In Cambodia, January 7 is marked as the day of victory over the darkest period in the country. It was the day over the mass murdered (or genocide) by the Khmer Rouge regime, which lasted for 3 years, 8 months and 20 days. During the period, a quarter to one-third of its total population at that time, -not less than 2 millions people-, included the foreigners, met the Angel of Death, because of the starvation, forced labor, torturing, or just killed by the regime. And to make clear of their horrendous brutality, their victims were not only grown-up men as “normal” in war, but also women, children and babies. It was a time of genocide of humankind. Everyone who were against their ideology, -even people who wore glasses-, became their enemies therefore it was about time for them to die.
A genocide begins with the killing of one man, not for what he has done, but because of who he is.
I’d never forget the moment I stepped into the complex building of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. From outside, it looks like a normal school, -formerly it was Tuol Svay Pray High School-, but during The Khmer Rouge regime it was the Security Prison S-21 which was the center of Khmer Rouge brutality before sending the victims to Cheoung Ek, the Killing Field in the outskirt of city.
Although it was the middle of the day, I felt horror atmosphere in the air. I felt a bitter silence with the crying sound of the wind. In some of the classes, there were so many boards with glass at front contained a lot of black and white photographs; the victims of genocide who had ever spent their darkest life in this prison.
And among the photographs, I was so shocked seeing a mother with her baby in her lap, sitting in the chair with a torturing tool behind her head. And I got another shock when I saw the boards displaying children, little boys and girls, and toddlers as well. Speechless with horror were continued as I walked slowly to another buildings, seeing the blood that wasn’t cleaned up, the barbed wires that covered all windows to prevent the prisoners to take suicide and all the inhumane drawings that made me totally sick!
The image of the toddler and all children that I saw previously were still hanging in my mind. Too many questions without answers dance wildly in my head. What I saw made my heart collapsed. I wish I could believe my own eyes, I wish I could deny the fact in front of me. I wish I could cry loudly that it’s not real. But the fact gripped me. It’s really happened in Cambodia whatever I wanted to say about it, the horror, the inhumanity, the madness of the regime. It happened not only for one day but for 3 years, 8 months and 20 days! Too long for a normal human in despair to hold hope for life.
Perhaps, it’s better among the worst to be killed quickly. Perhaps it’s better to die than to live in continuing torture by the people who did not know anything about humanity but their own ideology. Perhaps it was happened to the one whose a skull that was stored now in a glass cube in a room of the museum (originally the skull was excavated from Choeung Ek, the “killing fields” south of Phnom Penh)
He had been shot in the head because I could see the hole of the skull which was an adult. The hole was so clear, showing the passing bullet downward through the brain and might exit at the other side of his head. It definitely killed him, as happened also to lots of other innocent people, just because of who they were, not because of what they had done.
Although it’s already more than 40 years, the horror atmosphere of the buildings did not fade away. Perhaps there’s a feeling of anger, frustration and hopeless of the souls that had been departed, but the prayers were also being whispered continuously there (at least from the visitors) to wish that the departed souls rest in peace.
The image of the toddler was still in my mind, and also the black and white photographs of the genocidal victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. Those photographs behind the glass still send the same message to the visitors and to the world as well. It’s enough. All the madness of inhumanity should stop there. Period.
This post was written in response to the weekly challenge from Celina’s Blog, Srei’s Notes, Cerita Riyanti, and also A Rhyme In My Heart, which is the 1st challenge of 2021 has the theme of Glass, so we are encouraged ourselves to write articles weekly. If you are interested to take part in this challenge, we welcome you… and of course we will be very happy!