Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum

If you look at the history of any country, you will find that at some point, there is probably a very dark period where atrocities of some nature went on against a group of people, or which were just committed by a tyrannical government that fed off of its own lust to hurt and kill innocent people. This includes such events as the things done to Native Americans in the United States, the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate the Jews, and the Romans persecution of Christians. All leave a sense of great sorrow at what man is capable of.

Cambodia has its own dark period like this, and it is not so far into its past that it occurred. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia, and began the systematic exile of most of its citizens from the capital city of Phnom Penh. The city had become one of the most advanced and beautiful cities in all of Asia, but after Pol Pot and his group took control the bustling city, which it was believed had over two million people in it, quickly saw those numbers dwindle into the mid-hundreds of thousands within just a few years.

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While forcing people out of the city was one of the means that the tyrannical government used to get people out, torture and murder were another. It was a tragic time that saw tens if not hundreds of thousands of people summarily killed or tortured before being killed.

One of the most heinous locations of these atrocities was the so called Prison 21 (S-21). This site was the former location of a high school (Chao PonheaYat High School), which seemed quite ironic in some ways, in that the leaders of the Khmer Rouge saw intellectuals as a threat to their power.

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In August of 1975, the new government took control of Phnom Penh, and just four months later the school was turned into a detention center, which quickly became an “interrogation” center. During this four month period of time, the school was turned into a prison, with electrified barbed wire surrounding the complex and the classrooms turned into very small cells or into rooms where torture was conducted.

Starting in late 1975, the new prison complex would hold over 17,000 prisoners during the four-year period that it was in operation. The number may actually be as high as 25,000. The complex was not built to hold more than 1,500, so murder was often used to make room for new prisoners to the complex.

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Those who were held here were subject to daily torture. They were forced to give the names of family members, friends, and other associates, who all would be arrested and brought to the complex as well. Most of the early prisoners for members of the prior government, the Lon Nol Regime, as well as soldiers and government officials, but it was not long before teachers, students, engineers, monks, doctors, and factory workers found themselves locked up as well. Thousands were tortured and murdered here until the Vietnamese overthrew the Pol Pot government in 1979. Only three survived their time here.

This site has been turned into the Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum. For about five dollars you can visit here daily. Be aware that this is one of the revered places in the entire country, so visitors are expected to show a lot of decorum and sensitivity when they visit here. This means that men must have on long pants, and women must be wearing pants or a long skirt or dress. Tank tops and mid-rift shirts are not allowed either.

You should also know that this is not a site for the faint of heart. There are very honest and gruesome displays here, and so be prepared.