Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – A Reflection From the Distant Past

It will be a strange location for foreigners, especially one that spends most of the time outside of Asia. However, despite showing the horror in the past of Cambodian, Toul Sleng Genocide Museum is one of the must-see destinations on your trip to Phnom Penh. It will not only be a different experience but also a reminder of the cruelty of war.

The Creation of Security Prison 21 (Tuol Sleng)

Nearly 40 years have passed since the fall of Khmer Rouge, yet their notorious marks still haunt generations of Cambodian till this day. Starting as a school called Tuol Svay Pray High School, the Khmer Rouge turned this peaceful location to satisfy their evil purpose. It is said that there were about twenty thousand prisoners who were torture and interrogation during 1976 – 1979. Out of all people, only 7 escape the ultimate judgment, execution, in order to tell us the nightmare in this prison.

Under the rule of Pol Pot, all of those who associated with the previous regime will be sent to one of the prisons, including Security Prison 21. There was no mercy for even children, women, and no discrimination for any social status (doctors, teachers, students, monks,….). Later on, the leaders turned eyes on their own colleagues and finally met their demise. Today, the prison has become Tuol Sleng Museum, a lesson for future generations.

What can be found in Tuol Sleng Museum

Right after entering the Museum, you will notice a building resemble a school yet has bare wire everywhere and regulation for prisoners. As you proceed, it is possible to witness old cells with steel bars and iron chains. 

Aside from its theme, Tuol Sleng has a common type of presentation and collection for a museum such as documentary, photos. There are a huge number of photos taken from the victims in Prison 21. Visitors will see a wide variety of prisoners including children, women, old people,etc…. However, not all of them are portraits, but some are prisoners who had been tortured. In many situations, if you stay along in a room filled with those photos, it can be a little bit earlier.

You can continue venturing to a building where you may encounter various torture tools and devices. Added with the example in the photo, you can imagine the horrible experience they have been through. Outside of the museum, there are other torture devices as well, like the huge jars which were filled with water to drop prisoners inside. 

Along with “the Killings Fields”, Tuol Sleng is a must-visit location for tourists from all over the world. You can also try the fantastic audio tour for the better experience in the museum. It will be a different image of a beautiful and tranquil Cambodia today.

Some pieces of story about the Survivors

Chum Mey is perhaps the most well-known survivor in Toul Sleng prison camp. He featured in a few documentary and especially at the trial for the leaders of Khmer Rouge. Before the imprisonment, he was a mechanic for the Khmer Rouge until he was taken to jail for no reason at all. They beat him, pluck his toenail out, but the worst pain he had to suffer was the electric shock as he continued to share his story. However, that was nothing compared to the loss of his wife and children, which is still haunted him today.

Like Chum Mey, Bou Meng was also a prisoner in the S21 camp, a former supported for Khmer Rouge before they turned genocide. Since he was an artist at heart, Bou Meng was kept alive to draw the famous communist portrait like Karl Marx, Lenin, and Mao Zedong. Even today, the artist still carries his wife picture that he painted.

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