As if life had no meaning: Cambodia’s story (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields)
I am not the biggest fan of Phnom Pehn, but there are two things that made Cambodia’s capital worth the trip: the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (the ex S-21 Prison)
It’s located in Phnom Pehn and is easily reached by tuk-tuk. I went there ignorant and with no real knowledge about the atrocities committed in Cambodia between ’75-’79 and left the museum horrified, with tears in my eyes.
The short story: it all started on a beautiful spring day (17th of April 1975) when the Khmer Rouge (led by Pol Pot) collapsed Cambodia’s government. Having all the power, the Khmer Rouge forced all the people living in the city to leave their homes and move in miserable conditions to country side. Phnom Pehn became a ghost city. One school in the city was transformed into Prison S-21 (Security Office 21) and was surrounded by barbed wire and iron sheets. All 4 building of this school were used for detention, interrogation and torture of people suspected of connection with the former government, as well as professionals and intellectuals. Around 20 000 people were arrested in this Prison and then executed at the Choeung Ek killing site (the Killing Field). It all ended on 7th of January 1979 when the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK) collapsed this regime. This former prison is now a museum of genocide crime.
(The Khmer Rouge = followers of the Communist Party in Cambodia)
Muzeul Tuol Sleng, fosta inchisoare S-21, se afla in orasul Phnom Pehn si se ajunge in cateva minute cu tuk-tuk-ul. M-am dus acolo ignoranta si fara cunostinte despre atrocitatile comise in Cambodia intre ’75-’79 si am plecat trista, terifiata si cu lacrimi in ochi.
Povestea pe scurt: totul a inceput intr-o zi de primavara (17 apr ’75) cand Kmerii Rosii (condusi de Pol Pot) au rasturnat guvernul Cambodgian. Avand toata puterea, Kmerii Rosii au evacuat fortat toti locuitorii orasului, care si-au parasit casele si s-au mutat la tara in conditii mizerabile. Phnom Pehn a devenit un oras fantoma. Una din scolile din oras a fost transformata in Inchisoarea S-21 (Biroul Securitatii 21) si a fost incercuita de sarma ghimpata. Toate cele 4 cladiri ale scolii erau folosite pentru detentie, interogare si tortura a persoanelor suspectate de legaturi cu fostul guvern, cat si intelectuali si profesionisti. Unele sali de clasa au fost impartite in mici celule din caramida sau lemn pentru o singura persoana. Aproximativ 20 000 de oameni au fost arestati in aceasta Inchisoare, iar apoi ucisi la Choeung Ek (campurile de ucidere). Totul s-a sfarsit pe 7 ian ’79, cand Frontul Unit al Salvarii Nationale Kampuchea a daramat acest regim. Iar fosta inchisoare este acum Muzeul Genocidului Tuol Sleng.
In these rooms were detained cadres who were accused of leading the uprising against Pol Pot revolution. Their cages were furnished with a bed, blanket, cushion and mat. The iron bucket was to dispose their body waste. / Camera unde erau incarcerate cadrele acuzate de conducerea revoltei impotriva lui Pol Pot. In camera lor se gasea un pat cu saltea, perna si patura, Cutiile de metal erau pentru urina si materii fecale.
see previous photo for description / vezi descrierea pozei precedente
One of the 4 buildings of the school which was transformed in Prison
Una din cele 4 cladiri ale scolii transformate in inchisoare, acum Muzeul Tuol Sleng
The buildings were covered in a fishnet barbed wire, preventing prisoners from comittin suicide by jumping down.
Cladirile erau acoperite in sarma ghimpata pentru a preveni sinuciderea prin aruncare de la etaj a prizonierilor
This wooden pole was used by children for physical education, but was turned into interrogation and torture machine. The prisoners’ hands were tied behind their back and was lifted upside down until he lost consciousness, then the interrogator dipped the prisoner’s head into a barrel of filthy water (this shocked the victims, quickly regaining consciousness so that the torturer could continue their questioning)
Aceasta bara de lemn era folosita de copii la orele de educatie fizica, dar a fost transformata in obiect de tortura in timpul regimului Pol Pot. Aici prizonierii erau legati de ambele maini la spate si tinuti cu capul in jos pana isi pierdeau cunostinta, dupa care erau coborati cu capul in butoaie cu apa statuta, ceea ce ii trezea instantaneu, iar interogarea putea fi continuata.
The absurd rules at this Prison / Regulile absurde ale inchisorii
Some classrooms were divided into small wooden or brick cells for individual prisoners.
Celule mici din lemn
Celule din caramida
Local Cambodian students visiting the Tuol Sleng Museum
Elevi cambodgieni viziteaza muzeul Tuol Sleng
The corridor of this ex-school
Pohotos of some of the victims / O mica parte din victime
Survivor of the Prison S21
Un supravietuitor al torturilor din inchisoarea S21
Defintions of Genocide and Crime against Humanity for better understanding of the concept
Conform acestor definitii, se pare ca ce s-a intamplat aici nu a fost genocid, ci crima impotriva umanitatii.
The scratched faces of all the monsters that are responsible for the crimes
Oamenii au scrijelit fetele acestor monstri care au comis crime si torturi (primul este Pol Pot).
The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek
All the women, men and children imprisoned and tortured at S-21 were transported here, at the extermination fields of Choeung Ek where they were shot or bludgeoned to death. In the mass graves were found fragments of bones, skulls and clothes of those killed here. They say that fragments of bones are still getting to surface after heavy rains.
At the entrance they provide an excellent audio tour where I found out that one of Pol Pot’s slogans were: “Better to kill and innocent by mistake, than to spare and enemy by mistake”. Very cruel and heartless.
(Toate femeile, barbatii si copiii incarcerati in Inchisoarea S-21 de care va spuneam mai sus, erau transportati aici, la Campurile de Ucidere Choeung Ek, unde erau impuscati si adeseori ciomagiti pana la moarte pentru a economisi gloante). In gropile comune s-au gasit fragmente de oase, cranii si hainele celor ucisi aici. Ei spun ca dupa ploi grele inca mai apar la suprafata oase. La intrare poti lua un excelent ghid audio. Unul din sloganurile lui Pol Pot era” Mai bine sa omori un inocent din greseala, decat sa cruti un inamic din greseala“. Cata cruditate!)
The Memorial Stupa at the Killing Fields, erected in 1988
Magic tree…the tree was used for hanging a loud speaker which made loud sound to cover the moan of victims while they were being executed
Copacul magic…in acest copac se atarna o boxa uriasa cu sunetul tare pentru a acoperi urletele victimelor in timpul executiei
Mass grave at the killing fields / Una din gropile comune ale victimelor de la Campurile de Ucidere
Killing tree against which executioners beat children / Copacul sub care se bateau copiii
Victim’s clothes and fragments of bones
More than 8000 skulls are arranged by sex and age in the Memorial Stupa at the Killing Fields
Peste 8000 de cranii sunt aranjate in functie de sex si varsta in monum
We got to the Killing Fields by tuk-tuk. The bumpy and dusty ride took about 40 minutes. The driver gave us masks for dust, but they didn’t help too much 😀
Calatorie de aprox 40 de min cu tuk tuk-ul, praf mult si gropi mai ceva ca pe luna. Soferul ne-a dat masti care au protejat foarte putin impotriva poluarii si a prafului
The crowded streets of Phnom Pehn / Trafic in Phnom Pehn
This girl was begging just outside the Killing Fields. She has very sad eyes
Aceasta fetita cu ochi tristi a venit langa tuktuk-ul nostru sa cerseasca.
The ride by tuk tuk towards the Killing fields was dusty and bumpy; here is a youtube video of it:
- Daily life in Siem Reap, Cambodia
- ANGELS of Cambodia
- The incredible life on a floating village
- Mystical Temples
Very nice photos; very sad story.I can imagine that the city’s surroundings don’t help to make you feel less paranoid…
Awesome !! i am great fan of yours !!
Both S21 and the killing fields were visited by us in Nov 12 and your blog brought back memories. A very sad episode in Cambodia’s history. We bought Bou Meng’s book at S21 which is also very moving. My thoughts are on my blog (thereadrovers) with some similar photos.
Stunning photos of both S21 and the Killing Fields. I visited Phnom Penh and these sites about two months ago, and I can say it was an extremely meaningful lesson in history. To see the pieces of fabric from prisoners clothing, or scratch marks and stains in S21 made everything so intense and personal. Not the most positive of sites to visit, but definitely a worth while place to experience.
it was very sad, but indeed a meaningful lesson. We are lucky not to have experienced such horrors, even though sometimes I am scared it happen again to any of us 😦
Genocide—whenever and wherever (and why-ever)—it happens is incomprehensible. Truly horrendous. Your posts about the Khmer Rouge confirm this clearly.