S-21, And you thought YOUR highschool was bad.

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I visited Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh with some hesitation.  It is a must see when visiting Cambodia, but you May need to dedicate Day to feeling gloomy.

Originally a high school, it was transformed into prison S 21 when Pol Pot emptied all the cities and banned education.

The incredible amount of barbed wire seemed almost more like an art installation then barricade.  No doubt it was effective keeping prisoners inside.

The long narrow buildings where classrooms had windows on both sides and open air hallways was very similar to the schools I taught in when I lived in Japan.  This made the fact that it was a school made prison/torture chamber very real to me.

20,000 people passed through this center.  Seven survived due to possessing skills that were needed by Pol Pot.  

The first year everyone was murdered on site.  But the volume became too difficult.  From then after being tortured, documented, and interrogated the prisoners were sent to the killing fields.

Click on the image below to view a short clip of me walking past some photos of the deceased.

Video 

it was shocking for me to see this typical looking school transformed into a prison.   Click on the image below for a video of the same.

The main level was made into cells using bricks.

The next level was divided into cells by wood construction.

other classrooms were used as is just filling them up with as many people as could fit.

Click on the image below to view another video of me walking around the school.

Lucky prisoners received a shower once a week by being sprayed from the window.  One survivor said that he received one shower in three months.

A survivor describes how prisoners were moved when they were too weak to walk themselves.

Imagine the shock and confusion of being taken away from your life with your family and being accused of being KGB or CIA agent when you  probably didn’t even know what that was.

Complete insanity ruled.

This structure previously used for high school gymnastics proved useful for torture implementation.

Some descriptions of the torture use

A timeline showing me chronology of Cambodia.

there were testimonies from the survivors and from people who actually worked there.

Click on the image below to play another video of my visit to S 21.  By this time I had read a number of personal accounts and the history was becoming very real to me.   

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Incredible evil of the Khmer rouge

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Click on the image below to join my first full day inPhnem Phom, Cambodia.

My first day was to be be spent locally.  The Royal Palace is walkable from my hotel but it was very hot approaching noon.  That tuk-tuk driver I hired obviously knew the Royal Palace was closed but he took me for a ride anyway.  

Click on the next image to continue the story of my day.

 

From 1975 to 1979 about 20,000 people were executed and murdered at this location by the Khmer Rouge.  This is only one of more than 300 such killing centers.

This memorial place has a audio guide  full of information.  I listened to the horrific stories as I wandered from site to site.

Now a peaceful garden setting,  it’s rather difficult to imagine the extreme evil that took place here for several years.

There are benches throughout to sit and listen to the audio commentary.

A very necessary but somber experience when visiting Cambodia.  It took me back to when I was 23 years old and I visited one of the Nazi extermination camps in Poland.

This was perhaps not my ideal first full day in Cambodia.

Click on the image below to play another video.

 

What was going on in this site was tried to be kept a secret from the nearby locals.  Music was played during the brutal killings to mask the noise.

This monument was directed to house 8000 skulls recovered from mass graves on the site.

Color codes were used to classify how the victim was murdered.  Bullets were considered expensive so very few were killed by gun shot.  Most were beaten to death with a variety of blunt objects available.  Many were simply knocked unconscious and put into the mass grave.  The chemicals used to hide the odor from getting to the locals also served the purpose of killing those who were still alive when buried.

This was a grouping of skulls clearly damaged by hoe.

Looking up at 8000 skulls of people who were beaten to death in very recent history (while I was alive) is an overwhelming experience.

If that wasn’t bad enough here was a mass grave of children.  Evidence was found that children were beaten to death against this tree.  I would later learn when visiting S21, that babies were smashed against this tree. If someone was deemed “guilty” in a family, the entire family was exterminated.  

This made for a sad first full day in Cambodia.  But this was on my list of places to see so I am glad that I got it out of the way.

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