I went to visit the Tuol Sleng Cambodian Genocide Museum today. From 1975 to 1978 an estimated 10’499 prisoners were tortured and subsequently executed there. Of the some ten thousand people sent to the prison, only 7 survived. Following weeks of months of torture the prisoners were taken to the killing fields of Choeung Ek. I’m probably going there tomorrow.
The building was previously a high school before it was converted to a prison. The original structure is unchanged, the Khmer Regime simply added barbed wire to all the open spaces, and built brick or wooden walls within some of the class rooms to form smaller cells. Prisoners slept on the floor with their feet in metal shackles bolted to the floor.
The prison is unchanged since it was closed. The shackles are still there, cells are still in their original condition. Some of the cells have been removed to make space for the exhibitions, but the marks on the floor remain where the walls stood. There are countless photos of people who were detained there prior to execution.
I took a few photos, although it’s hard to capture the essence of the place in an image. The photos below show a torture cell, a prison cell, the outside of the one of the blocks and one of the barbed wire gates. All of the buildings were covered in a barbed wire mesh on the front to stop people attempting suicide from the higher floors and to stop anyone escaping.
From a museum point of view, I thought Tuol Sleng was one of the most factual and un-biased museums I’ve visited. The facts are presented in a very factual way, without the dramatics I’ve seen in other museums. For me, it’s a staggering reminder of how human behaviour is influenced by circumstance.
How so many prisoners could be kept in thin wooden cells by a fewer number of guards, and how so many people could be so cruel and execute so many of their own countrymen. I was recently reading about the Stanford Prison Experiment (new window) conducted in 1971 and it reminded me just what people are capable of under extreme circumstances.
More photos to follow of the killing fields and a very dark time in Cambodia’s history.