Tuol Sleng S-21 history
In the south of Phnom Penh stands the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A remembrance to a cruel history. A former school that became known as S-21, which stands for Security Office 21. The Khmer Rouge (KR) converted it into its headquarters. Their secret police organization Santebal used it mainly as interrogation and torture facility. Established in May ’76, S-21 employed a total of 1685 cadres in four categories. Most of the recruited workers were children. The prison was used to uncover suspected enemies from within the KR as well as from outside.
14000 enemies of the state were detained and when Vietnamese troops entered Phnom Penh in January ’79. Only seven survivors were found. Tuol Sleng was made a national museum in 1980, using the massive documentation that survived at the site. The govt at that time created a 12 meter square map of 300 human skulls to form the map of Cambodia. The rivers were painted in blood. This map stayed until 2002 and was then dismantled. Today the skulls of that map are stored in a wooden case enclosed by glass.
You enter from the ticket office where you buy your ticket for $5 or $8 with audio. You scan your ticket to get through the gates and follow the start sign to the left. First you’ll see a miniature copy of the compound and a monument of the register. At your left hand side is building A. This building was used for imprisonment and interrogation. In front of Building A you’ll find 14 anonymous graves. Building B shows Photographs of leaders, ID tags where people became numbers, iron shackles and more torture tools.
In front of building B stands another torture instrument where people hung upside down They were lifted and put down with their heads in gallows filled with filthy fertilizer, normally used for the land. Next to it is a square with another monument. Building C has a barbwire fence. Desperate in detention. Some of the cells are not bigger than 1 x 2 meters. More pictures and tools on display. That goes on in Building D. Pictures and paintings. The last room has hundreds of skulls in wooden and glass display. Papers are present to write your own feeling or message about it all and you can hang it on the place shown. Inside and outside the buildings you’ll find plenty of audio stops.
In the middle of the compound you’ll find a monument with the message ‘Never will we forget the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime”. The Khmer Rouge gave this name to Cambodia. On the side of the same memorial the date that all this cruelty happened: 17 April 75 – 6 Jan 79.
The messages are given in three languages. English, French and Khmer. This memorial is surrounded by many panels with names of victims of Tuol Sleng prison on it. All names of individuals are written in Khmer script.
It sounds awful, the word souvenirs in a secret torture prison. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, or codename S-21. Next to building D you’ll find this section. Most important items to buy are copies of books. There are tens of books written about Cambodia, The Killing Fields, Pol Pot, The Khmer Rouge, The Genocide, S-21, First they killed my father (film by Angelina Jolie) and many more.
The prices of those books vary between $10 and $22 and well worth spend. A lot to learn from different angles about the history of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and other Khmer Rouge and Cambodia related topics. All books can be bought everywhere outside too, except one, named ‘Night of the Khmer Rouge’.
There were very few survivors of the regime in Tuol Sleng prison. It’s therefore even more impressive that three of the survivors, children at the time, are there to have a talk with you. Do their story. Answer your questions. They are very open and friendly and they wrote their own books, which they are selling and signing there for you.
The price is $10 for a copy. You can film and make pics of the survivors and get to know first hand information. With great respect to those men, who are accompanied by their children and wife. A suitable way to end your visit to Tuol Sleng prison.