In 1975, the Communist Khmer Rouge Regime under the evil dictator Pol Pot marched into Phnom Penh and took over the city after defeating the existing Cambodian government. The people were elated as they thought the many years of war were over. However, they were forced out of their homes and into the countryside. They were told they could return in 3 days. Instead, most were arrested and forced to work ridiculously long hours in the agricultural fields. If they resisted they were imprisoned. And tortured. And executed.
From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge regime killed anywhere from ~1 million to ~3 million innocent Cambodians.
Some were killed because they opposed the new political regime.
Some were killed because they wore glasses.
Some were killed because they had soft hands.
Pol Pot was as evil as any man in the history of the world.
We visited one of the Cheoung Ek Killing Fields, where ~9,000 bodies were found in mass graves. Every time it rains more bone fragments, teeth and clothing are unearthed.
When the mass graves were discovered, they found a tree next to one grave that contained women and children. The tree had skull fragments and brain tissue all over it. Studies indicate they killed babies by bashing their heads against the tree, and then tossing them into the graves.
They built a memorial the Cheoung Ek site which houses thousands of skulls, and bones dug up from the graves.
We then visited the S21 Tuol Sleng Prison, where victims were first brought, interrogated, starved and tortured. A lot of them died from starvation, or torture in this very prison. But, most were brought to the killing fields to be executed.
Only ~3 survivors remain. I got to meet one of them. After Bou Meng, was tortured for weeks, they found out he was a painter. He was forced to paint portraits of the Khmer Rouge leaders for the remainder of his time imprisoned.
His life was spared. But his wife's was not.
After these atrocities were discovered, and the Khmer Regime was overthrown, Bou escaped from the prison. He now paints images of what life was like in the prison. And, he volunteers at the prison.
I got to meet him and shake his hand. I bought his book. It was a fascinating firsthand account of what life was like in S21. And he testified in the court trial against the Khmer Rouge regime. What a brave man.
This happened during my lifetime. It’s almost impossible to fathom that people can be so evil.
The Khmer Regime was not even really held accountable for their actions. Pol Pot was able to live out the rest of his life with his family, and the other leaders were not prosecuted for their crimes until a few years ago.
I don't remember this event being covered in history class back in school. We learned a lot about the Holocaust, but not much about other genocides. I guess there's too much history to cover everything. But knowing world history is important for our future.
If you are interested in more info, there is a book by a Cambodian woman who was a young girl when her family was forced out of Phnom Penh: First They Killed My Father. Angelina Jolie is producing a Netflix film based on the book that will be released in 2017.
There is a memorial outside the S21 prison with all the names of the known victims.
And a monument with the inscription: "Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime."
I know I will never forget.