PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA, September, 2006
Today, I visited the killing fields.
There is nothing ‘touristy’ about the Choeng Ek Genocidal Center. After bumpily driving down a no-name, deeply-rutted dirt road you happen upon the glass-sided stupa in which thousands of sculls are stacked one upon another, morbidly reaching over seventeen stories into the skies.
And then you stroll onto the grounds. The weight of the surroundings – a place of such an evil and dark history – compresses your soul. You can see the torment and hear the anguish with every step.
You don’t need the macabre brochures and signposts to understand what happened here. There are human bones literally sticking out of the ground upon which you walk. Intermixed into the dried mud pathways is the clothing of the thousands of victims. One might easily mistake it for a trash heap with mounds and pits covered with rags and fragments. But the litter here is the evidence of a truly barbaric atrocity.
As I slowly paced along the sides of mass burial pits, I trod on a toddler’s shorts. I thought of that little life that had been viciously snuffed out. Had that child been chasing a soccer ball in those shorts the day before they came to rest where they are now? I traced my fingers over a couple of femurs embedded into the ground and thought of those legs shaking at the horror that was witnessed in that place.
A tooth lying in the dirt here. A stack of undergarments strewn there. They call out to all who visit.
These weren’t quick executions at the receiving end of merciful bullets. These were intentionally-gruesome blunt force blows and beheadings with crude axes and farm implements, often after months of intense torture at the infamous Security Prison-21 in Phnom Penh. To save munitions, these poor people were bludgeoned to death.
(Image: One of the child victims of the Killing Fields)
A large tree stood next to one of the burial areas. Against it, children and infants were swung to bash in their skulls. Their killers simply grabbed them by the ankles and whacked their little heads on its trunk. Pieces of shattered bone are still scattered at its base.
My mind could hardly comprehend how Satan mobilizes evil men to carry out such heinous acts.
I was accompanied by one of our church partners, Dr. Yem. His uncle was one of those interred within the mass graves before us, just one of over 1.5 million people who were brutally executed during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror under the tyrannical dictatorship of Pol Pot.
Almost 25% of Cambodia’s population was brutally executed during that time. It is said that every family lost at least one person. Thousands upon thousands of shattered families. Thousands upon thousands of orphans.
(Image: Children scavenging through the garbage dumps of Phnom Penh)
To be continued…