Monday, 11 June 2012

S21 Phnom Penh

Next we travelled onto Phnom Penh. After the highs of Angkor Wat the day before we would not whiteness somewhat of a low.Phnom Penh is home to S21 (genocide museum) and Choeung Ek (killing fields) - dark remnants of the horrors committed during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Arriving at S21 immediately sent me cold. The old dilapidated building is a dull block in the cities skyline. The grounds are surrounded by barbed wire and beggars with limbs lost to the war. The building was originally a school which was then converted into one of many prisons by the Khmer. We walked through rooms where prisoners were held and tortured. Some of the rooms housed just one bed which the detainees were strapped to and viciously interrogated. As I looked at the worn tiles on the floor I wondered how many weary feet had fallen across this ground.

We saw tiny cell blocks where prisoners were chained up and locked away. The darkened grease surrounding the portal window in the door left as a shadow of the hands which spent hours holding on, peering out of the gap and waiting for rescue.

Like the Nazis, the Khmer's were meticulous in documenting the unfortunate people who passed through here. Thousands of photos line the of rooms on each floor. Men, women and children, all photographed in the same room, same position, all featuring looks of terror and dismay.

When I entered the first few rooms I made sure to take my time and look at each person directly. The rooms continued to present more and more victims and in the end I couldn't give time to them all. Some images particularly haunted me and I found it difficult to question of the future memory of some of the youngsters, who's photographs were fading. 

There were also photo documentation of people being tortured and even more pictures of dead bodies lying across the tiled floors where earlier we stood.

Out of the 20,000 prisoners sent to S21 just seven people survived. All possessed a skill desirable to the Khmer. Most were artists who spent hours painting portraits of the evil Paul Pot. If he was unimpressed, they were killed.

I read the stories of these survivors in the museum and they were truly harrowing.
The day was difficult and a shocking eye opener.

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