Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cambodia, Pt 4: Faces At The Genocide Museum

Seemingly endless rooms of victim's identification photos were eerily lit by the light coming in from outdoors.

[Note 1: There are images today that represent man's inhumanity to man, and some of them may be a little disturbing to a few of you. Fair warning.]

It was a pleasant morning, the day my Thai friend and I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. We were staying in rooms just a short ride from the museum grounds, and we chatted happily away as I snapped pictures from the back of the tuk tuk, bumping along the streets of Phnom Penh.  We arrived at the front gates, paid our driver, and I soon noticed the faces on many of the people coming out of there.

The sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze blowing, but there was also something else in the air; a feeling that there was still somewhat of a pall over the entire place. Walking along beside me my friend was laughing as he related (for the fourth time that morning) something that had happened to us while we were out having dinner the night before.

Turning to him I put my hand firmly on his shoulder and whispered "I think we should be quiet now," and nodded my head in the direction of the people leaving the grounds; some of whom had obviously been crying recently.  He sobered up immediately, and we headed onto the grounds.

Entering through the front gate opening in a wall topped by wide loops of razor wire we stopped for a moment to take it all in.  It seemed kind of strange to think that a place that looked so peaceful - and yes, even kind of pretty - could be holding such terrible secrets.  We followed the signs over to the first buildings, where there were photographs of those who had (unfortunately) passed through this place.

Some couldn't withstand the torture and died in their "interrogation" rooms, some found a way to end the misery by their own hand.

Upon arriving at the camp, each man, woman, boy, girl and infant were photographed - most tagged with a number - although the people brought there had such an infinitesimally small chance of every leaving the area alive that it seems strange to keep paperwork.  Regardless, it was overwhelming.

Wired to another prisoner one young man stood with a defiant look as he came into the camp. I'd guess he didn't walk out of there alive, the poor soul.

Hundreds of pictures, thousands of pictures... room after room of them in displays 30 feet long, and more. Large images, 11" by 14", all the way down to 3" by 5". Even if you believed the low-ball figure of 15,000 souls lost in this place it meant that what were on display were only a tiny fraction of the images that must have been on file there at one time.

Some of the people in the pictures appear confused, some look dazed, some already bore evidence of beatings and injuries. There was obvious fear on many of the faces that looked directly at you as you passed bulletin board-type mass-framed pictures of people who would soon enough end up in mass graves not all that far away.

This young man managed to kill himself before he was slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge.

Stunned and slightly numbed by the visuals now behind us we left the display rooms and made our way to the interrogation rooms themselves. I don't know how I could have thought that the worst was over...  because it wasn't. The images today aren't the ones that have stayed with me since that morning.  Some of those will be in the next part.

Children were completely expendable, and I'm told 99% of them were put to death.

I don't understand how a child of this age could be guilty of any political crimes, do you?

I've edited the selection of photos today to be as gentle as possible, but there's no real way of candy-coating torture and murder on such a scale as that visited upon the people of Kampuchea. If the upcoming images are rough I'll warn readers at the start of the post.

[Note 2: The black and white images today are pictures of photos in the museum itself. I've adjusted and monkeyed with them a little, but there are still reflections and imperfections from the original prints. Best I could do. ]

No comments: