Bearing witness

I have written previously of the difficulties of visiting sites associated with the Vietnam War. Today in Pnohm Pehn I witnessed even more unimaginable things-the genocide inflicted on his own people by Pol Pot. My thoughts here will be brief, the emotions engendered will live with me forever.

In the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide and the Killing Fields of Cheung Ek we were told of and shown detailed evidence of the horrors suffered under the Khmer Rouge. The intensity is indescribable, the urge to turn and leave is compelling. But you don’t; you stay, you listen. You bear witness. The man guiding us had lost his grandfather and uncle in the genocide. And I mean lost; his family were denied even the knowledge of where they had been brutally slain.

I will not inflict the details upon you. I suspect you may already know about the evils perpetrated by Pol Pot. If you do not, and you choose to learn, there are many people better placed than me to educate you.

Many images that I witnessed today will always be with me. I choose to share only one with you. And that is mainly for selfish reasons – that I wish to hold something in my heart as a memory of today.

As we left Tuol Sleng, we passed a genial man, smiling benevolently and signing books. He is one of only two survivors of the camp. He returns every day to share his story. Written beside where he sits is a testament in which he forgives his torturers for knowing no better and simply doing what they had to. The book I bought was signed by him and dated today. He is alive. He gives a sense of hope and forgiveness. It was only when I read his words that I started to weep.

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