A STORY THAT CANNOT BE FORGOTTEN
17 April 1975 is
one bitter memory that my mother will always remember and alone will continue to
flow tears. She does not know how
her father past away. When she
remembers my grandfather, he is sleeping in misery in one hut attached to an
insane asylum in Ta Khmao that was established since 1974. He used this hut as a temporary
home. By the time the country had
ceased fighting he would return to our home again. Honestly, my mother’s house was located
only in one place in Rean Thmar Village on the northern side, Siem Riep
Sub-District, Kandal Stung District, Kandal Province. But the country was at war and they used
the people as a shield for the Khmer Rouge. We could not endure the shelling, so my
family decided to flee and live for a short while behind the hospital in Ta
Khmao so that we could escape the hands of the Khmer Rouge. My mother always remembers this when
anyone reminds her of the 17th of April. This was the day in which my mother and
my grandfather were separated and would no longer return to each other. As a daughter, to what extent do you
sympathize with a person to whom you should be grateful to?
At that time, I
was only three years old. I am not
able to remember any of the events that arose during that time. Now I would like to write about the
bitter memories my mother and my family encountered on 17 April
1975. I use to hear people talk
about the separation of families on the 17th of April. Some were separated from their husbands,
some were separated from their children, while others abandoned their old
fathers because they wanted to save themselves since death was pursuing them
When I was young,
I listened to my neighbors tell me about this time, but I could not grasp
everything because I was not yet able to reflect on the stories. I could not
understand how great the suffering was until I was able to work at the
Documentation Center of Cambodia and after my mother told me about the time when
she left my grandfather behind to suffer in a miserable hut. I knew that no one could forget the
suffering the people of Cambodia endured on the 17th of April. My mother told all of her children about
her anguish, which is also like the misery experienced by the rest of the
Cambodian people, because all of the problems that arose on that day were almost
all alike. Some lost their older
sibling, some lost their younger sibling and the separation of families
The first day the Khmer Rouge liberated the city of Phnom Penh, was the
first day tears fell from the eyes of the Cambodian people who had hoped that
the country would achieve peace.
But the hope of everyone transformed into tears that fell from pity and
pain. They felt remorse for the
hundreds of thousands of small children who were traveling with crowds of
people. Each person had their belongings attached to their bodies. Some carried their goods on their heads,
some held their things close to their bodies, while others pushed old people in
carts or wagons. Along the road,
the voices of people shouted so chaotically it was impossible to hear each
other. Only screams and cries of
small children who had lost their parents could be heard. Also could be heard were the cries of
the people who had lost their families and their parents. They were shot and killed by the Khmer
Rouge soldiers because they were unwilling to leave their homes as they were
ordered. Even if they all heard the
screams of the little children who were searching for their parents none of them
could hear or notice what was going on or do anything about it. No matter what they could only think
about trying to move quickly forward.
Everyone tried to grab on to their own children, fearing their hands
would slip and they would lose each other. The pain and misery endured by
each person were caused by the terrible, barbarous and inhumane acts of all the
Khmer Rouge soldiers who had no mercy for their own Cambodian people. They fired aimlessly at innocent
civilians as long as someone offended them in any way. They cursed the older people without
even thinking about sin and merit.
On the morning of 17 April 1975, all the people in the city of
Ta Khmao were exhilarated to hear that the Liberation Army of King Sihanouk had
achieved victory over the Republic government and had great hope that Cambodian
society had a king to support them again.
The country was certain to be prosperous and happy and would no longer be
at war. But following this period
of happiness that did not last for even a few minutes, they heard word that all
the people must prepare their things because they must temporarily evacuate to
the rural areas for three days.
They were afraid the Americans would bomb the city. Since there were so many inhabitants
within the city it would be difficult to ensure their safety. It was also not necessary to bring many
of their belongings since it could only make their journey more difficult. After three days they will each return
to their homes. At that time, my
mother was extremely worried. She
was very troubled and distressed.
My father was not at home with her, because he had been visiting his
parents for three days. My mother
was very angry with my father. She
told me, “Your father always tries to save himself. He never thinks about all his children
at home. And even an old father at home who is ill and cannot get up from the
rug.” My mother could not do anything but sit there and cry and be angry with my
father. She told my sister and
brother who were about four or five years older than I to help her prepare our
things and put them in a sack, because she was not able to get hold of a cart at
the Ta Khmao market like our neighbors.
Therefore, she didn’t know how she could bring her father with us.
At 10:00 in the
morning each of our neighbors who had houses behind the insane asylum in Ta
Khmao, left gradually with their children and took different roads to their
native districts. But these people
were not able to fulfill their plans.
They traveled according to the orders of the Khmer Rouge and did not dare
to challenge them, because they saw the examples clearly with their eyes. They usually shot and killed anyone who
challenged their commands.
Around 9:00 in the
morning, my mother had still not decided whether or not she would leave with our
neighbors. She was still waiting
for my father who could arrive on time and may have an idea about how we could
take her father with us. But as she
waited and waited, she did not see the shadow of my father return to his
family. At that time, a soldier
carrying a gun came and threatened us to leave immediately. Our neighbors were already leaving
gradually. My mother did not dare
argue with them. She only answered, “I will be leaving soon.” At that time, my mother walked and
looked for her father with tears flowing from her eyes. She told him, “Father, they are forcing
us to leave the house for the country for three days. Three days afterwards they
will allow us to return again. I’m
not able to take you with me, because I must take care of six of your
grandchildren.” My grandfather
answered, “Don’t think about your father.
I am already old. Do whatever you can to take the young children with you
first. I can endure three
days. Just keep some water and some
cakes and food near me so that I can reach them easily by myself.” When my mother heard my grandfather say
this, my mother began to cry even more strongly because she felt pity for his
words and she felt very sorry for him.
But what could she do if this was the situation she was dealt? How could she decide? If she stayed and was not willing to
leave, the lives of her six young children would be shot and killed. Finally, my mother had to force herself
to take leave of her father in tears.
Nothing could compare to the extent of her affliction. She had to leave her old father who was
ill and who was unable to move, lying on the rug and alone in the house.
As we traveled
along the road, my mother carried my younger sister who was only one year old,
she carried packages on her head, and her thoughts wandered to my father
wondering how things were going for him.
My two older brothers and sisters walked behind my mother and helped to
carry pots, pans, and rice. I
couldn’t help with anything because I was still very small. I couldn’t even walk forward. At that time I told my mother I was very
sleepy, but honestly I was tired from the journey. I was so small, I couldn’t possibly know
how it is like to be tired. When I
became sleepy, my older sister carried me and put me on her shoulders so that I
could sleep and regain my energy.
My family traveled with a throng of people, pushing and crowding each
other so much, it was almost impossible to walk. We kept walking without a clear
objective, only according to the commands of the Khmer Rouge.
In one day my
family and I had reached Kandal Market.
Along the road, things fell all over the place. Glass fell and scattered all over the
road. Some houses closed their
doors and others had their doors open, but had bullet marks showing on the
outside. Cars and motorcycles were
abandoned along the roads. No one
noticed or cared for them like before.
Each person simply struggled to walk and move forward. While we were
traveling along the road of Kandal Market, we saw one man who died on his
knees. He had his belongings tied
to two ends of a pole and placed on his soldier. But there was no sign of blood or
gunshots. We did not know how this
man died. We only walked pass his
corpse without asking anyone about him.
After we passed
Kandal Market, my family forked into a large road and continued our journey on
the Russian Federation Street until we reached Pochentong. We wanted to go to our native
district. Along the road it smelled
rancid from the blood and putrid from the corpses that lay bloated on the
floor. Some of the corpses were of
normal citizens while others were of Lon Nol soldiers dressed in military
uniforms. According to my mother’s
narration, I understood that along this national road, many people were killed
because Lon Nol soldiers guarded this area heavily since it was an international
airport and they were afraid the Liberation Army would attack. But in the end, they still lost. The soldiers ran in order to save their
own lives. Some soldiers were
captured by the Khmer Rouge and immediately shot and killed.
under the scorching sun, my family traveled with thousands of other families to
Baek Chan Village. Everyone was
dripping with sweat, and was so exhausted and weak, it was almost impossible for
them to keep moving forward. The
voices of children screaming and crying from hunger intermingled with the sound
of the wagons creaking and croaking.
Some women had just given birth while others were still pregnant, and
still others were in the process of giving birth. Travelers brought blankets to help cover
the women while they finished giving birth. When the Khmer Rouge witnessed such
suffering they gave the people permission to stop, rest, and cook their
rice. But before we could even
digest our meal, the soldiers ordered the people to continue their journey
again. My family traveled along
National Road #3 toward Pratah Lang Village and we rested there at night.
That night, my
mother met one of our neighbors who use to live in the same village, who told
her that that day around 12:00 in the afternoon she gathered her belongings from
her house behind the hospital in Ta Khmao.
She was able to enter our house and she saw my grandfather lying sick in
the house alone. She asked my
grandfather where his children and grandchildren had gone. And he answered that his children and
grandchildren had abandoned him and had kept him there alone. Our neighbor told my mother that she was
not able to talk for very long because at that time she saw the Khmer Rouge
walking towards her so she tried to escape to Pochentong Street until she
reached Pratah Lang Village. As
soon as my mother heard her neighbor tell her this, my mother just kept crying
from night until morning. She was
not able to fall asleep. She kept
thinking about the destiny of my grandfather. She didn’t know what would happen if the
Khmer Rouge saw her father lying down and unable to get up. What would they do to him?
later until now my mother never found out if her father died from starvation or
if the Khmer Rouge shot and killed him in the house. My mother always cried whenever she
remembered her father. Within her
lifetime, she will never be able to forget. The terrible, barbaric, and inhumane
acts of the Khmer Rouge, separated an old father and forced him to remain
miserably in a small hut in a village filled with corpses and destruction from
flying bullets. This can be
compared to an uninhabited and silent forest that is filled with terrible and
inhumane things. In the end my
mother’s father was forced to suffer and die like an animal.
This is a true story of my mother’s that passed on 17 April 1975. This is a story that ought to make one
terrified and is a bitter memory that cannot be forgotten. This memory continues to haunt my
mother’s feelings so that she will always remember. At that time I was only three years
old. On this day I am twenty-eight
years old and I am sitting in the Documentation Center of Cambodia. I have contributed to searching for a
truth to grant to the spirits of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who died
from the injustice of the Khmer Rouge.