Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Toul Sleng

History is rife with atrocities that man has done to man. A common quote tells us to learn from our mistakes so that history does not repeat itself and yet it seems that history has become a blueprint for future atrocities rather than a wake up call. We hope and pray that in this "civilised world" we will not see anything like the concentration camps and gas chambers of world war 2.

Ironically many of you reading this were most likely alive in the 1970s when the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia. This was in our life time, our civilised world and yet something like this still happened. I hope that by bringing this to your attention that it may prevent something like this happening in future but as history has proven, history does repeat itself no matter how civilised we think we are.

My previous post was on the Killing Fields. This post is about the prison that people were sent to for 12 months of torture prior to being sent to the Killing Fields. If you were brought to this place for any reason they would torture you to find out who your family and co-conspirators were and where they were. The idea was to wipe out entire families to avoid an uprising.

As you walk into the grounds you realise that the prison was a converted high school. To think that children with high hopes of the future used to walk these grounds prior to it becoming a place of torture.
My guide started with 14 white graves. From what I could understand these people were found as they had been left after dying in torture. Each room they were in was large and he told me they had been people who were high up in the country so I assumed they were people from the Khmer Rouge itself.
This is from inside one of the rooms. The ammunition's box sitting on the bed was used as a toilet and then the waste disposed of in large pots outside for further use in torture. One of these rooms I walked into had blood splattered across the high ceiling.
A photo was taken of each of the 14 victims that were found and it now hangs in the room they were found in. I thank God they are not very clear but unfortunately they are clear enough.
Outside of these rooms is a sign with rules for the prison. In essence if you made a noise during torture you would be whipped with electric lashes.
I will not say much about the gallows as this the below image is clear enough to read. Suffice to say this is where the human waste ended up.
This section of the building housed smaller cells and now houses the images of those who were brought here. The L shapes on the floor are where the walls for each cell were. In the next couple of images you can still see some of the original cells. Each one was big enough to lie down in and be chained to the floor. To enter you needed to turn sideways.
Pol Pot took his queue from Nazi Germany and documented everything with photographs. Each one of these children did not survive.
My guide told me that Pol Pot wanted to destroy any form of hierarchy. This meant that all had to wear the same style black clothes and pants, all women had to have the same haircut and wear their hair the same way. Mass marriages were performed where you married the person who appeared in line next to you.
Most of the images at Toul Sleng do not have an expression however this guy stood out to me.
Children were brainwashed and turned against their own people.
This image was the most heart wrenching for me. This woman's husband had been high up in the government (not sure if it was the Khmer Rouge govt or the one before), and because he was considered a traitor his whole family would die. In this photo you don't realise that she has her head against the prong that would force electricity into her body. They did this while she held her sleeping baby.
You can't see it in this image but hers is the only photo where you can see a tear going down her cheek.
It seems that the more civilised we get, the more technically advanced we are at torturing people. There has to be a major change in people's way of thinking for this to not happen again, and I don't mean a forced change either.
On another note. When I arrived at Toul Sleng this man came up to me asking for money. I gave him US$1 which is a lot there. When I was ready to leave I could not find my Tuk Tuk driver anywhere. This man ran up and down the streets trying to find him for me. This is not my photo as I did not feel comfortable in taking one so soon after seeing all those images. This is one of Gwen's photos. She does not know how he got burned, it could have been from the war, it could have been an acid attack or something as simple as a burning mosquito net. He was a very nice man and I hope his life will be blessed.

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