Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields

Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs By Survivors. Compiled by Dith Pran. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

There has never been a more deadly genocide of its own people than in Cambodia. When Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime descended into Cambodia in April of 1975 they brought with them a rein of terror like never seen before. Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields contains eyewitness accounts of the genocide and lends a voice to the children who barely survived. Each chapter is a mini memoir, compiled by Dith Pran, a survivor himself. Some accounts are so graphically disturbing they left me sleepless for days. Imagine being forced to witness the killing of your family and not be able to show a single emotion? Imagine having to kill your own community? These children were worked to death, starved to death, disease-ridden and deprived. And yet, they survived and by all accounts, thrived once they escaped. A moving memoir.

I want to quote something from some of the survivors because their words have had a lasting impact on me. I want to pass that impression on.

  • Sophiline Cheam Shapiro: “I know of almost no family that survived without losses” (p 4)
  • Chath Piersath: “Like other mothers, you tried to wage a battle against it with the intention of saving what was left of your children” (p 7)
  • Teeda Butt Mam: “I was scared that they would hear my thoughts and prayers, that they could see my dreams and feel my anger and disapproval of their regime” (p 14)
  • You Kimny Chan: “We had hoped and prayed to leave for years, and now that we had the chance, we realized that we had nowhere to go” (p 25)
  • Sopheap K Hang: “Mother and I began laughing, but then the memory hit our hearts” (p 33)
  • Savuth Penn: “This time the unforgiving Khmer Rouge did not let my father survive” (p 46)
  • Charles Ok: “But life goes on, and I have to learn to take care of myself” (p 55)
  • Moly Ly: “Hitler is dead, but Pol Pot and his entourage are still alive and craving a return” (p 64)
  • Sarom Prak: “I am not you and you are not me, but we are all human beings (p 71)
  • Khuon Kiv: “Amazingly, human life still beats the odds” (p 103)
  • Sophea Mouth: “Can the effect of violence be so strong that it destroys human compassion?” (p 179)

Reason read: The Cambodian monarchy was restored in the month of September. Note to self, look up the Digital Archive of Cambodian Holocaust Survivors website.

Author Compiler fact: According to the back flap of Children of Cambodia Dith Pran is a photojournalist and the founder of the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project. I knew the movie “The Killing Fields” was based on his own experiences in Cambodia.

Book trivia: Each story of a survivor is accompanied by a black and white photograph. But, interestingly enough, the cover has been photoshopped to exclude the temple which, during the Khmer Rouge regime, was used as a killing field.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter simply called “Cambodia” (p 48).

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