Thursday morning one week ago I went first to the S-21. As this is within the city I could easily use the Phnom Penh city bus, which is much more cheaper, about 0.30 € per ride, than any Tuk Tuk. The security prison was set up in a former high school and consisted mainly of four main buildings. In these four buildings up to 1,500 people were caged at the same time. The purpose of the prison was to get a confession from each prisoner and per definition of the Khmer Rouge every prisoner is guilty, otherwise he wouldn’t be here. The “interrogation” and torture of the prisoners were mainly done in the first house, whereas in the second and third houses the improvised cells are located. In total about 20,000 people were imprisoned here in less than 4 years of the power of the Khmer Rouge….but only less than 20 survived! As another rule of the Khmer Rouge was, it’s better to kill an innocent person, than let an enemy survive. It is the most brutal and violent place I’ve ever seen so far. It might be also due to the fact of the relentless workup of the history and the plain violence was on display. You’ll can hear plenty of violent stories on the audio guide, compared with numerous photos of tortured dead bodies, where sometimes only the face was blurred for the sake of anonymity. Nevertheless, there are still (American) tourists, which are taking pictures of them, even it is always shown per sign, that this is forbidden inside the displays. And honestly, I don’t understand for which purpose they need these kind of photos. How can such a system work at all? First you need young, bad educated people from remote rural areas. These can be easily influenced and manipulated. Then you divide the work flow into several sections. Hence, each guard is only responsible for a small part of the whole process and never gets the big picture. And finally put pressure on the guards. If the don’t follow the orders, they easily change from a guard to a prisoner, which also happened quit often. After the Khmer Rouge came into power, they “evacuated” Phnom Penh and every large city within 3 days, sadly this was very effective. The inhabitants believed these young soldiers in the beginning, but were afraid, because they had a different accent. They told the people to move to their home villages. But what’s the home village of young children and teenagers, when they were born and raised up in Phnom Penh. The basic idea of the Khmer Rouge was to transform the whole society into an agricultural country, which solely is based on rice production without modern technology. Hence, each area has to produce the same amount of rice, regardless of the soil quality. And the amount to produce was three times higher than the average amount per area. In essence, neither the Khmer Rouge nor the workers from the cities had any idea of rice plantation. Hence, the whole theory from the Khmer Rouge didn’t worked out…not surprisingly at all. But sadly in almost 4 years about 3 Mio. people were killed, which equaled to more than 20% of the total population. The power of the Khmer Rouge, which was backed by Maoist China, just ended after a government supported by Vietnam, and hence Russia, took over in 1979. But the Khmer Rouge just went back to mountainous area and still represented Cambodia in the United Nations, and were also officially acknowledged until 1991 by, among others, Germany. Surprise. Surprise. This was the time when the cold war was still full active.
As the S-21 is located more or less in the city, the prisoners were, after writing their confession, brought to Choeung Ek, about 15 kilometres south of the city. Here about 300 persons arrived each night. This was a killing field. There are supposed to be 20,000 dead on an area of about 2 hectares. About 9,000 dead bodies were exhumed from the mass graves. Nowadays, this is a peaceful place, but 40 years ago there was 24 hours operating Pa system, playing propaganda songs. In essence it was in operation to suppress the sound of the victims. As shots are too loud and bullets to expensive, they used every tool to kill the victims which were available. The exhumed mass graves are now just small holes, but indeed were up to 5 metres deep. As the Khmer Rouge were scared about the revenge of family members of the prisoners, they were not just killing the prisoners, but also the wife and children of them. Typically the innocent babies and small children were hold on their ankle and their heads were smashed at the so called “killing tree”. It really affected me and makes me speechless, when I realised what happened here. It’s always unbelievable how human beings are able to perform a genocide. This place makes one really sad.