Saturday, July 16, 2016

French Period

During the French period, we did not have independence. We often saw the French along the road, although they did not come into the village.

Along the road, there was a French military post the people called Daem Thnaot barrack. It was located in Ta Kok pagoda next to my hometown of Lvea. The French cut down sugar palm trees and used them to make walls and they guarded the road around it using uniformed Khmer soldiers. The French came every day, but they never slept there. The post was guarding against the Issarak but I didn’t know what the Issarak wanted. I just heard, ‘Issarak, Issak.’When the Issarak came, the people went along with them. When the French came, they went with the French.

Later, I came to learn that the Issarak were trying to free the country from French rule. Same villagers joined them in this struggle. People helped them, especially at night, and they would punish us if we refused them. Anyway, almost all the people supported the Khmer Issarak.

When the Reanch chased and shot at the Issarak, they fled into the fields. They hid their rifles in the sheaves of rice and pretended to use the sickle to harvest rice like other people until the French soldiers left.

At the time I was 8, 9, or 10 years old. I don’t know if my parents or other older people supported them. But the Issarak came and they had rifles. People helped them carry ammunition. For instance, they called my elder brother, Mom, at night to help carry ammunition. He would be back the following morning. As for me, I was too young to understand what they wanted.
I never saw the French arrest a member of the Khmer Issarak. But I did see Khmer shoot Khmer. There were Khmer working at the French military post., and Khmer Issarak would come and shoot at them.

During the day time, the French went and collected taxes in the communes and districts. They taxed everything, including land and houses. I saw this and I heard my father talk about it. I heard people from other districts say the French collected taxes even though people dried their rice on the road in front of their house. When they come to collect taxes, my father and brothers hid in piles of rice and in the pond behind the house.

Life as an orphan at Ba Phnom

When I was about 10, I went to live with my oldest brother, Ka-ek and his family in Ba Phnom. We called the place Chheu Kach mountain. All the rest of my siblings were single at the time except for my oldest sister. I helped my siblings do the farming and find a sell firewood to Chinese businessmen in Prey Veng.

Boeng Snaor village, where I live, was big, with nearly 100 families. They lived in Thnaot Chroh, Prum Khsach and other communes. In my commune, Kampong Trabek, there were only tow families, my aunt’s and my mother’s. There were three or for families in another village and a family in another village. Most of us were farmers and some earned enough to support themselves while others went to earn money in Phnom Penh and returned home during the rainy season. There was also plenty of fish in a lake and we caught them using Ang-rot, a king of fish trap in the shape of a basket with a hole at the small end. There were fish, crabs and snails.

A Village Childhood

I was born on a Saturday in November in 1931, the Year of the Monkey, into a middle class family with a house and cattle like other people. I come from Thnaot Chroh village, Lvea commune, Kampong Trabek district, Prey Veng province. All of my relatives live in Lvea. I did not go to school, but studies in Savy Udom pagoda near my home. My parents passed away when I was a child, just young and naked. In my village people called me Chum Manh, but since I first come to Phnom Penh, I have been called Chum Mey.

I had five brothers and two sisters. My oldest brother was Ka-ek, then my oldest sister It, older brother Yak, older sister Nuon and then my brother Mon and me and then another younger brother name Mai and the youngest one Morn. I ranked number three, counting from the bottom.

My mother helped my father with the farm, together with the older children. We had about two hectares of paddy field and we harvested more than we could eat. We used two pairs of cows to do the farming, and also had several calves.

My father drank wine and after drinking he became a very noisy person, but he never heat any of us children. he just became noisy. He played the Pei- or, a traditional wind instrument for wedding ceremonies, and when I was a boy I went with him. In rural areas, after attending the wedding, guests normally bring cakes home and share them among their children. In the old days, the weddings lasted for three days and nights. When I went with him I would sleep behind him as he played into the night.

One day when I was about 8 or 9, I climbed up onto a tall house that was being built in Boeng Snaor village and fell off the roof and that's why I have this scare on my forehead, until today.

My mother worked in the fields, carrying, transplanting and threshing rice. I was about six years old when she gave birth to my youngest brother. She became ill with postpartum depression, which often happened in the old times. A distant uncle who served as a monk in Svay Udom pagoda and knew about traditional medicine paid us a visit, but he could not save her. After that I live with my father for about one year until he also passed away, leaving me alone with my brothers and sister.

Monday, July 21, 2014


This website is dedicated first of all to the souls of my parents, whose memory has sustained me through the hardships of my life. I also dedicate the book I wrote stating my life story to all my fellow prisoners at Tuol Sleng prison and to all the other millions of people who died during the three years, eight months, and twenty days. And it is also dedicated to the generations of Cambodians to come, as a reminder of what can happen, and has happened, in our country: unbelievable horrors committed by their own people, especially the Khmer leaders, namely Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khiev Samphan, Nuon Chea that I hope will never be repeated.

I am very grateful to Youk Chhang, director and the staff of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) who have worked so hard to preserve the history of the Khmer Rouge years, and who showed such generosity in helping me with publishing the book. In addition I extend my thanks, to Sim Sorya, Kim Sroy, Sok Visal and Men Pechet as well as to Seth Mydans and Mariko Takayasu for their kind help with the text.


The Survivor