Monday, June 8, 2015

The Killing Fields

As those who read my blog know, I generally write in a humorous way. But sometimes that's just not possible, like the blogs about the synagogue in Budapest, the Sephardic Jewish History museum in Cordoba, and the Seodaemun Prison Museum.

The Killings Fields in Phnom Penh was that place for this trip. It was one of the most moving experiences I've had, but it was also horrifying, depressing, shocking and many other adjectives that I still can't explain several months later.

The Killing Fields are something that are generally completely skipped over in history classes, at least in my experience with school, but it's so important to know about. The Khmer Rouge killed approximately 20-40% of the entire Cambodian population in just four years. The estimates range from about 1.8 million to 3.5 million people out of a population of 8 million people. They will never know the exact number since the majority of people were buried in mass graves.

I read a couple books before my trip to prepare myself, but actually visiting one of the sites is so much more difficult and sobering than you can imagine.

The genocide took place between 1975 and 1979. Prosecution of the individuals involved didn't begin until 2006. 2006!! Almost 30 years later. That is unbelievable to me, but unfortunately it's what happened and it hasn't been the only time.

The specific site we visited is called Choeung Ek, where 8,895 bodies were found. The Buddhist stupa holds 5,000 of those skulls. However, when the rains come during monsoon season each year, more clothes and bones rise up from the ground and come to the surface. They are still visible in the mud and the bones are constantly being removed and placed in a box.

This website goes into a lot more detail about this specific Killing Fields, as well as the Khmer Rouge genocide.

This is the stupa mentioned above.
Before the genocide because, this was the ceremonial kiosk for Chinese funerals.
The sign says, "The Chemical Substances Storage Room: The place where where chemical substances such as DDT were kept. Executioners scattered these chemicals over the dead bodies of the victims at once after execution. This action had two purposes. Firstly, to eliminate the stench from the dead bodies that could potentially raise suspicion of the people working nearby the killing fields. Secondly, to kill off victims who were buried alive."

One of the mass graves found at Choeung Ek. I believe the bracelets and ribbons are placed there to remember the victims.

You can see the clothes coming up through the ground here.
There was beauty to be found at the site now.
There were farms just on the other side of the fence. I cannot imagine living that close to such a terrible site, yet life must go on.

This tree was used as a loud speaker to block out the moans of the victims from nearby farmers.

The fragments that are collected after each monsoon season.

This tree is something that I will never forget. It is the place where they beat and killed children, so they wouldn't grow up to take revenge for the murder of their parents.

The mass grave of more than 100 women and children.
The mass grave of 166 victims, found without heads, so they can never be identified.

More clothes that came up through the mud.

We went inside the stupa. The different colored dots signified how the victim died. The Khmer Rouge didn't use bullets, because they were expensive. I took a picture of the sign. There's a glare, but the ones I can read said this:

Blue: Evidence of killing by iron tool.
Yellow: Evidence of killing by hoe.
Green: Evidence of killing by axe.
Purple: Evidence of killing by hook knife.
Orange: Evidence of neck cutting.
Bright blue: Evidence of ear cutting.

Their clothes.

 A shrine near one of the mass graves.

There were far too many bodies in the mass graves to be able to identify them. Entire families disappeared and we will never know. It is absolutely heartbreaking. It's amazing that the country survived. Everyone you meet who's above a certain age was affected by the genocide. They all had family members who died. Most of them had multiple family members who died. This is one of those places where it seems like tourists shouldn't be allowed. But at the same time, it's important to visit those places. To remember the people who died. To remember that these events have happened in recent history and are still happening today.

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