Silent as the Grave - S21, the Death Camp
Tuol Sleng means "Hills of the Poisonous Trees" and was used by the Khmer Rouge as a prison, to detain, interrogate and torture; what more can describe a death camp in Phnom Penh. Before it was turned into the notorious Security Prison 21 (as such known simply as S-21) it was a school for children to learn from teachers, to mix with their peers, indeed then a center of the future.
Tuk-tuks and their riders wait outside of the compound, separated by the rusted fence. The imposing structure does remind me of a school, some resemblance of old school buildings in Malaysia and Thailand. The sunlight, the dust flying everywhere and the swaying tree branches in S-21, I'm absorbing the sights and the death silence... similar to what one would expect from a cemetery... silent as the grave.
I remind myself anxiously, this building, those room, all of them, S-21 is merely a museum, a monument of painful days gone by, however not as easily subdued as my apprehension rises. Dread stalks the halls, the rooms, the narrow prison cells, the blood stained ceilings.
Welcome to a realm, a stopover for the Cambodians of the past, where sufferings were inflicted for the pleasure of giving into nothingness. Torture masters, rapists, murderers ran the death camp on 17th of April 1975; the whole lot, 1,684 personnel, men and women were employed and divided into three parts for their "offices".
The faces of the dead, anonymous, are displayed on old wooden boards behind stained glass. There are far too many prisoners. The S-21 personnel, were meticulous with documentation. Once detained, a young photographer took a photograph of the prisoner, dossiers for the victor, photos of the damned. After that, the prisoner would be led to a painfully small, hastily-built cell, and wait for the torment, an inquisition and guaranteed death.
I walk the cursed halls, the corridors with their stained floors and insanity infused into the walls. This death camp is devoid of its original purpose, and I continue looking at each room, perhaps seeking a disembodied spirit, expecting no answer nor logic to my senses.
A table and chair, placed near a rusted bed frame. The interrogator sitting, inhaling a cigarette, then continue filling the room with stifling cloud of smoke, somewhat talking to himself, while his colleagues torture the bloodied prisoner in his presence. Heavy metal fastening, encircling and confining the ankles and wrists of the prisoner to the bed. Screams, or muffled ones filled the room. That thought came to my mind, never leaving it.
I am surrounded by the dead.