S21 and the Killing Fields

Ok, so this was a couple of eventful days ago now, but this is going to stick in my mind for a while. The main tour from Phnom Penh is to these two places, and we’d been told you really have to go, so we all went as a daytrip. First up was S21.

S21 was a high school until the day the Pol Pot regime took over the city. Then they shipped everybody out of the city to the countryside (our guide at S21 spent 3 months walking to a remote province,and lost her brother and father along the way), and set up the school as an interrogation centre.

Its basic function was to torture people for information, before they were shipped off to be killed at the Killing Fields site we visited later. No-one was intended to survive once they came here. They either died under torture, or were killed anyway. Of 20000 people, only 7 people survived.

It looks like a pretty nice school from some angles.

When the Vietnamese invaded the city, everyone here had already fled, but there were 14 bodies left behind. These are their graves. They’ve also found dozens of other bodies all over the site.

These cells were used for high rank prisoners (i.e. members of the Pol Pot regime who had done something wrong). The photo on the wall shows how it looked when the Vietnamese arrived. No one knows who the bodies they found were.

The rules of the prison.

This building had been preserved as it was, barbed wire and all. It was there to prevent people committing suicide off the top floor, as many had tried this previously.

Most of the prisoners were held in these tiny rough cells built onto the classroom floors. They just contained a chain concreted into the floor, and an ammo container for waste.

The regime destroyed almost all the photos and documents recording the people who came here. But in the aftermath, about 5000 negatives were found, and the photos of the victims have been printed out into huge wall displays. Some are clearly just children. Some clearly have no misconceptions about what is going to happen.

Some torture implements. One of the survivors was an artist, and painted graphic pictures of the practices that occurred here.

Whats disturbing is how like a normal school it still looked. The classrooms upstairs that were used for mass detention still had the blackboards on the walls.

Then we visited the Killing Fields site 15kms outside the city. Everyone who survived the torture at S21 ended up here.

There was a huge shrine built to the victims, and filled with 15 stories of their bones. 143 mass graves have been identified here, in a tiny area the size of a large garden, of which 93 have been excavated. They found over 9000 bodies.

All over the site, fragments of clothing and bone are exposed whenever it rains. In the more obvious areas it has been cordoned off, but there was nowhere really safe to walk. This area, as well as the clothes, was covered in teeth.

The people here were usually killed with blunt instruments, as bullets were expensive. But this tree was used to kill tiny children before they were thrown into the nearby pit.

A view over some of the excavated pits.

No comment.

After this experience,the tuk-tuk drivers seemed quite keen to take us to a shooting range, but none of us were in the mood to shoot the place up after that experience. It was our last night with Dan and Steff too (who i’ve been riding with since Hanoi), and everyone went out and got hammered, but i just had to go to bed after a day of seeing all that stuff.


~ by zendog888 on 21/12/2010.

3 Responses to “S21 and the Killing Fields”

  1. The guy with the number 8 round his neck has got true fear in his eyes, this must have been harrowing for u an the others

    • It was, the number 8 guy really hit me, but the whole thing was just really unreal, an ordinary school in the middle of a city, full of bones and death.

  2. It’s amazing what humans are capable of. I’m glad I don’t understand.

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