My name is Chum Mey. I am one of a handful of prisoners who survived Tuol Sleng prison, where more than 12,000 people were tortured and sent to a killing field by the Khmer Rouge regime. I am also one of the last genocidal victims who is still alive.

For several years, since the liberation from Pol Pot regime 7 January 1979, I have been telling the story since my arrest, the life in Tuol Sleng Prison and the torture by Pol Pot agents to many journalists and visitors who have visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. I have testified at the International Tribunal that recently convicted the chief of the prison, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.

The book states my complete story, the story of a village boy whose only ambition was to be a mechanic and to fix cars and trucks, but who became one of millions of victims of the Khmer

Rouge. I survived, but I can’t say I was lucky. My wife and children were dead and the torture I endured was horrible. At that time, it would have been better to die than to survive.

But I did survive, and I believe it is my duty to tell my story. If I don’t stand up to tell it, the young generation will say “Chum Mey knew the truth about what happened, but didn’t speak out”. I am glad I am here to tell my story. Whenever journalists interview me, I say I don’t want to see this terrible time repeated again. I tell that not only to Cambodian people, but to people around the world – Chinese, Cham [Muslim], anyone who comes to me, so long as I have a translator to pass on my words. I want the world to know what really happened, and I don’t want those who died ever to be forgotten.

When I walk among those photographs of the people who died at Tuol Sleng, I see portraits of people who wanted to live. They all wanted to live. Why were they killed? According to Buddhist teachings, those killers will reap their karma. It hurts me to walk among those photos, but I do it in order to tell my story. Sometimes I imagine that I could have been one of those in the photographs who died. It was such a rare chance that I survived when so many people were killed there. I think about it every night, how lucky I was to survive. Why did I survive?

I think maybe in my previous life, I did good things and that’s why for this life, I have been spared. Throughout my life, there are 1,000 times I could have died, starting all the way back to 1962 when Khmer Rouge soldiers shot at me. But I have survived. It’s something I don’t understand. I’ve been shot at many times and it was close. But I was not killed. Someone else might have been killed. But I survived.

When I was detained in that cell, I did nothing but cried and felt sad and prayed to Buddha and my ancestors for help. In Buddhism, there are many lessons for monks, five or ten, that I learned when I was ordained as a monk for a year. When I was there, I was silently saying those prayers. I put my hands together and prayed to my ancestors to help me get out of there. ‘You son did nothing wrong. Please, father and mother, come and help me.’ I couldn’t pray aloud or I would have been beaten.

But I do not condemn the people who tortured me. If they were still alive today and if they came to me, would I still be angry with them? No. Because they were not senior leaders and they were doing what they had to do at the time. I consider them victims like me, because they had to follow other people’s orders. How can I say I would have behaved differently? Would I have had the strength to refuse to kill, if the penalty was my own death? During the interrogation I was angry, but after a long while, learning about that place, understanding that people had to do what they were told to do, I wasn’t angry with them anymore. Even the ones who tortured me, they also lost parents and family members.

There’s a saying in the Khmer language: ‘If a mad dog bites you, don’t bite it back.’ If you do, it means you are mad, too.

Chum Mey

July 25, 2012.


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