Houses of Horrors

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After my visit to the Cambodia Genocide Museum in Phnom Pehn I realised that I could have used with a heads-up or guide as to how to deal with all that I saw. Coming from South Africa I thought I’d seen a good measure of the dark side of human nature, I was wrong. Here about 2 million Cambodians (25% of the population) were killed between 1975 to 1979.  My friend returned to the car immediately after the introduction to the museum by the our guide; after going into a few rooms of the school turned detention camp, and now museum, most members of my tour group exited and went out for air. The place was traumatising. The thousands of pictures of the people who were bought to the school and later killed filled a couple of boards in two rooms; children, old people, men and women, they were haunting. They didn’t look particularly traumatised because they didn’t know what was to come, they were rounded in scores of a few dozen at a time with a promise of relocation to a safer place, then slaughtered.

Despite my self-assured knowledge of horrors, staring at a pit with a sign written, mass grave of headless bodies, and stepping of piece of human bone a few meters away, and the constant strange stench of lime and something else got me dizzy with horror; and after passing a tree noted as where babies were killed by bashing their heads against that trunk I gagged and that was the end of me. I too dropped out. All you had to do was stand there for a second and imagine a man holding a baby by its legs and swinging, god help us! So I’ve drafted a few things we talked about even with one of the survivors present at the museum to help you cope next time you visit one of these houses of horrors.

  1. Remember that it is in the past and the fact that the museum stands means light has been shone on the darkness that took place there and in some cases the villains were identified and punished.
  2. Look around and see the difference between those days and the present, acknowledge current struggles and appreciate that things are much better that there then, and that at least for those group of people it can be said that the world is now a better place
  3. Look into the eyes of the locals when hear their voices when they speak of the past and the future, and realise the new hope that has dawned on them.
the killing tree
the killing tree with commemorative tokens left by visitors

No matter how many museums you’ve seen never underestimate the depth of human cruelty, evil and depravity; but above all, the ability of the human spirit to heal and move on, even to forgive!

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