S21, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

This is Part 2 of a two part post on The Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Read Part 1 HERE.

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S 21, or the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a former high school in the city of Phnom Penh that was later used as a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970’s. Most visitors to Phnom Penh will visit here as it is a large part of the country’s history.

A total of 17,000 Cambodians passed through here on the way to being executed out in a number of killing fields in the surrounding areas. It is now open to the public as a museum with information on those victims and what happened.

The entire complex is haunting. Many of the rooms are open to be viewed with information on the different torture methods used and even some photographs available of the bodies they found there. It is certainly not for the faint of heart. I myself had tears in my ears the entire visit. Many of these torture methods are unbelievable and to think that they were used on so many innocent human beings is unthinkable.

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The old classrooms were used to hold a number of people at one time. The more important you were, the less people in the room with you. Some rooms held a single bed whereas some had cells built of brick to hold up to 20 people in one room. The individual cells weren’t even big enough for someone to lie down in.

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Near the end of the tour you are taken to a courtyard with locals selling books and information about the area. At first you think this is just a gift shop but when we approached one man we were told that he was in fact one of the only SEVEN survivors of this camp. We gathered around his table as he told us his story (through a translator) and showed us a book he had written about it. Cornelia and I bought a book each to read later. After seeing photos and videos and reading all this information about the camp it was such an honour to meet this man who had lived it. We were shown where his cell was and it was one of the small brick ones just in the corner of a room. He comes to the museum every single day and tells his story because he wants to educate as many people as possible.

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Although the day is emotionally exhausting I would highly recommend making the trip to the killing fields and the genocide museum to learn about the history of this country first hand. It’s one thing reading about it in books but another to walk through it and meet someone who experienced it.

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