When you start digging into the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, you can’t help (especially if you live in Warsaw) to see the parallels with World War Two. The stories that emerged from Pol Pot’s school-cum-prison known as S-21 are startlingly familiar to the Nazi’s Pawiak prison. Both acted as holding and sorting stations for those headed for their deaths at either The Killing Fields or Auschwitz (or the like), respectively. Both kept disturbingly detailed records of inmates, from photos to biographies. And both were notorious for using the sickest methods of torture.
To dig deeper, we traveled 12 kilometers outside of town to visit the Choung Ek Killing Fields, the final destination for many victims of the Khmer Rouge. Here the contrasts start to emerge. Pol Pot had no pretense; he didn’t sell the Cambodians train tickets to their death or convince them that they were relocating to work camps. These people knew they were coming to die.
The memorial (as information is scant and somewhat incoherent, it should be considered more of a memorial than a museum) is basically a pockmarked field littered with hand painted signs detailing what was found in each particular hole: 450 headless bodies, 300 naked women and children. From these ad hoc graves thousands of victims were exhumed and their bones are now housed in a tall Buddhist stupa in the center of the field.
It’s impossible to comprehend what these people endured, only a generation ago. What’s even more impossible is the fact that it has happened before with eerie similarity and that, most likely, it will happen somewhere again. Maybe it already is.