Phnom Penh…..a trail of blood and tears

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh Cambodia

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh

It is day two of my visit to Phnom Penh and I start out at Psar Toul Tom Poung which is also known as the Russian Market from the old days during the Vietnamese occupation when cheap goods flooded the market from the Soviet Union.  The fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the occupation brought an end to the cheap goods but the market survived. You can still find anything and everything in the ramshackle collection of sheds.  What a mix of silver, antiques, textiles, car parts, vegetables, pirated DVD’s and designer knock-offs piled into a labyrinth of passageways and stalls. I could not take it for very long as it was too claustrophobic for me.  Plus our real destination this hot steamy morning was located nearby

Cell in the Genocide Museum Phnom Penh

Cell in the Genocide Museum Phnom Penh

My friend Barbara and I walked a few blocks from the market to Toul Sleng Genocide Museum for a lesson in man’s inhumanity and madness.  The museum is located in a series of four three story buildings originally used as a school but converted in 1975 to “S-21 a facility designed for the detention, interrogation, torture and eventually killing of the detainees.

Images of torture victims at the Genocide Museum  in Phonm Penh

Images of torture victims at the Genocide Museum in Phonm Penh

When the city was finally liberated on January 7, 1979 and soldiers arrived at S-21 the bodies of fourteen victims were found.  They were so badly decomposed that identification was impossibility. The thirteen male and one female were taken to the courtyard of the prison and buried. These were the final victims of Pol Pot at “S-21”

In many of the first floor rooms photos of the dead as well as the torture victims are on display. Rooms filled with boards covered with the photos of young men and women staring blankly into the camera. Already knowing their fate the faces staring out from the photos are devoid of hope.   The Khmer Rouge were meticulous record keepers (as were the Nazis) so the photos and confessions of the prisoners were preserved.   Does anyone ever ask why societies that spawn genocide and mass murders record even the minutest details of what they perpetrate?

A cell count painted on the wall at the Genocide Museum

A cell count painted on the wall at the Genocide Museum

I was moved by many things on this visit some obvious, like the photos of the victims I mentioned above but sometimes it was the little details of day to day life in this hell that attracted me.  In one of the rooms that had been broken into cells there was still on the wall crudely painted a cell count or score card on the wall (see photo) and It struck me more than the shackles and torture equipment…I can’t tell you why.

Classrooms divided into cells at the Genocide Museum

Classrooms divided into cells at the Genocide Museum

I was fascinated to watch peoples reaction to the rooms filled with photo of the victims…some people just glossed over the pictures and moved quickly from room to room while others studied the faces and were visibly moved by the images.  It was impossible to predict the reaction due to age, sex or ethnicity.  Sometimes it would be a dude with dreadlocks, tattoos and piercings who would be the most engrossed and the white upper middle class couples who blew it off and speed through…go figure!

In the time the prison was in operation 1975 till June 1978 it is estimated that 20,000 people came through to be interrogated and tortured before they were sent to the killing fields on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Photos of victims at the Genocide Museum

Photos of victims at the Genocide Museum

Cell at the Genocide Museum

Today as one tours the buildings and sees the grim reminders…shackles, torture devices, cells, and  barbed wire it is almost impossible to grasp the enormity of the genocide……2.5 million people out of a overall population of 8 million. If you were to ask me for my reaction to a place like this I would say profound sadness but if you were ask me if I was shocked I would have to say no.  The 20th century has a never ending list of genocides…starting with Mao Ze Dong killing between 49 to 79 million, Hitler killing 12 million, Stalin 6 million and moving down to 7th on the list… Pol Pot with 2.5 million here in Cambodia.  However, the list goes on and on…Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Zaire, Sierra Leon, and Bosnia. etc. etc. and yet the world seems to do nothing to stop the horrors. Why?

If one is in Phnom Penh this is definitely a stop to make.

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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5 Responses to Phnom Penh…..a trail of blood and tears

  1. jim voyles says:

    Man’s inhumanity to man. Overwhelmingly sad.

  2. Susan Birkenshaw says:

    …and yet we continue to do the most despicable things to our fellow people!

  3. Claudia Hammer says:

    It is amazing to me also why it keeps happening over and over. When will we learn to see the big picture before we take action.

  4. Barbara Ray says:

    Being among the 2% of the human race that is sociopathic is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for being a tyrant. The meticulous record-keeping suggests people who compulsively control everything around them, even other people (for their own or society’s good, of course). When will we screen such people out of the positions of power in the world? Unfortunately, too many of the rest of us are willing to follow anyone who appears to be sure of what needs to be done and how.

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