Posts Tagged ‘Pol Pot’


Written: Wednesday, June 16 around 5 am concerning events on Tuesday, June 15th

DISCLAIMER: The information presented here may be difficult to read and process. I am still working through it myself but want to post to be true to my experiences here.


On April 17, 1975, Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea movement took power in Cambodia and began a process of killing and control that forever changed the history of this little country. It is said that he killed several million of his own countrymen in the name of Communism and his movement. Any person deemed to have intellectual skills of any kind (reading, medicine, teaching, speaking other languages, religion, etc…) was killed so they would not be a future threat to the revolution. Women and children were not excluded from his horrific actions. In fact, children were often targeted so that they could not grow up and take revenge. Families that tried to flee to Thailand were often killed by land mines along the border. Many of these mines are still in the ground today. There is no family living now in Cambodia that was not impacted in some way by the atrocities committed by Pol Pot and his crew.

I remember as a 10-year old kid watching news reports and seeing Khmer Rouge soldiers on TV and hearing all the bad things that were happening. Never did I imagine that I would go to the place where it all happened nor that I would meet people who were impacted by those events.


Even though our day started at the Killing Fields, I want to talk about things in the order they would have occurred. People arrested as “enemies of the state” were brought to Security Center 21 (S.21) for housing and interrogation. Here they were held until they confessed (or died). Pol Pot kept meticulous records of each prisoner including their picture and eventual confession. In the museum, they have hundreds and hundreds of pictures of these individuals. I just couldn’t take a picture of the people. It was too overwhelming. I did take some pictures of the facility, which used to be a school before being converted to a prison. In Cambodia, people say that the whole country became a “prison without walls” during the time of Pol Pot.

Tuol Sleng Holding Cell

Tuol Sleng - One of Three or Four Buildings This Size

Barbed Wire to Prevent Suicides

Excellent article with update on Tuol Sleng and the guy(Duch) who ran it (why did he have to be a math teacher?????)


After a prisoner “confessed”, they were very quickly disposed of. There were so many people that got arrested that things had to be done very quickly. Trucks of 20 – 30 people were sent about every three weeks from Tuol Sleng Prison down to Choeung Ek about 15 km outside of town. At Choeung Ek, prisoners were killed within hours of arriving using the most brutal methods imaginable including poisoning and head trauma. Infants were killed by first, grabbing their legs and smashing their heads into a tree then, flinging their bodies into a pit with their recently killed mothers.

Killing Tree

Mass Gravesite

The weird thing about all this is that people on the outside did not really know what was going on. The Khmer Rouge used loudspeakers to drown out sounds of people screaming and they used DDT to cover the stench of dead bodies. Families only knew that their members had gone to “meet someone who needed help” or to “enter a re-education program” and that they did not return.

After Pol Pot was overthrown over 4 years later (in 1979), all of the terrible things were discovered. An intense effort of recovery ensued including digging up of mass graves and identifying remains (as much as possible). The site is well preserved and includes markers and descriptions of the buildings and gravesites. A large stupa was erected to house the remains and serve as a reminder of the past and a way to honor the souls of those who died. To this day, bones of those killed are still surfacing after rainstorms.

Memorial Stuppa

Memorial Stuppa

Inside the Stuppa


It is said that Pol Pot left no Cambodian family untouched, and I believe this to be true. On the way out of each area (S21 and Killing Fields), I met beggars who were missing limbs due to land mines. My teacher friend Navy lost her grandfather. He was asked to come and “meet a friend that needed help” and never returned. My tuk tuk driver lost his father. The shape of this country today still reflects the mold made by Pol Pot and many, many, many generations will be needed to lessen the effect. But, the people seem hopeful. Perhaps that is why they smile so much because when your country is recovering from the most painful period in its history, what is left to do but smile and move ahead.

Khmer Baby and Mom


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