Due to the nature of the museum, photographs were prohibited from inside the grounds.
After a late start in the day we embarked on our potentially most upsetting, yet important day of our trip. The Tuol Sleng Genocide museum was the secret centre of a network of nearly 2000 prisoners, where people were tortured by the Khmer Rouge as they tried to turn Cambodia into an extreme communist country.
As soon as we stepped inside the prison and turned on our audio headset guide, we were given an introduction to the nightmare which had taken place 37 years prior. Firstly, we started learning about the history of the prison and how up until the 17th of April 1975 it had in fact been the Tuol Sleng high school. We were shocked to hear how a place of learning and laughter was juxtaposed to the horrific shrieking of the torture of every inmate. It was hard to understand how even something as simple as a climbing frame was used as a weapon of torture.
Just in front of what used to be the playground lays 14 white graves, for the last bodies found. They’re all anonymous as they were unrecognisable at the time of death but not forgotten. Once we had reflected on the few memorials we had already seen we all entered the 4 prison blocks at our own pace.
Building A was used for torture and interrogation. Each room showed a picture of exactly how the room was found, even showing the dead bodies still shackled on the beds. Although this was hard to take in we felt that it was important to learn about it, especially as it was so recent.
Building B and C were used to house the prisoners, who were stripped of all their dignity. One way of doing this was referring to them as “it”. In the bottom floor they were housed in tiny cells like animals with two people sharing a kennel like room. The backs of the cell doors were graphitied with demoralising sentences to lower their moral ready for interrogation. Caging the balconies were nets of barbed wire preventing escapes and suicide attempts. All deaths were prohibited until the victim had written their letter of confession. On the upper floors were large detention rooms which had metal rings in the floor which victims were bound to for often months at a time before interrogation or death. These buildings also housed exhibitions of the many faces of the victims. They had no names, only numbers. We were reminded that this place of devastation was once a school, as there were maths equations scared onto the walls. This made us wonder how far Cambodia would of progressed without this horrific attack holding them back.
Building D was used for other methods of torture, such as water boarding and specialised inventions. Some prisoners experienced torture up to three times a day. One we had witnessed paintings drawn by one of the 7 survivors, of this particular camo, we moved on into another reflecting room. This held cabinets filled to the ceiling filled with human skulls. These were collected from the killing fields and small plaques gave detail about each break or scar in the skull and how it was formed. There were also cabinets filled with mens, womens and Childrens clothes.
At the end we were given a chance to write down our thoughts about the exhibitions and hang them on a wooden tree or write our notes onto a wall before continuing out to meet two of the survivors.
Today’s visit was truly shocking and disheartening, however we all understand how important it is to learn about these atrocities and make sure it’s never repeated or forgotten.
Anna & Cerys