and I would see them, so not looking forward to visiting other sites of genocides and the acts of current day barbaric treatments that human beings deliver into my world.
Riding back the 14km we were both quiet, we had both taken very few photos, and no selfies, just digesting what we had experienced.
No books, no education, a generation of nearly 3 million people from a population of then about 10 million wiped out in about 4 years. We read an inscription and it used the word “liquidated”…….maybe the wrong word due to translation, but pretty damn close to what happened.
This will haunt me for many a year and help keep things in perspective when dealing with ignorance and the intelligence that walks the earth today.