For this week’s photo challenge I chose a photo from Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. At one time this used to be a high school in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. However, during Pol Pot‘s rule, this school was used as a prison to unjustly house some of the citizens of Cambodia. Many would later be tortured and executed. This photo was taken from behind the wire on the second floor of one of the buildings.
This is my second blog installment covering the genocide that ravaged Cambodia in the 1970’s. Between 1975-1979, an estimated 2 million people were killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot. The mass graves of these victims can be found in various locations in the country. The most famous one, Choeung Ek, is found a short drive from Phnom Penh.
At one time these fields contained an orchard and a Chinese graveyard, but during the regime, the fields were used for mass graves. Around 8,900 bodies were found here.
As the weather changes throughout the year and Cambodia is hit with monsoon rains, the rain causes the soil to wash away. Bones, teeth and clothing continue to surface during these times.
A large stupa stands in the middle of Choeung Ek. Inside its glass walls are the skulls of victims. Many of the skulls show fractures indicating how the the person met his or her death.
Most of your walking tour around Choeung Ek is done in silence as you listen to information through a portable audio device. This device also contains the stories from the survivors of the regime. Most, if not all tourists, listen to these stories as they walk around a peaceful pond.
A journey to Choeung Ek is necessary when visiting Cambodia. It is another glimpse into the genocide that occurred during the Khmer Rogue regime. It is a peephole into the sad history of this country, a look into what an evil ambition for power can accomplish.
The genocide that he oversaw on the people of Cambodia was horrific and yet mostly unknown in the western world because of its overshadowing by the Vietnam war, which happened before it. In all, about 2 million people perished under Pol Pot’s iron and brutal fist. Many of them died at Tuol Sleng.
These people were murdered for being doctors, teachers, nurses, etc… Anyone who did not fit with Pol Pot’s plan to turn the country into a completely agricultural state met their demise.
One of the ladies who took us there was a teenager at the time of the dictatorship. She lost grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters. Basically her entire family. It was difficult to hear her story and see the freshness of that experience in her watery eyes.
I wouldn’t call it a privilege to visit this site of inhumane treatment. Though I do feel a trip to Cambodia isn’t complete without meeting its history head-on in Tuol Sleng. Without knowing Cambodia’s history its difficult to understand its current state. It will also make you appreciate the friendly Khmer people all the more.