Saturday, December 17, 2016


Graves of the last victims killed as S-21 was being overthrown.
Just like you would imagine any holocaust museum to be, S-21 is a very interesting but sobering place.  The torture and death that happened here is on a scale and level of inhumanity that we could have never imagined existed in this world and really quite scary. 

Racks of leg irons used to restrain the victims

S-21 housed 1500 victims at any one time.  During the 4 year rule of the Khmer Rouge around 20,000 people were exterminated with only 7 survivors.  Most of the victims included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, and engineers.  Even people who wore eyeglasses were determined to be intellectuals, because they must have read too much, and were brought here to be tortured.

The typewriter repair man.
 The Khmer Rouge kept well documented records and photos of the victims.  They fortunately did not have enough time to destroy all the records before being over-run by the Vietnamese Army so much historical content still exists.   

We met an old man that was detained there.  The staff discovered he knew how to fix their broken typewriters.  He was one of the 7 survivors.

Close up of the leg irons
The wire covering was to keep victims from jumping to commit suicide
Innocent people were brought to S-21 to make forced confessions for committing espionage and forced to implicate friends and family members.  The torture system was designed to make a prisoner confess to whatever claims the interrogator wanted.  They used lashings, electric shock, water boarding, suffocation with plastic bags, and whatever else they could think up.  After a victim signed the typewritten confession, they were sent away to be killed for the espionage that they never committed or used for 'medical experiments".  Many tried to commit suicide rather than live to be tortured.  To others, death was probably welcomed after their 2-3 month ordeal.

The Gallows
There was a converted children's swing set turned in to 'The Gallows'. People had their hands bound behind their backs and hauled up by their wrists to hang from the gallows until they passed out from the pain of their dislocated shoulders.  Then they were let down and had their heads plunged into the pots of urine and excrement until they were revived and then the process was repeated until they confessed to something else.

These are not some fake props of the museum.  They were real people.
We planned on visiting the famous Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, a mass burial site outside Phnom Penh but psychologically just couldn't handle it after visiting S-21.

Just like Hitler's Holocaust in Germany, the Cambodians accept this dark period of their history and having this museum to educate them about the atrocities of General Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge so that something like this will not be repeated.  30,000 Cambodians visit this museum every year. 

It's fortunate that this was such a short piece of Cambodia's history because there is so much more good about this country and it's people.  

Our next post will definitely be more upbeat.

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