This blog is a graphic account of our visit to S21 prison and the killing fields, dont read on if you are of a nervous disposition or easily upset, there will be other cheerier blogs coming along soon.
It’s called dark tourism, visiting sights that are associated with death and torture, but rather than a form of entertainment, it is a necessary reminder of the terrible things seemingly ordinary people can do.
In 1975 after years of US bombing the Cambodians as part of Vietnams “secret war” where over one hundred thousand people died, and oppressive governments the Khmer Rouge headed by Pol Pot came to power. They had a warped view of communism that involved sending everyone back out of the cities to work on farms. They cleared out the cities and left people with no possesions and a blind faith to the Khmer Rouge regime.
Like many despot regimes they were paranoid and saw enemies of the revolution everywhere, but there solution has to be the most extreme I have any government use on their own people. Cambodia is a small country, but over 1.5 million people were killed by the regime between 1975 and 1979 they think it was a lot more, but they just dont know.
We went to S21 in the centre of Phnom Penh, we could walk it from our hotel. This is a school that was converted to a prison, yet on the day we visited, with the sun shining and the beautiful trees and courtyard it seemed like a little peice of paradise. Sadly if you came here in the late seventies as a prisoner, you were certain to die. Most of the people who came here did nothing wrong, they were just victims of paranoa, or more often they had been named in a family member or friends confession, who had been forced to confess and name thier collaboraters under torture. If you cam here, you were processed, shackled for 24 hours a day and interrogated until you confessed to whatever it was that you were guilty of. Between 10 and 12 thousand people went through this prison, one of dozens throughout the country processing people on an industrial scale!
40 Minutes outside Phnom Penh are the killling fields, again one of dozens in the country, some of which still cant be accessed due to the thousands of land mines still in the rural areas of Cambodia. This is where you were sent after you had been tortured, confessed and been processed at S21.
The site itself as you walk in is very peaceful, you pay your money and you are given an audio guide which is excellent People are asked to be respecful in the sight, and no one talked, in fact the only sound you heard were other peoples audio guides on very loud, or the click of cameras.
The lovely building you see as you walk in to the sight is a Cambodian Stupa (memorial), see below:
But inside the stupa are thousands of skulls from the bodies that were buried here (or that still are washed up after the heavy rains, even all these years on). I took a picture in here, they encourage you to take photo’s to show what happened, but for me this is too much to put on a blog.
Many of the skulls have have coloured dots on, these indicate how they were murdered, because the thousands of people here were not shot or hanged, they were bludgeoned to death, with pick axe handles, spades, bamboo poles or cart axles. Again there are more details, but they really are too grusome.
One of the most disturbing sights is the killing tree:
If you can read thee sign on the picture it basically says that small children and babies were bashed against this tree as it was the most effective way to kill them, most likely their mothers were killed on the same night.
This is recent history, I was 9 years old when this started happening, and they were killing children younger than me. The lesson here is that the cult of the ego is a dangerous thing, and we should never allow this to happen again.
I posted a cover image of the flower as I took this at S21, something beautiful can exist where something terrible happened!