On my trip through South East Asia, one remarkable place stood out amidst the beaches and jungles: Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Its horrible past reminds me a lot of Berlins own history, which is why I felt compelled to write a few words about the Killing Fields.
After decades of genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime, the Cambodian people are to this day regenerating. Left much poorer and more desolate than its neighbors Vietnam and Thailand, Cambodia is still one of the poorest countries in the world. Read about the Cambodian suffering on Wikipedia. Those who were born in the stone ages (i.e. before the 90ies) may remember the name Pol Pot. He was the terrorizing dictator of Cambodia that led a once ruling empire into its demise. Here is a very quick summary of Cambodia’s recent past:
Renaming the country Democratic Kampuchea and seeking to create an agrarian socialist society, Pol Pot’s government forcibly relocated the urban population to the countryside to work on collective farms. Those regarded as enemies of the new government were killed. These mass killings, coupled with malnutrition, strenuous working conditions, and poor medical care, killed between 1.5 to 3 million people of a population of roughly 8 million (about 25%), a period later termed the Cambodian genocide.
The Killing Fields
We paid our tributes to the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh as well as to the former prison S-21 (a museum today). The same monumentally eerie feeling that I’ve once experienced in a German concentration camp haunted me here. It’s a frightening atmosphere.
Like in the concentration camps, people were executed and mass buried in the 300 sites that make up the Killing Fields of Cambodia. You can still find bones in the ground. The guide told us blood curdling stories of the mass killing of babies and children.
Cambodia’s scars are still very visible. I can only hope that the country – for its amazing people and fantastic heritage – will find peace and rest in the future – just like Berlin.
On a last note: what does it say about me that I prefer to write about the Killing Fields instead of Angkor Wat?