Choeung Ek killing fields in Cambodia

Choeung Ek killing fields in Cambodia

Anyone who decides to come to Cambodia must deal with a dramatic history that in some way recalls Nazism in Europe or Stalinism in Russia, a short history in Cambodia but which has had shocking results whose pain and disappointment are still felt today. heartbreak.

The years of Khmer Rouge (Rouge in French means red so it is obviously a reference to communism) in 3 years and 10 months he carried out a real genocide.

This tragedy occurred from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the Cambodian Civil War, and in these few years as many as 3 million Cambodians out of a population of 8 million were killed by their own compatriots.

Children, women, intellectuals, scholars, those who spoke two languages ​​or simply wore glasses deserved death.

But before I tell you about the extermination camps of Choeung Ek and of what I learned in this hour-long visit, perhaps it is appropriate to introduce the history of the country to make it clear what actually happened.

The Khmer Rouge achieved power in 1975, the Prime Minister at the time and the mastermind of this plan of extermination and the creation of a “pure” communist society was Pol Potson of a wealthy family of Chinese immigrants.

Pol Pot won a scholarship to attend university in France where, however, he was unable to finish his studies but where he was fascinated by the Marxist and communist theories which he decided to put into practice in Cambodia.

The ideal was to establish the ideal and utopian communist agrarian society.
His rise to power was facilitated by general discontent in the country due to the general’s repression Lol Nol (supported by the CIA), the Khmer Rouge began to make the villages capitulate and take power, in 1973 a large part of Cambodia was under attack and on 17 April 1975 the capital Phnon Penh capitulated and General Lol Nol was forced to flee, Pol Pot thus has carte blanche to implement his atrocious communist plan.

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The first actions taken were the evacuation of the cities, that of Phnom Penh will remain historic, the entire population was sent to the fields to work for approximately 12-14 hours a day continuously having to eat only a plate of rice in broth.

Dissidents or those who were not considered pure enough to be part of society had to be killed and for this reason extermination camps were built throughout the country.

The largest and most famous is the one a few kilometers away from the capital called Choeung Ek.

Although I have to admit that as a place it made less of an impression on me Auschwitz (Auschwitz) in Poland walking through this field which seems to be too small compared to the large number of deaths and listening to the audio guide was poignant so that as happened in Poland here too I found myself in tears listening to a voice from the headphones and looking at the graves of mass empty but imagining them full.

There isn’t much left except thousands of skulls all inside the memorial stupa, a few clothes and many stories.
The place that perhaps saddened me the most is the one called “killing tree” or the tree of death where people were killed by binding their hands and smashing their skulls against the trunk, a practice used above all for the killing of children.
As with Nazism, those who were taken to the extermination camp did not know why they were there and what would happen, nor did they know that they would soon die.
And the methods of killing were violent and painful. They didn’t shoot because the bullets were too expensive but they burned alive, or their skulls were smashed and then everyone, one after the other, was thrown into these mass graves where up to 300 corpses were found.
While people were being tortured, a band played music to cover the screams, and this happened every day, several times a day.
The wait for death was not long, a maximum of one day to see this unfortunate fate come true.
I believe that like Nazism, Stalinism, the war in Argentina or Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile, this dark moment in Cambodia cannot be forgotten but rather must be remembered so that we can show respect to those who survived and to those who unfortunately do not have it. ‘he did.

Cambodia today demonstrates that it is a country that has been able to get back on its feet from the horror of a violent and senseless regime and that is able to walk again, bringing back its ancient splendor and yet when you walk down the street and see amputees because of landmines, or when someone tells you about their life in the camp and how family members suddenly disappeared, you can’t stop thinking about how much pain and hardship these people had to endure in order to be here today to talk about it with you .

Choeung Ek death camps

The cost of admission is $5 including audio guide. There are 19 stops and the time needed is approximately 1 hour or an hour and a half.

At every stop there are benches on which to sit and look at the void left by an inexorable history.

The camp is surrounded by cornfields and directly overlooks the river, a beautiful sight if it weren’t for the fact that the ears at the same time weren’t hearing stories of terrible atrocities.

The guide is not available in Italian but in English, Spanish, French and German.

The speakers are Cambodians so even if you opt for the guide in English and you speak the language a little you will have no problem following it.

a black and white photo of a bunch of ropes

How to get to the extermination camps

To get to the fields you have to go either with a tuk-tuk, which asks for $20 but if you know how to negotiate you can get up to $15 (ideal if there are 3 or 4 of you), alternatively you can go with a moped and driver included for $6 (round trip return) or with a tour that departs only if there are at least 3 people and costs $3.

At the Guest House Capital you can ask for information on any tours and tickets for the killing fields or other destinations but I imagine that almost all tourist agencies offer the same packages.

Obviously the $3 is just for transportation, you pay the entrance fee separately once you arrive.

If you want to know more about the genocide in Cambodia you can refer to the site a Yale University site that has studied this topic in depth and detail.
I recommend reading it First they killed my father at Loung Ung.

Before coming to Cambodia, study its history and learn about its past. It is important to know what this people had to endure and to admire the strength with which they managed to build an entire country with few and poor means.
A generation that ignores history has no past… no future (Robert A. Heinlein)

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