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Cambodia – Tuolsleng & Killing Fields

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Center map


Center map

the local story – what happened

In the last century, the people of the Kingdom of Cambodia had a difficult time. During the Vietnam War, the country was first attacked by Viet Cong troops and then extensively bombed by the American Air Force. In 1975, after the end of the war in South-East Asia and the withdrawal of American troops, the henchmen of the communist resistance fighter Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, took over the rule of the country. It was a reign of terror for almost 3 and a half years and one of the darkest things that mankind had experienced until then. In 1979 the communist rulers were deposed by the regular Vietnamese army and the Cambodians were largely freed from tyranny.

Pol Pot, also known as “Brother No. 1” of the Khmer Rouge, intended to turn Cambodia into a Stone Age Communist peasant state – anyone who contradicted this ideal, e.g. who lived in a city, was educated or even wore glasses, was considered a counter-revolutionary and was persecuted, resettled and forced to do hard work or imprisoned. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge, up to 2 million people died in the country from hunger, debilitation or through executions, in other words through systematic genocide.

The Tuol Sleng or S21, which is located in Phnom Penh, was probably the most notorious torture prison of that time and is now open to the public as a me

The museum is largely preserved in its original form, you get an audio guide with your entrance ticket and you can easily spend 3 hours in the facility to read the individual texts. I have already seen some things referring to this and thought to be hardened. But it was really an oppressive feeling, from time to time, I got really sick.

As it is usual in a communist central government, everything was documented in great detail by the participants (already for self-protection). For this reason, it is possible to see the faces to the fates and to recreate the stories behind them. In addition to the torture tools and iron shackles, thousands of photos of the victims were on display.

More than 20,000 people were imprisoned in this institution, almost all of them – except 8 survivors! – died in it. In front of one of the buildings an old man sat under a tree talking to several young people. He is one of the 8 survivors – his luck was that he was the only one in the prison who could repair typewriters, which means that he was useful and therefore he was not tortured to death. Since his liberation, he has been coming to Tuol Sleng every day to talk to the people there.

Just outside the city, about an hour by rickshaw from the centre to the countryside lies Choeung Ek, one of about 300 Killing Fields in Cambodia. This was the name given to the execution sites used for the politically motivated mass murder.

If you enter the area from the parking lot, the first thing you notice is a very nice stupa in the centre of the complex. At the end of the tour you go into the stupa, where you see that it is filled up to the edge with approximately 9.000 exhumed skulls. It is assumed that in Choeung Ek alone, more than 17.000 people were killed.

Once again, an audio guide led the visitors on a predetermined tour of the facility, which also lasted about 3 hours. You should not leave the given paths, because not all mass graves were uncovered.

But even under the marked out path there are probably graves, as shreds of clothing or bones from the underground repeatedly come to light.

I didn’t want to go into any details here, but the tree where the firing squads had killed small children was the most shattering for me. There’s really nothing more to say about that.

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