Trigger Warning-This post includes images and stories that may be triggering or frightening for individuals.
Vy: Basically, if you watch Hunger Games, it’s more of a practicality but 1000 level max. They are going to see you, no matter who you are.
Sophie: The Khmer Rouge was a communist party that ruled over Cambodia from 1975 to 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. During their 4 years in power, the Khmer Rouge were responsible for the death of over 2 million people due to execution, starvation, disease and overwork. This makes it one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century.
This episode of war stories features Vy, a young woman who’s Granny experienced the Khmer Rouge firsthand as a little girl.
Vy: Cambodia, you can call it the backyard of the US allies because at that time the Vietnam; we’ve got China who was our allies at that time, but Cambodia was not really. So the US, they kind of sponsored a new empire that they called Khmer Rouge so that empire ruled the whole Cambodia and also invaded the southern part of Vietnam which is where I live. We were neighbours, we are neighbours; so there is a little part of Vietnam that Cambodia was next to us and that is where my Granny lived. So basically it’s not like its famous word that they are going to, it’s not like they announced like ‘ok we are going to invade you’, it’s not like that. It’s very silent. It’s so silent that sometimes in the middle of the night when they were sleeping and your neighbour will call out, ‘Khmer Rouge coming!’. And we called it Pol pot, it’s ‘Pol Pots coming! Pol Pots coming!’ and everyone had to run for their lives. So you may of heard from the World War II, from everywhere, even in Germany when the helicopter would drop the bomb, people had to find their shelter; it’s not like that. They are not dropping the bomb. Even if you’re in your shelter, they are going to find you and they are going to hunt you down. Basically, if you watch Hunger Games, it’s more of a practicality but 1000 level max. They are going to see you, no matter who you are. So if they see a woman, they are going to rape a woman and then they are going to kill the woman. And basically, they have some kind of famous kind of killing method where they stab you in the body and cut you right into the head or they are going to chop your head or they burn the house down. But how my grandma and her mum are alive is that she was a very little girl so she hid in the horse barn. So her mum hid her there and then her mum found a hole under the house floor. So they dug a hole in the house and then they got the floor tiles and flipped that up and slid inside the floor tile. And that’s how they survived. Her dad was somewhere in the northern. They would come suddenly, no sound at all. And they have guns. The guns were sponsored by the US. But their handmade weapons were more crucial then all of them. And then, of course, when they have gone past your house, right, they are going to sabotage the whole village.
You tend to run out of your house to find someone who is alive. It was very hard, because the whole area was mountains, all the mountains. So if you step out all you see is dead bodies that have been executed. Not men, women, children, no one survived, no one survived.
So I collected from my grandma, memories. She went very deep into the forest to find the water sources because there was a river and that river will lead to the Vietnamese soldier base there. So we had the weapons there so the Khmer Rough couldn’t get to that kind of weapon. So that was their way out. So the mission to survive, once they survive they have to hide from the Khmer Rouge because there was no information saying ‘oh the Khmer Rouge is completely gone they’ve gone back to the other side of Cambodia now’. So, you have to hide from them and you have to find your way to the Vietnamese base. So when my grandma got to the river, she saw that the river water is so red. Up in her eyesight is the red colour of the water but then she looked up a little bit ahead of the upper stream of the water. She saw dead bodies like, floating, from the upper stream to the downstream of the water.
Cambodia and Vietnam, most of us are Buddhist. So, most people were still kind of religious at that time. They thought that if you hid in the pagoda, the Buddha is going to cover them, and in some sort of religion that’s a sacred place and then the Khmer Rouge, they wouldn’t dare to go and kill inside the pagoda. So that kind of temple, pagoda is small, you may call it temple. So people hid there. They would just come there with a strong belief that it was a safe place and that they (Khmer Rouge) would leave that. So, unfortunately, they came, and they killed all of them.
So that place was still here today, where all kinds of the bones, of those people, we call it the bone house. They collect the bones and then store the bones to remind the people that ok this place and is aware of that.
And it was the most sacred place to us but the Khmer Rouge violated that kind of sacred place by killing people inside the place. You think they are going to leave the mosque, out of life, no they will kill them all. So, so I went to that place as well; it was a little bit chilly when you come to that place. Yeah, so that’s kind of a very scary story. From my granny, she said they were like soulless. They were trained to believe in their leaders and that they have to kill as much as possible; to whoever was opposed to them.
We had gathered our army forces to fight for the central and the northern of Vietnam. The northern of Vietnam is considered to be less peaceful so most of the army was focused on protecting the central and the northern. No one really cared about the northern. So we had to wait, we had to wait and that’s why we had to suffer, because we had to wait such a long time, for years. My granny had to wait for her dad, who was a soldier then as well, coming with his forces, coming from the northern by foot, 3260 kilometers from the north on his barefoot, to the south to fight the Khmer Rouge. So that’s quite a lengthy time for rescue.
The vivid memory that she remembers was that we have street venders who are going like ‘oh banana, banana’, going through the village with the banana on her hand and shouting ‘banana, banana, want to buy banana?’. She saw a banana basket and she thought oh! We have food! She looked around and she saw banana.
She thought they were going to get food after a long getting away. But then she saw the lady selling the bananas. She had dropped her head with her belly being ripped out. But she (granny) was so hungry so she prayed to the lady saying, ‘I know you are dying but can I please get your banana because I am so hungry. That was by far, the most daunting image that she collected and she kept on telling that story about the banana lady that got killed on her way.
No one knew that the US no one knew that the US sponsored the Khmer Rouge, no one really. And if you see that the leader of Khmer Rogue is being executed in the court, but no one mentions who the real man is behind; it’s the US. It’s the US president at the time. But they want to put no way out and no way in and they wanted to control all the different kinds of us. So the US President, he’s guilty free, and that’s the man. Of course the Cambodian’s suffered the most because they lived under that empire but we are affected by the ‘devil’. I do see the Khmer Rouge leaders being brought into trial and court time after time. There are always excuses like ‘oh he’s old’, ‘he’s got cancer’, ‘he can’t work anymore’. So yeah there is a story about how unfair it is compared the crime he made. So it’s like Hitler, it’s like a second Hitler in Cambodia of the Khmer Rogue.
Vy and Giau (granny) in recent years
BBC 2018 ‘Khmer Rouge: Cambodia’s years of brutality’, published 16 November, viewed 27 September, < https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-10684399>