1975-1979. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge Maoist party of Cambodia brutally murdered approximately 2 million Cambodians in an effort to enforce socialism and reinvent Cambodia. Civilians where forced to work in communal farms, survive on minimal rations, and anyone who was seen to be a threat to their concept were imprisoned, and eventually bludgeoned to death.
The S21 museum is in the old prison grounds of the S21 prison, which was originally a high school. It is hard to believe the brutal reality that was S21, as it lies amongst a residential street where the busy life goes on for the residents of Phnom Penh. All but 7 of the prisoners were killed either at the prison or at the killing fields 15km away. Vann Nath’s Cambodia Prison Portrait, a book written by one of the survivors came to life upon visiting the musuem (read about it here). His paintings of the torturous acts committed by the guards where not experienced first hand, and are based solely on his imaginings of what was going on just by hearing the sounds of people screaming, babies crying, and various sounds of torturing instruments.
Each and every prisoner was photographed upon their admittance to the prison, and some where photographed upon their departure (i.e. their death). The photographs on these innocent people reflect a wide variety of emotions. Surprisingly to me, fear was not something I saw often. Some had looks of surprise, confusion, sadness. Most people were expressionless. These were the most captivating photographs.
The first thing you see when you arrive at the killing fields is a memorial stupa filled with the skeletons of exhumed bodies from the burial sites. Some sites were mass graves of up to 450 people. You can see human bones at the surface of the dirt in some places. Human teeth sit atop a box containing clothes of the buried that have been washed up through the dirt.
Check back tomorrow for my follow up post: War.