The Wat Thmey Temple is notable for being an area that served as one of the killing fields during the Khmer Rouge regime in the country. The Khmer Rouge was Cambodia’s ruling party from 1975 to 1979 and was responsible for one of the worst mass killings during the 20th Century.
Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the dreaded Khmer Rouge brought Cambodia back to the old ages by forcing millions of people to leave the city and work on farms in the countryside. The communists believed that cities were tools towards capitalism. So in order to create the ideal communist society, people had to live and work in the rural areas as peasants. Peasants were viewed by the Khmer Rouge as ideal communists for the Cambodian state as they were simple, uneducated and hardworking.
The evacuation of the city was the first of many radical steps taken by the Khmer Rouge. The organization then dictated the life of every Cambodian citizen with rules on religion, money and private ownership. Communications with the outside world were eliminated and family relationships were dismantled. All rights and responsibilities were eradicated as Pol Pot declared the nation to start at “Year Zero”, signifying the end of Cambodia’s 2000-year history. The Khmer Rouge arrested any person suspected of having relations with the former government or foreign affairs. Many of these arrested people were ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Chams, Cambodian Christians and Buddhist monks.
The assassinations occurred in great numbers as it happened everywhere in the country. Most of those who were executed were buried in mass graves. To save on ammunition, executions were commonly done using hammers, spades, axe handles or sharpened bamboo sticks. Many victims were even forced to dig their own graves. The Khmer Rouge killed almost 25% of the country’s population. Almost 2 million people of Cambodia were massacred or died from diseases, starvation, exhaustion and forced labor.
The Khmer Rouge command was finally overthrown in 1979 by the invasion of the Vietnamese troops after many violent border confrontations. In the years that followed, Cambodia went through a process of healing and reopening to the international community. Survivors told their stories as the 1980s Hollywood movie “The Killing Fields” brought the Khmer Rouge victims to worldwide attention.
The Wat Thmey Temple is a live monastery where a large Stupa memorial can be found. The stupa has glass sides filled with the skulls and bones of those who died during the Khmer Rouge. These have been diligently gathered by local residents in memory of their families and friends. The Wat Thmei Temple is the spot of one of the terrible killing sites where hundreds of Cambodian civilians were tortured, killed and buried. The mass of bones and skulls at the stupa shows the cruel behavior of the Khmer Rouge at the time.
Today, the monastery serves as an orphanage and school that is often visited by several tour buses. Although the temple remains a startling sight, visitors will hear the laughter of children and the sounds of daily Cambodian life in the background to remind visitors that life has certainly moved on from the once dreaded killing field.
More than just a holocaust tourist spot, many have come to the Wat Thmey Temple to pay homage and to remember those who lost their lives in the Cambodia Killing Fields. It is a reminder of a dark chapter in recent Cambodian History that will always remain marked in the minds of those who had to endure it.