Following our visit to the Killing Fields, we also visited the infamous Genocide Museum. It is at the site of the former S-21 security office of the Khmer Rouge. It was here that they detained people, interrogated them, tortured them and sometimes killed them after their confessions. Many were transported to the various killing fields and killed there.
The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records of their prisoners. They were photographed, front and side views, and all personal details were checked thoroughly. Many photographs of the victims are on display throughout the museum. As well as the photos, you can visit the actual cells, see the barbed wire, the gallows where they hung the prisoners during torture and many tools of torture. There are explicit photos and paintings revealing the torture and inhumanity of the period.
The museum site, S-21, is a converted high school, built in the early 1960′s. It was quite similar, I felt, to the buildings of my old high school in Australia. The suffering I endured there pales into insignificance compared to the atrocities that occured here. Among the victims from this site alone were as many as 20 000 men, women and children. There was a single Australian, from Perth, who confessed, under torture, to being a CIA agent.
One interesting thing struck me. Four of the five main leaders of the Khmer Rouge, including Pol Pot himself, were bright Cambodian students who won academic scholarships to France. It was while they were in France that they joined the Communist party and their plans for a true communist society took root! One can just imagine how students from impoverished, mainly rural Cambodia, would have felt in the bustle of Paris. They would have felt like ducks out of water! They would have been staggered by the cost of a coffee on the Champs Ellysee, and decided, I am sure, that capitalism was not the answer for Cambodia.
But how this grand vision of an equal society, where the farming peasant was highly valued, to the shocking atrocity that it became, is beyond belief. When wealth, possessions, education and higher ideals are despised, but interrogation, torture, murder and ruling by fear become the means of creating such a society, you have to wonder what in Hell is going on!? Power, greed and paranoia always enter the picture.
Anyway, go there!
If you would like to see/read more about the museum, google Tuol Sleng and browse the sites. The museum itself does not appear to have their own English website at this time.
And for light relief, visit the Legend Cinema in Phnom Penh. first release movies… We saw The Hunger Games… for $3. A film helps you escape from the often unfathomable events happening out in the real world.