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For our family, today was the most poignant day on the trip so far.

I was 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge took power in Cambodia. Until researching for our trip, I had very little knowledge of the atrocities that occurred in the Killing Fields. I watched the acclaimed 1984 movie, The Killing Fields. I had Neerav and the kids watch the movie, too. (If you haven’t seen it, you should.)  The purpose of our visit to Phnom Penh was to experience history in person.

From Nathan: One-fourth of Cambodia’s population, 1.7 million people, died between the years of 1975 and 1979 under the Khmer Rouge rule. The Khmer Rouge was a communist group which forced the Cambodians out of the cities and into the countryside to work in labor camps up to 12 hours a day.

From Nathan: Tuol Sleng, or more commonly known as S-21, was a prison and torture center for people who had allegedly committed crimes against the Khmer Rouge. The cells were small, and the ways of torture were gruesome.  In some cases, the Khmer Rouge hung prisoners upside down until they lost consciousness and then dunked them in filthy water, so the prisoners would wake up again. Eventually everyone was killed.

From Neerav: Setting foot inside the walls of S-21 was moving.  It’s hard to believe such atrocities occurred and by the hands of their own people.  What struck me most was the pictures on the walls showing the guards taking pleasure in such acts.

From Nathan: We also went to one of the hundreds of killing fields in Cambodia. This killing field, named Choeung Ek, was outside of Phnom Penh. Toward the end of the Khmer Rouge’s rule, they killed about 300 people a day here. The Khmer Rouge did not use any bullets to kill the people, because the ammunition was too expensive. Instead, the executions were savage.

From Neerav: I would guess that execution would seem like a relief after the brutal torturing at S-21, but the manner that Pol Pot and his army executed prisoners was horrific: machetes, knives, dull instruments, and other cruel means.  As you walked the area, it was hard not to be overwhelmed with emotion, listening to stories of survivors on the audio tour. The most shocking moment: walking by the tree that the Khmer Rouge used to kill babies. It’s difficult to believe more was not done and that Pol Pot was able to live a full life and see his grandchildren born when he was responsible for the murders of one-quarter of the population.

From Nathan: While this awful tragedy to the Cambodian people was happening, the world did nothing. I’d guess that most of the world today doesn’t even know that this mass genocide happened in Cambodia. I wish some country could have stepped in to help resolve the problem. I am glad that the Cambodian government preserved these sights, so they can remind people what happens when a group has absolute power.

I’d encourage you to read the captions on the photos below. To view in gallery mode, simply click on a photo and then scroll.