Published: March 20th 2006February 16th 2006
These children were prisoners here. They were all killed.
Well, after Valentine's Day at the killing fields and shooting at the range we continued in the same heavy vein by visiting S21, also known as Toul Sleng or the Genocide Museum. As the latter indicates this trip is no picinic and I guess its a personal choice whether to go or not. However, like the killing fields, I think that everyone should go to at least come close to understanding the magnitude of what happen to cambodia and its people. Keep in mind that it is very, very hard going. At least I found it that way and by the looks on most peoples faces I think i was not alone. I found it much more disturbing than the killing fields and at times would turn away to fight back tears. Of course, I am a big softy though.
What happened here is absolutely appaulling as is the fact that there has still not been a war crimes tribunal. Sadly when Pol Pot died in his sleep in the late 90's - a luxury hundreds of thousands of kymers were not afforded - he probably took with him any chance of Cambodians reaching any kind of feelings of justice.
A bed in a torture room that was orignially a clasroom. The photo hanging was also taken here.
Enough of my ranting, I'll give you a run down on S21. If you don't want to know details or prefer to go there without knowing too much about what its like then skip over the finer details!
Pre- 1975 the site was a high school in Phnom Penh, after 1975 when Pol Pot took hold it became a prison and torture centre where more than 17,000 people were tortured and killed, or taken from there after torture to be murdered at the killing fields. Only 7 people made it out alive.
It's strange walking through the gates and looking at the place. It looks like a run down school, not unlike schools from back home. Look closer and you'll see barbed wire covering the front of the verandahs. Its on the bottom floor to prevent escape and on the 2nd and 3rd levels to prevent desperate prisoners from committing suicide by jumping.
The first room you may go into might be one of the ones that contain a bare iron framed bed. The room is stark and uninviting and you almost don't want to go in but you do. Then you notice a large black
I got this idea to photograph it so the bars on the windows reflected. Later I sure a photo exhibition where the same was done. Of course they are much better!
and white picture on the wall, yellowing with age. It's of a mutilated body, definitely dead, blood everywhere, still shackled to the bed. You realise this is what occured routinely in this room. A chill ran down my spine and I felt a knot pull at my stomach.
Then there are the rooms filled with hundreds of 'prisoner' mug shots. I use the inverted comma's because the crimes that these people committed was to be urban, educated, ethnic. People were killed for wearing spectacles or knowing another language. Doctor's, lawyers, professors, city dwellers were slaughered as were there families - woman and children, the very, very old and very, very young - along with members of the Kymer Rouge who for any reason, or no real reason even, were thought to be suspect in someway. I found these photo's to be the most haunting things i saw at the museum. The children were the hardest to look at. So innocent looking, so young. Some were babies barely able to sit unassisted. You look at their countless faces, so many seem to look passively through you, others look wide-eyed and completely terrified and it felt to me like their desperate
People were caged like animals here. In fact its arguable that the Kymer Rouge treated their animals better.
eyes were boring straight into me, begging. It's just awful.
There are very graphic photo's of tortured bodies and examples of the devices used for this purpose, along with paintings depicting these devices in use just in case your imagination is not vivid enough. It never ceases to amaze me the evil shit people do to other people. It's disturbing to me that people are able to think up these horrendous things let alone carry them out on another human being.
There are photo exhibitions, one has stories quoted from family members who's fathers, mothers, sons or daughters went missing during 1975-79 and were never found. Many were members of the Kymer Rouge. There were photo's of Kymer Rouge members alive now with their families or at work and quotes from them where they talk about how it was for them back then and how it is now. This war was so complicated and at the museum the one thing that stood out besides the sheer horror of it all is how the lines between victim and victimiser are - in this case - so blurred.
At the end I felt mentally exhausted and it was very
Jim in cell
These are the small cells that were knocked up in the classrooms on the upper floor
sobering to say the least. It is all so overwhelmingly tragic but what still amazes and impresses me the most here is the people. Their strength. The one thing that endures is their spirit.
So that's it for us and Phnom Pehn. Sorry this entry is so damned depressing, but I thought and I thought and I just couldn't think of a way to make it light and fluffy. I tried to think of something funny to write but mass murder and comedy don't really go hand in hand, now do they? You may be relieved to know that I am heading to the beach for a few days so there should be no more harrowing accounts of terrible atrocities or anything like that. Much more palatable to be sure, still I hoe you can all appreciate why I shared this story with you. Hope everyone is doing great. Til next time...