On Saturday a group of us visited the Tuol Sleng Museum, or S21 Security Prison, another remnant from the Khmer Rogue. Like the Killing Fields, this is not a place for the easily disturbed. It is heart-wrenching to walk through these buildings, that formed a high school before the Khmer Rogue took over, and see the blood still on the walls, scratch marks where people had kept track of their days and the metal beds that stand still and lonely in the middle of the rooms.
In the rooms that were used for extreme torturing of prisoners, there is a large black and white picture hanging on the wall that shows what the Vietnamese army walked into when they liberated the prison. Men, naked and chained to the same metal beds, looked dead already after being tortured for hours, days or months on end, being asked for information that they did not have.
The worst part for me was the gallery that showed the prisoners’ entrance photographs. I could have stayed in those rooms for hours, looking into the eyes of each and every prisoner. It is as if they are speaking with their eyes, knowing that their days are numbered once the button on the camera is depressed. Each and every person has a story to tell and because their voices have been silences, these pictures will have to do.
There was a more detailed gallery, as well, that showed the prisoner’s picture and their confessions. The confessions are stunning simple and moving; it is clear that the Khmer Rogue was torturing everyday citizens who had done nothing but try to improve their community in some way. Walking through these rooms, I couldn’t help thinking what I’m sure is a normal thought, “How can people do this to each other?” I want so badly to believe that humans, when you get down to it, are essentially good and loving. However, exhibits like these definitely make me take a step back and reevaluate that position. It is still one that I want to strive for. The best way we can honor victims of the Khmer Rogue, and every other war, is by trying to live our lives with a peaceful and kind manner towards everyone we meet.
After all the prisoner galleries, there was a small art gallery upstairs featuring these fantastic paintings done by Japanese children, depicting the prayers that they wanted to send to the world. These paintings were uplifting, colorful and inspiring. There is hope and good in this world and you don’t have to look very far to find it normally. Inside of one of the most horrendous places, people have purposefully bought in positive energy and hopefully vibes. That alone shows that people want to live in peace and harmony with one another.
As with the Killing Fields, the last thing I saw was the room of human remains: skulls and bones piled on shelves, with the reflection through the glass making their presence even more astounding. It is difficult, but important, to be in these rooms and see what physically has happened to these people, to think about their souls and hope that they have found a way home.