Saturday 10 March 2012

Tuol Sleng Museum (formerly S-21)

Yesterday to took the bus from Battambung to Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh. While we waited for our vietnamese visas to be processed we decided to head to Tuol Sleng Museum. This site was formerly a school, which then became the infamous S-21, now a sad reminder of the past.

For those who don’t know much about Cambodia (I didn’t before I arrived), here is a brief summary of the recent history relevant to this place.

The year 1975 saw the beginning of what was Year Zero for Cambodia when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh and subsequently evacuated all cities and forced people to work in the rice fields. What was to follow was the death of millions over people over the next 4 years. The Khmer Rouge's insistence agrarian socialism led to the people being overworked and underfed. Millions died from sickness, starvation, exhaustion, as well as ethnic cleansing and other murders. Pol Pot killed anybody who could potentially cause him problems. Any 'educated' people were killed, any person who could speak English or French were killed, ethnic Muslims were killed, teachers, professors, doctors, and nurses were killed. Former government workers, army personnel, skilled workers and anybody not able to work the fields were all systematically killed by the Khmer Rouge under the orders of the dictator Pol Pol. Their families and children were killed due to fear of revenge, anybody who spoke out again the Khmer Rouge were killed, old people unable to work were killed, babies were killed. It is unknown how many people died during the Khmer Rouge rule, but out of a total population of between 10-12 million people, only 8 million remained. Some 2 - 3 million people died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. – From Here

Tuol Sleng School was converted into S-21, the most brutal prison used by the Khmer Rouge for detention and interrogation, in other words, torture. Some 20 000 people were detained there and of those, only seven survived. What was done was horrific as they tortured everyone to extract confessions for working for the CIA or KGB. When they decided to execute someone, they would kill the entire family to avoid any chances of revenge. To save bullets they would just club people to death (well mostly, those who didn’t die from the clubs were buried alive). Babies were thrown into the air and hit like a baseballs.

DeathTaken at Tuol Sleng Museum, formerly S-21 - Phnom PenhA Brutal Prison used by the Khmer Rouge for Detention and Torture

ChainedTaken at Tuol Sleng Museum, formerly S-21 - Phnom PenhA Brutal Prison used by the Khmer Rouge for Detention and Torture

But even though we were walking the very walls where so many people died, seeing the tiny brick prison cells, awful leg shackles, harsh torture beds, and all the photos taken of each victim prior to execution (the Khmer Rouge liked documentation), with a guide who actually lived through this period and lost her brother, father and mother - I didn’t believe what was being told to me. I just could not believe that people could be so sick. None of it made any sense to me. Nothing sinked in. I walked out feeling nothing. Like I just walked through a movie set.

An Unholy PlaceTaken at Tuol Sleng Museum, formerly S-21 - Phnom PenhA Brutal Prison used by the Khmer Rouge for Detention and Torture
An Unholy Place

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