A somber day in Phnom Penh

I hope you all had a great weekend.  I apologize in advance, this post may be difficult to read especially on a Monday, but I think it is important to share.  We recently spent three nights in Phnom Penh and learned a lot about its history.  Today it is much like any other city…active, over-populated and filled with markets, restaurants and pubs…it’s hard to imagine that just over 30 years ago it was completely empty and used as a base camp for one of the worst genocides in history.  Walking the streets it was difficult to picture how an entire city, not-to-mention the capital city and most populated area of Cambodia, can be completely evacuated and kept that way for nearly four years.

The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields

Under Pol Pot’s leadership of the Khmer Rouge Cambodians suffered tremendously and were tortured for many years.  While I was somewhat aware of the history of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh I in no way understood how horrible it really was until we spent a day visiting a former prison and killing field.

We began our second day in Phnom Penh visiting S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng.  Initially a prestigious high school in the capital city, the Khmer Rouge turned the former classrooms into cells and the physical fitness area into a place of torture and site of executions.  It was very emotional to walk through the halls and grounds and catch a glimpse of the horrible atrocities that took place here.  It is estimated that 20,000 prisoners went through S-21, with only seven surviving. We actually met a survivor as we were leaving, Bou Meng, who was there to share his story…all of his teeth were knocked out from the fists of soldiers, but he was kept alive because of his ability to draw.  Much of the prison has been kept in the same condition it was found in…

Rules of the prison, still standing
Rules of the prison, posted in three languages
How the buildings were found...surrounded by barbed wire
How the buildings were found…surrounded by barbed wire
The brick cells, barely large enough to fit one adult
The brick cells, barely large enough to fit one adult

Prisoners that did not die in the S-21 from torture, starvation or disease were driven about ten miles out of Phnom Penh to a former orchard where they were then beaten to death by soldiers. To save bullets they endured painful long deaths by the hands of Khmer Rouge.  Known as The Killing Fields, Choeung Ek, we visited the site where it is estimated more than eight thousand innocent people were executed and buried in mass graves.  Today it is a very peaceful field, a place to honor the lives of those who were taken here.   S-21 and The Killing Fields are not easy places to visit, but are there to help educated and prevent this from happening again. It is sad to say but the horrors of genocide are real, and still happening in today’s world.

The killing tree
Killing tree
Stupa where the skulls and bones of victims now lay
Stupa where the skulls and bones of victims now lay

Thank you for reading, I promise a more uplifting post next time.

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