Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Sobering, confronting and depressing, are only a few words that come to mind when experiencing the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Horrific, evil, heinous, nauseating, unspeakable and harrowing are just some that can be used to describe what went on there between 1975 and 1979; a 3 year, 8 month, and 20 day period in Cambodia’s history that decimated the population. Before Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge were driven out of Cambodia by their own defectors and the Vietnamese Army, Pol Pot’s regime had killed an approximately 2 – 3,000000 people… more than 25% of the Cambodian population.
I have decided to put some of my thoughts online because of something I read while in the museum. It went something like this…
Is it possible to learn sooner the next time a catastrophe is occurring? Could we, by better understanding the reasons behind why we look the other way, possibly prevent ourselves from making the same mistake again? Can we learn from history?
Toul Sleng Museum is in the city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. During Pol Pot’s Khmer Rough regime it was a school that was converted to S21(Security Prison 21) a torture, interrogation and execution centre. It is now a museum that tells, and depicts, what went on at S21. It is hard to think of it as a ‘tourist attraction’… in fact I would say it is not an “attraction”. If you want to be entertained in Cambodia go somewhere else. This museum is confronting and uncomfortable; I’m not ashamed to say it brought me to tears. If on the other hand you want to learn some of Cambodia’s history, to understand the people and the country you are visiting, and you are not afraid to face the truth about the other part of human nature… a part I find difficult to understand; a part of humanity that is seen everywhere, not just in Cambodia, then visit this museum. As an educational tool it is an edifying experience.
Psychopaths such as Pol Pot, Aldolf Hitler, Abubakar Shekau, etc, etc, etc… exist in almost every country and the atrocities they commit appal most of us. The genocide between 1975 and 1979 is a small part of Cambodia’s history, but the destruction it caused is astronomical. As I ride around Cambodia, it is heart-wrenching to know that anyone of around 40 years of age and older has lived through these atrocities; atrocities which I have only read about at the museum, and in the book “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung.
I have no photos to show you, as the signs around the museum specifically ask you not to take photos or videos… However, there were many people who chose to ignore the signs and take photos and videos regardless. As I wandered the museum reading the stories from the seven adults who survived S21, taking photos was the furthest thing from my mind.
Of the 20,000 or so people who were taken to S21 for interrogation only seven adults and 4 children survived. S21 was only one of the approximately 150 torture, interrogation and execution centres in Cambodia at the time of Pol Pot’s regime. The museum also has stories from some of the people who worked at S21, and information about the trials of the Khmer Rouge leaders who have been or are being charged for crimes against humanity (see below for more info on the trials).
The genocide that occurred during this time was due to Pol Pot’s insane vision of a pure communist society. Education, commerce, ownership, and religion were forbidden.
“All foreigners were thus expelled, embassies closed, and any foreign economic or medical assistance was refused. The use of foreign languages was banned. Newspapers and television stations were shut down, radios and bicycles confiscated, and mail and telephone usage curtailed. Money was forbidden. All businesses were shuttered, religion banned, education halted, health care eliminated, and parental authority revoked. Thus Cambodia was sealed off from the outside world.” Source – [http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/pol-pot.htm]
Anyone Pol Pot deemed a threat to his authority was tortured for a confession and then killed. Entire families were killed. One of Pol Pot’s slogans went… ‘clearing grasses, it shall dig it’s entire root off’. He feared leaving anyone in the family alive and he had them all killed to avoid anyone wanting to seek revenge.
During Pol Pot’s regime families were separated. Strong young children sent to become soldiers. Urban dwellers were forced from their cities to work in labour camps or in rural areas on collective farms growing food to sell to china for arms and ammunition. Many people starved to death while surrounded by fields of food. The combined effects of strenuous working conditions, starvation, malnutrition and poor medical care caused many deaths.
Visiting Tuol Sleng – I suggest, if you get the chance, reading one of the many books written by the survivors of this horrific time in history before going to the museum and The Killing Fields. It is a gruesome history; a gruesome story, but one that should not be forgotten. It is a time in history that should never happen again… anywhere.
Cambodia is not alone in its history of genocide. Throughout history there have been many cases of Genocide… and sadly genocide is not only a part of humanity’s history; it is still occurring – http://genocidewatch.net/alerts-2/new-alerts/
Travel Notes (Updated July 2016)
KHR – Cambodian Riel written here as ៛
Note: In Cambodia use Riel and the US dollar. At the time of writing this most places will accept both currencies… but have Riel for use when making small purchases in local shops or when in rural areas. Most places will use an exchange rate of ៛4000 to the dollar. Some shops have up to date exchange rates will give the current exchange rate which, at time of writing is ៛ 4090 to the dollar.
For more information visit the Toul Sleng Museum website.
Where is it? – Corner of Street 113 & St 350, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening hours – Open daily from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 2 p.m. until 5:30 p.m.
Admission cost – USD $2.00
We stayed at Velkommen Guesthouse – Pros – Air-con, cable TV, safe. 5-minute walk from the National Museum, Royal Palace, Central Market and Old Market.
Across the road is Velkommen Backpackers
For great deals on accommodation in Phnom Penh have a look at Booking.com
Read more at…
Toul Sleng Museum and The Killing Fields at http://www.killingfieldsmuseum.com/s21-victims.html
Pol Pot in Cambodia http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/genocide/pol-pot.htm
About the trials of those charged with crimes against humanity visit the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia at http://www.eccc.gov.kh/en
The Khmer Rouge at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khmer_Rouge
Pol Pot – Psychopath – http://disorderedworld.com/2013/11/14/pol-pot-and-the-khmer-rouge/
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers – by Loung Ung
Survival in the Killing Fields – By Haing Ngor
Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison – By David Chandler
Don't miss a thing! Join the crew and we will send you free email updates. But don't worry, we promise not to bombard your inbox with too much awesome stuff!
Something went wrong.