Cambodia – Phnom Penh – The Killing Fields & S-21 Genocide Museum

– DECEMBER 13, 2015

Viewer Discretion

THIS IS NOT A JOKE.  THIS BLOG ENTRY WILL CONTAIN SOME SENSITIVE MATERIAL AND VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

We are in Phnom Penh and today we are taking the time to go see the Killing Fields and the S-21 Genocide Museum.

THE KILLING FIELDS

Real history can sometimes be the best storyteller.  Stories of love, kindness,  and victory….and of course the flip side of hatred, cruelty and defeat.  And sometimes it can tell you stories of pure evil…the kind of evil that can only be imagined in the most twisted of minds.  If you already know the story of the Killing Fields and you continue to read this blog entry, then you know what you’re about to read/see.  If you don’t know and you continue to read, then use this as an informative lesson for all of us to ensure this kind of thing never happens again.

From 1970-1975, the Khmer Rouge regime was in power in Cambodia.  These madmen hid behind their faceless government power and the people had no idea exactly who were the men in charge of this regime.  Its not hard to keep uneducated people oppressed, so this regime set out to change the face of Cambodia.  The cities were all emptied as the people were forced to the countryside to live the life of farmers and peasants.  The educated people (doctors, teacher, etc) were all gathered up and murdered.  This is state-sponsored genocide (known as the Cambodian Genocide).  Only pure evil could do such a thing…and this even took place AFTER Nazi Germany had been stopped of their persecution of the Jews.

The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where collectively more than a million people were killed and buried by the communist Khmer Rouge regime.  Many more people than that died, as the city people forced to the countryside had no idea how to grow crops and farm, so they failed miserably in meeting the government mandated food targets they had to meet.  They were not allowed to eat their own grown food, but instead received a few spoonful’s of soup three times a day while doing heavy physical labour in the extreme heat.

Analysis of 20,000 mass grave sites by the DC-Cam Mapping Program and Yale University indicate at least 1,386,734 victims of execution.  Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of roughly 8 million.  In 1979, Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.  Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term “killing fields” after his escape from the regime

The Killing Fields were started after there was not enough space to bury corpses in the S-21 prison (more on that to come later in this post) while the number of prisoners to be executed greatly increased.  The regime needed a place to dispose of these bodies, so they chose a new location for execution and burial.  After forcing normal people to sign-off on false confessions at the S-21 prison, the people were tortured and then eventually loaded into trucks to be transported to the Killing Fields.  The trucks had the backsides covered by canvas and the people were blindfolded and only transported at night to ensure nobody knew where they were going.  They were told that their confessions had granted them safe passage to a new home, so they went quietly thinking that they could live their lives…but instead this was their ride to death.

The Chinese made-truck could load up to 60 very skinny, pale, blindfolded & handcuffed detainees at a time.  The prisoners would walk in queue as they were handcuffed and blindfolded.  They had thin bodies like corpses and some were naked, while others had only shorts.  Each truck had two guards in the cab and two guards in the back to keep the people in line.

When the trucks arrived at the killing site, the assigned guards opened the gate immediately and the people were moved into an enclosed building with shackles attached to the ground.  There were no windows or cracks for light to enter, so the people had no idea what time of day it was.  Speakers hung from trees and continuously played the same songs over and over to drown out the sounds of what was to come.  This building was called the “Gloomy Prison“.

After double-checking the name on the list made back at the prison, to ensure nobody had escaped, the executioners brought one handcuffed and blindfolded prisoner at a time to the edge of a huge pit dug into the earth.  The pits were only 100 meters away from, the gloomy prison.  When arriving at about 1 meter from the edge of the pit, the executioners ordered the innocent person to kneel down.  The executioner then used a pipe, hose, rock, axe, or any type of sharp or blunt object (because these animals couldn’t waste the cost of a bullet) to strike the person at the back of their head to stun them.  Then a knife was used to cut the throat so the person would bleed out.  They then removed the handcuffs and clothes of the body before throwing them into the mass grave site.  After the prisoners from that truckload were all killed, the executioner immediately filled up the grave without waiting until the dawn broke.

The frequency of people being brought here increased so much that the executioners couldn’t get the clothing removed from the people as time went on.  Now you can see clothing fragments all over the ground (and partially buried on the walking paths) as you visit this site.

That’s not it though…this regime believed that you had to murder the children of the prisoners so that nobody would come back for revenge in the future.  They used trees to bash the heads of young children, then tossed them into the pits while still alive.

Their leader was named Pol Pot…how can evil like this exist?

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THE KILLING FIELDS – Pol Pot, the crazy, evil leader of the regime.

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THE KILLING FIELDS – one of the signs on site to ask you to not step on bone.

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THE KILLING FIELDS – one of the signs on site to ask you to not step on the mass grave sites out of respect.

The images to follow are the tour path of the site.  I will let the pictures and printed boards speak for themselves as you look through these pics.

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THE KILLING FIELDS

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THE KILLING FIELDS – the lower growth stumps were used to slice throats of prisoners.

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THE KILLING FIELDS – the lower growth stumps were used to slice throats of prisoners.

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THE KILLING FIELDS

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THE KILLING FIELDS – undisturbed burial sites are under this pond.

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THE KILLING FIELDS

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THE KILLING FIELDS – undisturbed burial sites are under this pond.

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THE KILLING FIELDS

The Khmer Rouge strictly adhered to their slogan, “clearing grasses, it shall dig its entire root off“.  They arrested entire families including babies and children to avoid revenge later in life.

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THE KILLING FIELDS

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THE KILLING FIELDS

A sobering experience and one that everyone needs to have.  We cannot let things like this happen again in the future.  We must remember.

S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

In the past, “TUOL SLENG” Museum was one of the secondary schools in the capital, called “Tuol Svay Prey” high school.  After April 17th, 1975, the Pol Pot clique had transformed it into a prison called S-21 (Security Office 21), which was the biggest in the Kampuchea Democratic.  It was surrounded with the double wall of corrugated iron, surmounted by dense barbed razor wires.

The classrooms on the ground and the first floors were pierced and divided into individual cells, whereas the ones on the second floor were used for mass detention.  Several thousands of victims (peasants, workers, technicians, engineers, doctors, teachers, students, Buddhist monks, ministers, Pol Pot’s Cadres, soldiers of all ranks, the Cambodian Diplomatic corps, foreigners, etc.) were imprisoned and exterminated with their wives and their children.

As the Vietnam forces pushed back against the regime, they fled with leaving behind evidence of their atrocities.  Prison cells, instruments of torture, dossiers/documents, lists of prisoner names, mug shots of victims, clothing and their belongings.  There were 14 prisoners left behind that died on torture tables.  These last 14 victims of S-21 have been remembered with 14 white above ground memorials.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – razor wire wrapped the perimeter.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – razor wire wrapped the perimeter.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – the rules of the prison. Absurd!

The buildings at Tuol Sleng are preserved as they were left when the Khmer Rouge were driven out in 1979. The regime kept extensive records, including thousands of photographs. Several rooms of the museum are now lined, floor to ceiling, with black and white photographs of some of the estimated 17,000 prisoners who passed through the prison.

The site has four main buildings, known as Building A, B, C, and D. Building A holds the large cells in which the bodies of the last victims were discovered. Building B holds galleries of photographs. Building C holds the rooms sub-divided into small cells for prisoners. Building D holds other memorabilia including instruments of torture.

Other rooms contain only a rusting iron bedframe, beneath a black and white photograph showing the room as it was found by the Vietnamese. In each photograph, the mutilated body of a prisoner is chained to the bed, killed by his fleeing captors only hours before the prison was captured. Other rooms preserve leg-irons and instruments of torture. They are accompanied by paintings by former inmate Vann Nath showing people being tortured, which were added by the post-Khmer Rouge regime installed by the Vietnamese in 1979.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – torture cell where they documented the false confessions.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – one of the prisoners was used as a prison artist. He made these pictures to document his life in the prison.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – one of the prisoners was used as a prison artist. He made these pictures to document his life in the prison.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – one of the prisoners was used as a prison artist. He made these pictures to document his life in the prison.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – one of the prisoners was used as a prison artist. He made these pictures to document his life in the prison.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – one of the prisoners was used as a prison artist. He made this picture of Pol Pot. If it wasn’t up to the guard’s standards then he would be tortured.

All of the prisoners at the Khmer Rouge’s interrogation and execution prison S-21, now also known as Tuol Sleng, were photographed prior to being interrogated and tortured.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoners were hung here from their bound arms behind their backs. When they passed out they were lowered and drowned in a bucket of urine and filthy water until they woke up. Then they hung them up again and repeated this over and over.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoner pictures

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoner pictures

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoner pictures

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoner pictures

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoner pictures

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoner pictures

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoner pictures

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – prisoner pictures

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – foot shackles

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – foot shackles

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – foot shackles

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – foot shackles chain restraint embedded in the floor

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – brick cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – brick cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – brick cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – they punched holes in the concrete walls to see all the way down through the rooms.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – brick cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – brick cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – the spot they hung the foot shackle keys.

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – wood cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – wood cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – wood cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM – wood cells

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S-21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM

Never again.

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For more photos of our adventure go to our flickr account here.