S21 Prison and the Cambodian Genocide

Trip Start Feb 22, 2011
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Trip End Ongoing


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Friday, April 15, 2011

The second day here, we set out on a Tuk Tuk to S21 or the Teol Seng Prison. This was one of the many sights left over from the grisly genocide that took place here under the communist rule of the Kumer Rouge (1975-1979). We braced ourselves as we knew that this prison, which is now a "museum / visitor site" was the scene of some horrific human atrocities.  The floors of the interrogation rooms were still stained deep with blood, bullet holes still visible, photos of prisoners (alive and dead), devices of torture, tiny prison cells, and a collection of clothing and skulls.

Over 17,000 prisoners came through the prison and there were only 7 survivors (3 alive today). These survivors were artists before their capture,and were prisoners at the time of the abandonment of the prison. They were alive because the man who ran the prison wanted a portrait made of himself. These survivors were allowed to work in the prison having already been tortured, beaten, electrocuted, and had their finger nails removed. And some of the monsters involved are for some reason are still awaiting trial, most dead, and some living out their lives, presumably, here in Cambodia.

Most of the mass graves are out at the Killing Fields (about 16 kilometers south), where these "enemies" of Anka were typically bludgeoned to death to save precious bullets. In total almost 2 million people were killed, men, women, and children. There seems to be not one family that wasn't affected by this horrific event. There is evidence of it as you look around - it seems majority of Cambodian locals are very young and of a newer generation - very few older adults.

We spoke to a hotel concierge who generously and matter-of-factly told us the story of his mother, a teacher, and father being killed, and that he grew up with his aunt in the rural countryside. The Cambodian people culturally don't show a lot of emotion and one wrote "death here is an accepted part of life", but it seems there must be so much more going on under the friendly smiles.

It is shocking, and even more so when you think about how recent it
was. We left understanding what happened, but not understanding why it happened.
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