In all my travels, this is the most disturbing spot that I have visited: the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and in particular the ‘Killing Tree’.
Against this tree trunk, the head and tiny bodies of babies and toddlers were smashed as their helpless parents who were awaiting execution watched. At the of the tree is a mass grave – the final resting place for the doomed families.
An hour’s drive from Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre was one of many ‘Killing Fields’ for the Khmer rouge led by Pol Pot – a Cambodian communist revolutionary.
The parents of these children and other adult prisoners, mostly from the S21 (Security Prison 21) in Phnom Penh, were made to kneel in front of mass graves and struck on their heads with tools before being buried, some unconscious but still alive.
The exhumed mass graves in which some of these children and their parents, many of which were branded as traitors to the Khmer Rouge were buried, are scattered throughout the ‘Killing Fields’.
Why were the children killed? Simply because there was a likelihood that the children of the executed prisoners would one day return to seek revenge, therefore there was no gain in keeping them. Khmer Rouge leaders often reminded their subordinates – “when pulling out weeds, remove the roots and all.”
The regime’s rule of terror between the years 1975 to 1979 resulted in the death of 1.7 million Cambodians and some foreigners – either killed, over-worked or from starvation.
Many the survivors who lived through the horrors of the Khmer Rouge are alive today, the younger ones in their late forties.
A stupa built at the entrance of the Choeung Ek memorial for visitors to pay their respects and say a prayer for those who were killed in the fields does little to appease the acts of horror at the site.
The stupa is filled with the skulls and bones of more than half of the almost 9,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge killed at Choeung Ek.
Many of the injuries the victims sustained are visible on the cracked and fractured skulls.
A museum at the site displays items belonging to the victims, and gives an insight to the psyche of the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities committed by the regime.
Throughout the field there are still visible bone fragments and pieces of clothing and items belonging to the victims. Boxes have been placed around the vicinity for visitors to drop in any items they find.
It was not too long ago that we visited some German concentration camps and WW2 memorials erected around the UK.
Most had the words ‘Never Again’ & ‘Lest We Forget’ prominently displayed – but alas almost 30 years after WW2 the world did just that as millions of Cambodians had their lives torn apart by a brutal regime … and we continue to forget …