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A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields

by Rithy Panh ; Christophe Bataille translated by John Cullen

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-59051-558-7
Publisher: Other Press

Harrowing personal reflections by the Cambodian French filmmaker of surviving the Khmer Rouge as a young teenager.

Rithy Panh’s film S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine explored the stories of the prisoners and their torturers from the notorious Security Prison 21, in Phnom Penh, from 1975 to 1979, yet it was only recently that he was able to interview the feared commander of the prison, known as Comrade Duch. In this work, Rithy Panh uses selections from his chilling interviews with Duch as a frame for the author’s own traumatic memories of being driven from his home with his family by the Khmer Rouge in 1975, one day before his 13th birthday. Evacuated to the countryside by the Khmer Rouge, the author, his father (serving then as an undersecretary of education), mother and younger siblings were branded “new people” by the regime—i.e., “oppressors who were to be reeducated in the countryside—or exterminated.” Moving around squalid transit camps and cooperative housing, suffering increasingly from starvation and disease, the family was stricken one by one until only the author was left to fend for himself, “a starveling, an eater of scraps,” in hospitals or camps, indoctrinated into the vicious ways of the Khmer Rouge yet able to squeak by until the Vietnamese liberation in 1979. Alternating with these memories are commentaries by the mocking and philosophical Duch, an exquisite administrator who “put the language of slaughter down on paper” and ran his torture prison like a tight ship. A technician of the revolution, as Duch considered himself, he calmly informed the filmmaker that “the Khmer Rouge were all about elimination. Human rights didn’t exist.”

A riveting, intimate look deep inside the machinery of the executioner.