Grandmother of Fertilizer







Sophearith Chuong


During the Khmer Rouge regime, Chhay Rin was an old woman the Khmer Rouge soldiers evacuated to live in a jungle area known as Po Penh, situated in Phnom Srok District, Banteay Mean Chey Province. That remote area was far from the national road, and barely accessible by vehicle. If we walk down the country road leading to the area it will take us at least half a day to get there. She told us about her life in the area during the Khmer Rouge regime. She and her female unit of 40 women were required to make fertilizer out of human bodies and excrements. The Khmer Rouge simply referred to her as “Yeay Chi”, meaning “Grandmother of fertilizer”, because she was appointed Chief of the female unit responsible to produce fertilizers. In spite of the fact that she did not like the kind of nauseous work she was doing and the hard conditions she was in, she managed to endure it, trying to live her life as if she were not able to see and smell. That was because she wanted her family to be safe from persecution or execution by the Khmer Rouge.


The first day she was brought there, she was so lonely and pitiful about herself that she dropped her tears while she was begging for God to safeguard her family. Young Khmer Rouge soldiers, some as young as 10, each of them equipped with a gun, came and said to her, “Do not cry, mother! You are brought here not to die but to live. You are not left in Phnom Penh eating stones”. Yeay Chi replied, “My children, there are only bushes. There is nothing but tree leaves to eat, so why did you bring me here?” Suddenly, one of the young, armed soldiers pointed his gun at her and threatened, “Mother, you are vicious and dare to oppose Angkar”. She immediately begged to them in her quick response, “Mother dare not oppose Angkar, my children!”. Fortunately, she was spared her life at that moment due to her sincere and kind pleading.


Chhay Rin continued, recalling that, “After one year living in Po Penh, the whole area was inundated. As the flooding reached the area, the Khmer Rouge evacuated the people to Snuol Village, Poay Char Sub-district, Phnom Srok District, Banteay Mean Chey Province. “Life here is very difficult. We were provided a thin rice gruel, made from five cans of rice and some water flowers for the entire unit. As the days passed, people kept dying, either from disease, starvation, or food poisoning from eating various leaves. The Khmer Rouge took people to Po Penh to be killed”.


She confirmed to us that there was a site in Phnom Srok District, where people were forced to make fertilizer from human bodies and wastes. She told us that she was required to excavate graves and get the bodies to make fertilizer. As far as the making of fertilizer is concerned, she said that her unit was supposed to go out looking for graves and pits, unearth them and get the bodies out. Then, they pealed the flesh and things from the bodies, and took the cleaned bones to burn and make fertilizer out of the ashes. She stated that every day she was required to collected human remains and bones in order to make fertilizer.


Yeay Chi went on explaining about the hard times and all difficulties she encountered, “In the beginning, I could not stand the smell of corpses, but as time passed it would not really matter to me. However, I did not try to remove the flesh from the corpses immediately after I excavated them, because it smelled too bad. No matter how bad the smell was I never had any objections since the Khmer Rouge constantly kept their watching eyes on me. If I did not do it, it would be a problem. Making fertilizer was my routine task, and I did it for over one year. Every time we were out to work, we were always accompanied by a group of four armed Khmer Rouge soldiers.


She further stressed, “During my first time at the task, I saw people die miserably. At one site, among the dead bodies were two to three monks the Khmer Rouge tied up with a rope before they killed them and put them in a pit. I found a lot of people killed and the bodies were piled up in big stacks. Mass executions were carried out in 1977. Evacuees from Southwest [Zone] were all executed. People in the village were also butchered. Bodies were buried in bigger pits than those at Choeung Ek. Anyone found to have some reservations about anything was taken by the Khmer Rouge to be killed”.


She recalled, “If anyone was as active as me and was quick to come when called, he or she would survive. I did anything; sometimes some of the Khmer Rouge cadres called me to perform a traditional coin treatment on them, and I always did it without any objections as long as they would spare my life”. In 1978, large-scale executions were carried out, in which both base and new people alike were killed. There were only a few surviving families. Among members of my female unit responsible for producing fertilizer, only half survived. The survivors had swelling diseases because of malnutrition. My family was the first the Khmer Rouge wanted to take to be killed because they were told by those who were not happy with my family that we were educated and used to work for Americans”. But in fact, Chhay Rin was just an ordinary Christian disciple.


She felt very miserable to witness many of the people close to her taken to be killed by the Khmer Rouge, usually after being told that, “Angkar needed them to be educated”. A total of 26 people including her children, nephews and nieces, were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime.  Her brothers and sisters were taken to be killed near a big tree in Po Penh before her family moved to Poay Snuol Village, Poay Char Sub-district, Phnom Srok District. She expressed sadly, “Every time I think of it, my tears drop. I am so full of sadness.”     


Thouny is one of Chhay Rin’s daughters. She was also a victim under the regime. She was taken to be killed by the Khmer Rouge soldiers under the order of the collective chief, named Chhin, who was very brutal. He beat her until she lost consciousness in front of the edge of a pit. Luckily, seeing her laying there unconsciousness, they thought she was dead and left her out of the pit. They did not have the time to check to see if she was dead or alive because there were many more to be killed at that time. But she was still alive, and has survived until today. She was left with two scars, one on her the lower, right part of her chin, and the other on her right foot. She showed them to us, while saying, “......These scars always remind me of an unforgettable history, an extremely hurtful one. I can retell the whole story of “One Thousand and One Night”, but there could not be time enough for me to relate the history of the period of three years eight months and twenty days under the Pol Pot regime. The more we think and talk about it, the fresher our memory and the more our tears. It is so much pain that words cannot describe”.


The Khmer Rouge took Thouny to be killed on the grounds that she was a KGB agent because she had spoken back to some Khmer Rouge cadre while laboring at a work site. She said indirect words meaning something critical of her superiors by expressing them in general terms. But, she did not do it in a meeting. She said, “If everybody is to work that much, they all will die. Does it work that someone with a very thin rice ration can handle the earth hoeing work for 125 cubic meters?” Immediately after she finished her words, the Khmer Rouge exchanged a threatening question, “How dare you! You want to oppose Angkar? You know Angkar?” She then responded honestly, “I do not know Angkar because I do not know what form it takes; all I see that you are wearing black clothing with a beret on your head and a scarf around your neck. I do not who Angkar is”. Then, the Khmer Rouge reacted by saying, “This is some kind of underground intellectual.” “I do not know the term ‘intellectual,’” she replied. They further asked her, “Is it true that you lived in Phnom Penh previously?” She lied to them saying that, “No, I was not a city resident; I am an simple street vendor and lived at Kien Svay”. Later, they threatened to “smash her”. With such a threat, she replied inquisitively, “How come you want to smash me because Angkar said it would train people to labor to give them employment”. The Khmer Rouge, said “You oppose Angkar”. They just said that, but did not do anything to her at that time. However, at 12pm of the same day, they took her out from the concentration camp to be killed. She was walked away, her face blindfolded, both of her hands tied up behind her back. As she was blindfolded, she could see nothing, thus did not know where she was taken. But, after a while, she felt a blow and lost consciousness.


After regaining consciousness, she attempted to remove the blindfold, and untie the rope on her hands. Then, she decided to run away from the camp for fear that they would take her to be killed once again. She had nothing with her, except a black dress and a scarf. It was from that time that she was away from her parents with a new mobile brigade in another region. She was going to Spean Sreng, in Kralanh District, Siem Reap Province.                       


She estimated that a majority of the evacuees from cities were executed because hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated there, but there were about ten thousands left and returning to the province. At Kork Romchek, Srah Chik Sub-district, Phnom Srok District, Banteay Mean Chey Province, the Khmer Rouge took people to be killed in the rice fields. At Poay Trach, especially in 1979, near the fall of the regime, the Khmer Rouge killed people indiscriminately and scattered bodies everywhere. During that time, people evacuated from Phnom Penh were taken to be killed immediately. She used to see piles of bodies; and she said she was very scared.


She concluded that, “When the country was liberated in 1979, there was only a small number of people in my collective who survived.” She thought that, “It would have been ideal if the Khmer Rouge had not treated people badly, and instead had provided them with all necessary supplies for living. During that time, if Angkar had not attempted to make such ‘Great Leaps Forwards’ and had given people enough to survive, people would not have died no matter how hard they were worked, except for those taken to be killed.”














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