A cruise on the Mekong River always includes a stop in Phnom Phen and a visit to The Killing Fields. I had heard about the Killing Fields, but to be quite frank, I didn’t know very much. My trip to Cambodia and Vietnam reinforced to me the importance of taking trips that make history come alive.
There are some beautiful and life-affirming events in history that we celebrate on a yearly basis. There are other events in the past that must be remembered too. Not because they are life-affirming, but because they are dreadful and terrible and they must not be forgotten. Instead, we must learn the lesson they teach us so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
On a beautiful day in October, I was deeply touched by my visit to a place with a very dark past. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. There are many killing fields in Cambodia, this is one of them. Although it is a difficult topic, I feel it’s important to honor it and share my experience.
Walking through the gates of the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek in reverence and silence we immediately see this memorial Stupa looming large ahead. But, rather than being the first stop on our tour, this was the last stop.
Instead, we bore to the left and stopped at a lovely old tree standing in the field. Who would have guessed that this tree held a terrible secret? The sign next to it says:
“Magic Tree. The tree was used as a tool to hang a loudspeaker which make sound louder to avoid the moan of victims while they were being executed.”
Continue walking around paths that border pits, trails that parts of bones continue to rise out of the ground. Moreover, a sign that warns of what is inside.
These bracelets can be found all over the site, the response by visitors wanting to leave something of themselves behind.
“Rags of Victims’ Clothes. After the mass graves were exhumed in 1980, the left underground rags of victims clothes come up after raining, and we collect them to keep on.”
Also, pictures documenting the terrible history of what happened at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.
Many signs tell of what happened in several places around the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The actual buildings removed long ago. Signs such as:
The Killing Tools Storage Room – This was the place where the killing tools such as shackles, leg irons, a hatchet, knives, hoes, digging holes, shoves, iron ox cart axles were stores. This instrument was lost in 1979. The construction of the storage room was wood with a galvanized steel roof.
The Executioners Working Office. Here was the place where the Executioners stationed permanently at Choeung Ek worked. The Office, as well as the Killing Fields, were equipped with electric power which enabled them to conduct executions and to read and sign the rosters that accompanied the victims to the site at the night time.
As I said, our final stop was the Memorial Stupa. Incense and flowers in hand I silently walked inside and here is just a small portion of what I found.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek left a lump in my throat. The skulls of men, women, and children of all ages, killed by many different forms of execution tell a story. I didn’t know very much about the Khmer Rouge, or the brainwashing that brought this about has left a mark on my heart. If you want more information about the Cambodian Holocaust, read “From Side Show to Genocide. Stories of the Cambodian Holocaust.“.
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