Friday, September 12, 2014

Tuol Sleng S21 School of torture Genicide Museum

As the bus pulled away from the Killing Fields we are a quiet solemn group, all upset by what we have seen. Our tour guide Tran a very nice gentle Cambodian man, said he would tell us his story of survival as we drive on the next Pol Pot place, S21 the Detention centre in a School., Genocide Museum.
Tran told us he is the son of the Sein Reap Judge. his man in his high position hear whispers of what was to come with the Khrer Rouge Regime , and decided to take action to protect his family, he called all of his extended family to a  and company managers meeting, (most of these family members were lawyers, Doctors, Teachers or officials in Government positions). First he told them that they must drop their 3 syllable name that denoted  their high position in the community, they must adopt a single syllable name, in future they would be called Wan. They must all go home and pack a small bag of goods and come back and head into the jungle in a distant place where none of them were known or might be recognized,  where they would clear a place and construct homes and become subsistence farmers growing mostly rice.It would be a hard life but a safe one. Before they left they must harden and damage their soft white hands, they must be dirty blistered and bleeding, because he had heard that all guards would be checking for soft in door workers hands to send to camps to become slaves or to the detention centre for torture.
This policy really worked, so well that not one person in his family was lost, all survived the war, and the Judge returned to Sein Reap and once again became the Judge, this wonderful man lived to the grand old age of 102 years. 
On hearing this story we all clapped and felt a little better. Just then we pulled in to a quiet street lined with buses in front of the old School, a large 3 story 3 sided  building  with barbed wire fence all around.

S21 is a place I had no knowledge of at all I had no idea what we were going into see.
We walk around to one side and enter a class room  on one side, there are many tourists here and all around the complex. Our guide tells us people were brought to this building to be interrogated and tortured til they admitted that they were 'Spies for the KGB and the CIA" As if any of them were or if anyone at all ever was spies for both.  Absolutely everybody admitted  to this eventually sooner or later, when they could no longer stand the pain or torture. Even when they did admit to being spies or anything else the guards wanted to hear, it was not the end of their ordeal, not the guards started to demand to  the names and addresses of everyone else who was also a spy with them, so the poor unfortunates had to betray every member of their family and their friends and in fact every person they had even known, who were immediately rounded up and brought here for the same treatment.
As many as 20,000 people are thought to have been incarcerated  here, 1500 at any one time.

In this room there is a horrible uncomfortable iron bed with criss cross slats of iron with quite sharp edges, there is also some shackles and an iron ammunition case, there is no mattress on the bed,  it is quite a large room and although we wee not told so I think it was the room where electric shocks were administered to prisoners. And probably  where rape took place. It is not a nice room it had a gloomy feel to it even though its full of people it feels empty.
Then we go along further and into another old class room which is divided into many tiny crude cells by

piling and cementing concrete blocks every 3/to 4 feet to a hight of about 6 feet, there are no doors. Almost every other classroom is divided in this way to hold as many prisoners as possible. There would be no escapes as there was a set of shackles here too and also each had an iron ammunition case .
We are told these ammunition cases were their toilets, which could only be used when given permission, anything produced when permission had not been granted must be re consumed and permission was seldom given. 

The day started for these prisoners at 4.30am when they were all ordered to strip for inspection, severe beatings were inflicted on anyone who tried to disobey any of the rules and orders, of which there were many, signs gave some idea of what was expected of them, and the punishment awaiting them.. Very little food was available for them, starvation was the rule here. The days were full interrogations and tortures and recovering from the same. 
Our guide tells us that killing the prisoners was not what they were meant to do, in fact any  guard who did kill a prisoner was immediately placed in a cell for torture himself, the intention was to inflict as much pain and suffering as is humanly endurable without actually killing them, that was the job of those guards out on the killing fields, and only after all possible information had been extracted from the victim.
We were taken further along the corridor to rooms chock full of screens running full length of the classrooms, full on both sides with thousands of photos of men and women, as every prisoner was photographed for Pol Pots records, so very many of them all empty eyed nearly dead already, terrorfied.
Next classroom was the worst by far I can hardly bring myself to describe it. here a French gentleman has painted very moving pictures of what life was like for the victims. There is a picture of a Mother who has the most beseeching look of anguish on her face as on her knees she begs for the life of her baby who is wrenched from her arms to be killed, behind her cower 2 other little children.  it was deeply upsetting to all the Mothers in the room, as children wee not wanted and were just thrown against the wall or anywhere else to kill them. Around the walls of this room there were many more pictures depicting some of the terrible tortures inflicted on men and women, electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body such as inside the ear, scorpions placed on nipples and other places to sting very painfully, beatings with bamboo sticks,  garden secateurs used to hack off fingers and toes, Hanging up on a gallows by their hands tied bend their backs, how excruciating that would be, and they were bounced like that, when they passed out from pain they were then dumped head first into a drum of liquid manure to bring them round so it could be done again.  I find myself just going awh awh awh how awful how could they, I am sure there were more pictures around the room, and other rooms full of other horrors,  but I couldn't take any more I run outside to take deep breathes of fresh air, with a roaring in  ears from the screams and wails and sobs from all the thousands of poor tormented souls.   Sickened.   Their anguish quite overwhelms me. I might add this feeling stayed with me till only recently, nearly a month after we returned home. Man's inhumanity to his fellow man was never worse than this. It truly was Hell on Earth.
Took me a while to pull myself together again and wander under the trees, I find several graves there and I vaguely remember being told of their significance but sorry I can't recall just why they are there. Maybe someone else will be able to tell me.
I see a small black cat picking its way across the grass with its twisted deformed tail and just think

O Jesus no one escaped their casual, callus,  cruelty not even the cat......

We all sort of stumbled back out to the bus and back to the ship for lunch, is is still only morning and we have been to killing fields and  S21 feels like a long long time. 
I have forgotten to say why Pol Pot was doing all this. He wanted to turn back the clock 900 years to when everything was done by hand by happy servants with no mechanical things to help them at all. So no education just hard work and very little food. He planned to rule over all of them, but first to get rid of anyone with half a brain that might stand up to him. This pretty well my opinion, but about right I think.
After lunch we have a visit to the Kings Royal Palace, light relief!

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