Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Horrors of the Killing Caves

Since our first visit to Cambodia 2008, I have tried to understand and learn more about the genocide of the Cambodian people at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge during the 1970's.  I have read books, seen movies and spoken to people who experienced the evil atrocities first hand, but I will honestly say that this whole period of history seemed so inconceivable and apart from me, I was never able to fully internalize the horrors....  Not until I went to the Killing Caves, where the impact was so overwhelming that I openly wept without shame. 

The Killing Caves are less well known than the Killing Fields.  High atop Phnom Sampeau (Ship Mountain or Sailboat Mountain) is a Buddhist temple which was seized by the Khmer Rouge and used to imprison Cambodians.  Nearby the temple is a path that leads to the opening of a cave.  From inside that cave can be seen an opening about 25 meters or more high above, which is at the top of the mountain.  At the edge of this opening, thousands of Cambodians, mainly children, were bludgeoned and/or simply thrown down to their certain death by the monster Khmer Rouge.  This was done to conserve bullets.  It is difficult to imagine that anyone might have survived this horrible drop.

A memorial that I had often seen pictured in accounts of the slaughter is this one:

(Sorry it's a bit fuzzy.)  Erected on 2007, it's a monument to the thousands of Cambodian men, women and children who were thrown (probably alive) into the Killing Caves.  Perhaps the picture below will give you a better perspective.  I stood within inches of these skulls and bones, with only a sheet of glass separating me from them...and I wondered, "Why them, and not me?"  They had done nothing to deserve to die like this.  They had merely been born in the wrong place at the wrong time, and nobody in the entire world cared enough to help them....

Here is a photo of another, earlier 'memorial' in the same cave - a wire cage filled with hundreds and hundreds of bones and bone splinters:

In the same cave is a massive statue of the sleeping Buddha.  I've seen many sleeping Buddhas, but this one has, by far, the most beautiful and peaceful expression on his face that I have ever seen.  Our guide told me it's not really the 'sleeping' Buddha, it's the 'dead' Bhudda.  Perhaps the expression on his face is so beautiful is because he is resting peacefully in eternity with all those innocent children.

In front of the statue of Buddha, a man kneels alone in prayer, with candles and incense nearby, and a small plate for donations.  In exchange for a donation, he will tie a red cord around your right wrist.  I was told by the guide that this red cord was for 'good luck'. 

I put the money on the tray, knelt before him, and said a prayer for all those poor souls, and he tied the red cord on my wrist. 

I will not wear this red cord in hope of good luck,  I will wear it so that I will never, ever forget those that died for no reason, and to remind me that it could just have easily been me.

1 comment:

  1. Dorothy, thank you for this piece. All your writing has been wonderful, but this is the part of Cambodia which is so difficult to explain to those who have not been there. I wish it was just history, but it's not. The pain, the sadness still permeates the country. The helplessness, the pain, the atrocity, unbearable.