The last words many men, women and even children heard before their execution were, in Vudthy’s words “…if we keep 100 of you, not profit , if we remove 100 of you, not loss”. Thousands of workers across Cambodia disappeared soon after being handed that verdict.
Vudthy has lost count of how many times he has heard those words. Sedtha, through his own thorough disguising of himself, avoided that verdict altogether. Sedtha the perfect slave and Vudthy the stubborn rebel. Their stories separately tell very different tales, but together shed light on how the Khmer Rouge dragged the people of Cambodia through some of the worst years in history. However, despite the breadth that Sedtha and Vudthy’s stories together reveals about the Khmer Rouge, their experience is but a piece of Cambodia’s story.
Anyone in Cambodia over the age of 45 has a story to tell. From ranking officials in Lon Nol’s government to rural peasants to the cadre and soldiers of the Khmer Rouge themselves. Each of their perspectives shape the way that Cambodia’s history is viewed and acted upon today, making their stories essential in understanding Cambodia’s past Tragedy and how the country is shaping its contemporary Triumph.
What accentuates the importance of these peoples' individual stories is how personally the genocide was carried out. The Khmer Rouge's victims weren’t statistics in concentration camps or gulags. The Khmer Rouge’s victims were sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers who were killed by men who saw their faces, knew their names and looked into their eyes. For the survivors today the burden of history continues to weigh heavy as their stories are left unheard, unseen and unappreciated. However, as living witnesses to the Khmer Rouge's crimes their perspectives are invaluable in understanding and feeling the importance of what happened in Cambodia. There are millions of faces and pairs of eyes that have witnessed and been through unimaginable circumstance and their stories litter every walk of life throughout Cambodia.
Here are a few of them.