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Memoirs by Survivors

edited by Dith Pran, Kim DePaul

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-300-06839-5
Publisher: Yale Univ.

Horrific childhood testimonies by survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.

These 30 brief narratives were collected by Pran from now-adult survivors of Pol Pot's killing fields. Most of those included here currently reside in the US. Pran, a photojournalist whose story was featured in the movie The Killing Fields, is the founder of the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project; his wife (and co-editor of the volume) DePaul is its executive director. Comparisons to Hitler's genocide are inevitable: Here, too, a government systematically exterminated millions of innocent men, women, and children through a program of relocation, starvation, forced labor, and outright massacres. The narrators, who were only children when the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, cannot, of course, explain why the regime ruthlessly murdered nearly two million of their compatriots, but perhaps criminal chaos is much of the point here. Uneducated (thus "untainted'') village children were less likely to be worked, starved, or walked to death, and were indoctrinated to disavow family ties and show loyalty to all-powerful Angka (the Khmer Rouge regime). Many children were forced to watch executions of their relatives without flinching. A few became monsters, like the six-year-old recollected by one witness here, who attacked a pregnant woman with an ax. With too little room to present a picture of the narrators' lives before and after the hellish years of 1975-79, the recorded memories are saved from a tedious repetitiveness by a few remarkable descriptions, such as that of an emaciated malaria victim with a swollen belly looking "like a frog,'' and a scavenging child finding duck eggs in a human skull.

This compelling material might be even more powerfully disturbing had it been accompanied by additional explanatory and background material.