Tag Archives: Phnom Penh

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison) in Cambodia

3 Mar

I had originally planned to solely visit Siem Reap during my time in Cambodia. As an archaeology major, Angkor Wat appealed to me in every way possible and, although it didn’t disappoint, once I arrived in Siem Reap, I knew I needed to see more of this amazing country.

Before coming to Cambodia, I can say that I was ignorant of the events surrounding the Khmer Rouge communist regime  that caused devastation from 1975 to 1979 and continues to haunt the people it affected. Even now, I’m not sure that I can fully grasp what occurred during these horrible years in Cambodia’s history.

I headed to Phnom Penh with some new friends. They all wanted to visit a place known as “The Killing Fields.” I had gotten some advice from a girl in Siem Reap and I will further share that advice. If you are planning on seeing the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, you must start your day at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (more commonly referred to as the S-21 Prison) and then go to the Killing Fields afterwards. She couldn’t  have been more right. Since I didn’t know anything about the Killing Fields, it really helped to visit the prison before going to the fields.

The prison kept thousands captive and thousands were tortured there before being taken to the Killing Fields to be eventually be bludgeoned to death (as bullets were too valuable to be “wasted”).

The buildings that imprisoned the captives were also enclosed with barbed wire so that prisoners on upper floor couldn’t commit suicide.

When you walk into the premises of S-21 (after paying a small fee) it is hard to miss the manifesto that was made to keep prisoners in control. It was incredibly disturbing. Number 6 reads: “While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.”

You can walk around the floors of many different buildings, each with their own purpose. Many of the rooms there have the torture equipment that was used in those specific rooms and even pictures on the walls that actually shows victims that were tortured to death in the prison.

On the top floor of most buildings the rooms contained pictures of victims and information of what happened in the prison. It was sad to see how many children were held there. There was also information about the leaders of this regime, specifically Pol Pot, the leader of Democratic Kampuchea. Under his leadership, millions of Cambodians died due to forced labor, malnutrition, and executions. Millions.

I think what made S-21 so horrible for me as well was thinking about how recently these events occurred! It’s scary really. This massive genocide in Cambodia occurred less than forty years ago and Cambodia continues to recover from the loss of so many of their people. There are people who probably still have nightmares about those days. Even after the Vietnamese liberated Phnom Penh in 1979, there was famine and a civil war sweeping through Cambodia until the 90s! The Khmer people have suffered a great deal in Cambodia’s recent history, and they continue to suffer today. They are still trying to rebuild. The horrific events taking place in the S-21 Prison don’t even begin to cover what exactly happened. However, if you’re ever in Cambodia, make sure you go to the Killing Fields, but not before you go to S-21 first!

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