After Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia in 1975, a Phnom Penh high school called Tuol Svay Prey was taken and turned into an interrogation, detention and torture centre, among the very cruelest of places the 20th Century- a century of atrocities- saw. An estimated 17,000 men and women, and several thousand children, passed into the centre and were tortured until they confessed to crimes against the regime- often for many weeks. Once convicted, they were executed at a killing field outside the city. Only twelve people who were interred at the prison during its four-year reign of terror are known to have survived.
Tuol Sleng, as the prison came to be known, was liberated by the Vietnamese who marched on Phnom Penh and drove out the Khmer Rouge in January 1979. They found a dozen or so corpses, still on the beds they had been chained to and executed by their fleeing captors. Today the place has been preserved as a museum, a place of memorial to those who died, and a place of remembering and learning lest those who come after are ever tempted to repeat such a dark history.
Photo: Barbed wire still strung across a window at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.