The last building we visited at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is called Building D. This building had a display of torture devices used at Tuol Sleng and some paintings to illustrate how they were used, done by Vann Nath, one of only seven survivors out of almost 20,000 people who were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng. The paintings were done based on his recollection of what he saw and heard during his time at Tuol Sleng — showing various ways prisoners were tortured. This was also very difficult to see. It’s hard to imagine how people could be so cruel and treated others like that.
On the upper floor of Building D, there were two interesting exhibits that covered the impact of Tuol Sleng on people years after the prison was discovered. One exhibit told stories from people who lost their family members to Khmer Rouge atrocities. These stories told about people being betrayed, their families remembering vividly the last time they saw them before the Khmer Rouge took them away, and how they were remembered. Very heart wrenching.
Another exhibit showed the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of some ex-Khmer Rouge cadres who worked at Tuol Sleng and were still alive years later. It’s interesting to read their testimonies. Some said they did their job out of fear of their own lives. Some pointed to the leaders of Khmer Rouge to blame instead of the lower-level cadres since the leaders were the ones setting the direction. There was also an interesting text that mentioned how in genocide situation like what happened in Cambodia, the perpetrators might actually be victims themselves as studies showed that many would show symptoms of psychological problems like depression, recurring nightmares, and trouble concentrating or sleeping, years after.
I think the takeaway from seeing these exhibits is that it’s a very complex situation to move on from such dark times, as every single person was impacted in unique way, and each handles the situation differently.
The photo below was one of the photographs on the display at the museum. It showed people observing a cabinet full of skulls of the victims excavated from the mass graves. You could see the sadness in the face of the lady in the middle — I wonder if she’s remembering anyone close to her who lost their lives in the hands of the Khmer Rouge.