The killing fields: an experience in black and white.
Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot’s regime)
The Khmer Rouge army, led by the bloodthirsty dictator Pol Pot, invaded Phnom Penh in 1975 and started dragging people out of their homes for no reason other than to fulfill his vision of turning Cambodia into a group of mindless followers. People were ambushed, thinking they were going to work with the Khmer Rouge only to find out that they were led to their peril and buried in what is now known as the killing fields.
Visiting the killing fields was indeed a black and white experience: a place of dark times and horrific massacres that left a deep scar in the heart of all Cambodians and continues to leave a mark in the heart of any person that visits the monument.
The ugly reality
Walking through the killing fields, between the green trees and sprawling lake that reflected the shining sun, we started to lose perspective of nature’s beauty with every step; the natural beauty and color of the place was tarnished by remnants of the horrific past . The Khmer Rouge Soldiers had turned these natural elements into killing machines, twisting the reality as we know it. They used tree trunks to kill babies, smashing their heads in. They used Palm tree branches as saws to cut the throats of innocents. Passing through each killing spot where people had been dragged and slaughtered, seeing bones, scraps of clothes and teeth scattered everywhere, we became speechless and in tears.
Our heartbeats raced, our palms got sweaty. We couldn’t speak to one other; we were speechless in horror and disbelief. We wandered in silence listening to the audio recorder, to the stories of hell’s survivors.
“They would tell us we are going to work, that my dad had to leave me to go plant the rice fields.
He never came back!”
“We knew after a while…we knew when we heard the loud music that they were not just putting it on for our own entertainment. It was a camouflage for the screams and begs of the mothers not to kill their children, it was the screams of the people being slaughtered, of women being raped before getting murdered in front of their children.”
“They ignored the cries of the babies being smashed against the trees in the most horrendous ways that no normal human being can imagine and they even used the branches of the tree to cut people’s throats “
“The lake still hides a lot of bodies that weren’t removed, in the hopes that they are resting in peace in the calmness of it.”
“These are the teeth of tortured and murdered people, they have been collected from all over the killing fields.”
The guards’ house at the entrance, monitoring and receiving people before executing them.
“We found later on a hut full of chemical substances that used to be scattered over the dead bodies for faster decomposition, so no one would suspect what was happening. It was also a way to make sure people were dead since some of them were buried alive!”
“Victims were told to kneel down and then they were clubbed on the neck or head with tools such as cart axles, hoes, sticks, wooden clubs or whatever else could serve as a weapon of death in an effort to save bullets.”
“For years we found bones floating on the surface, after every rain…”
After walking through most of the killing fields, we spotted this man outside the fence. We thought for a second he was a ghost. We were immersed in a distorted reality after everything we had seen and heard.
A spark of hope, a memory that will hopefully be a lesson to the whole world. These bracelets, left by every visitor, are a memorial symbol for all the people who lost their lives.
With a heavy heart we finished the tour, realising the ugly truth that this was not a horror movie featuring a psychopath serial killer. This was real, a preserved memory for an entire nation. After this experience, we couldn’t help but feel love and respect for the Cambodian people and appreciation for their courage and phoenix-like spirits. After all that happened, smiles light up their faces and love fills their hearts.