This is Bou Meng. He is 3rd from the right of the B&W photo. He is one of only 7 known survivors of the Kmer Rouge imprisonment in the S-21 Tuol Sleng camp where 20,000 Cambodians were tortured and killed in 1975.
What was the Kmer Rouge?
I didn’t know anything about it, until a couple in Laos told me I MUST watch “First They Killed My Father” – the true story of a 5 year old girl, forced with millions of families to leave their home in what would be a 4 year reign of Terror and Genocide – responsible for the deaths of 3 million people, one of the worst mass killings in the 20th Century.
From 1975-1979, under the Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside. He executed 1000s of people he deemed as enemies of the state. Those seen as intellectuals, or potential leaders of a revolutionary movement, were also executed. Some were executed for looking clever, by wearing glasses or being able to speak a foreign language.
Bou Meng was tortured with many kinds of torture devices (electric shocks, whips etc) and he had to fabricate confessions. He was spared from being slaughtered only because he was a skilled painter. His wife was tortured and killed. His children starved to death in a camp.
I watched the film in horror. I visited the Killing Fields where babies were killed, thrown against trees, people bludgeoned to death in pre dug graves to save bullets and felt sick to my stomach. I tried to feel every step I was taking in the fields, closing my eyes to try and imagine the footsteps of someone, perhaps even my age walking in the same place. I tried to imagine how they must have felt, how scared they must have been.
When I realised this man was Bou, I jumped into his arms, crying uncontrollably and whispered “I’m so sorry” over and over again as he wept.
I urge you to watch the film.
EDIT: My friend has told me to read the book as a must. Add this to your list.