My Memories of 17 April 1975







Sopheak Try


            On 17 April 1975, I was three years old.  I was born on 12 March 1973, in Kroch Chhmar Leu Village, Kroch Chhmar Sub-District, Kroch Chhmar District, Kampong Cham Province. 


During the events of 17 April 1975, the Khmer Rouge Army destroyed the weak government of the Lon Nol Republic that was supported by the Americans and removed them from power.  These people were able to enter and capture Phnom Penh with the power of their weapons and the genocidal acts began on Angkorian soil.  At that time, I was only a young child.  Therefore, my memories of that time are not very clear until 1979 and 1980.  My mother and father have often told me stories about these bitter times that continue to bear meaning until now.  I have three brothers and sisters, two girls and one boy.  I am the second of three children.  My father was 34 years old.  Now, he is 54 years old.  He was born in Khsach Pracheh Village, Kroch Chhmar Sub-District, Kroch Chhmar District, Kampong Cham Province.  My mother is now 55 years old.  She was born in Kroch Chhmar Leu, Kroch Chhmar Sub-District, Kroch Chhmar District, Kampong Cham Province.  My mother and father are both tailors.  My father sews men’s clothes and my mother sews women’s clothes.  My mother and father were tailors since the old regime. 


My father has told me many bitter stories.  He says that all the way until 17 April 1975, he heard that Phnom Penh had already broke out.  When they heard this, the villagers, like the people throughout the country, were very happy and joyful, but for only a short period.  The people dressed in black announced throughout the city of Phnom Penh, like in the rest of the country, that we had gained victory over the U.S. imperialists.  On 17 April 1975, they began to evacuate people from Phnom Penh.  In Kroch Chhmar District, when they heard that the city of Phnom Penh had broken out and that people were being evacuated out of the city, everyone began to get excited and extremely scared.  My family was especially startled and terrified.  They ordered us out of the village like they ordered out the people in Phnom Penh. But all the villagers in the district waited to see what would happen to the country.  A few days later, the people dressed in black prepared a plan to evacuate the “new people” out of the village and forced them to live somewhere else.  Some of the “old people” were also evacuated. 


On 17April 1975, my family was not evacuated out of the village.  They allowed us to continue living in the village.  They considered us “base people.” In 1974 and at the beginning of 1975, there was a lot of disorder in Kroch Chhmar District, because it was under the control of the Lon Nol people.  Ta Chea served as the district leader.   He harmed and tortured the Chinese people, the Chams, and the Vietnamese.  He called many of them to be executed.  Another group was forced to live somewhere else.  He had a right-hand man named Heang Ka Pong, who was the most brutal man in the village.  He could take anyone to be killed; it was up to him. 


All the way until 17 April 1975, the district leader and his right-hand man were accused of being traitors and Angkar on the higher level took them to be killed.  Later on they installed a new district leader.  At the end of 1975 and in the beginning of 1976, they assigned everyone to eat in a collective.  People were no longer permitted to eat along their houses.  They had created a cooperative.  From that time on, according to a villager named Ta Lok, who worked as the mess hall leader from 1976 to the start of 1978, he did not suffer like others because his family had enough to eat.  The people dressed in black never used him to do anything but cook rice. 


At the end of 1978, the people dressed in black announced for all the “base people” to leave the village.  My family left our homes with the other villagers.  My father argued with my mother as well as with the other neighbors about leaving our homes to live in another place without any particular destination.  After that we helped each other gather our clothes, our dishes, pots and other things we wanted to take with us.  We walked towards the west.  My father talked and walked at the same time, “They are leaving and we are leaving without any specific direction.” My father said that he didn’t know where our lives would lead if we continued to travel without direction.  We traveled from morning until afternoon and arrived in Trea Village, Kroch Chhmar District.  We stopped and rested here for a short while before we continued our journey again with many other people.  We rode a boat across to the far bank of Stung Throng District. When we got there we all walked to the center of Stung Throng District.  Each person had dry and bitter expressions on their faces, because they were uncertain how their life would end up, as they journeyed from the district center in groves.  Some were pushing ramok, some placed their belongings on a bicycle and pushed it along, while others carried their things on their shoulders, their heads, and their backs.  They looked so miserable.  Everyone walked without any sense of direction.  We crossed over on a boat to Stung Throng because there were many mountains and forests in this area and it would be easy to live and hide ourselves in the forest.  We walked a long way until we reached a field, then we continued walking to Meat Village, Srah Vil Sub-District in Stung Throng District.  We all decided to rest in the villager’s homes for fifty days. The villagers were very kind and cooperative. 


When we knew that it was peaceful again in our native village, we began our journey back to our native village, crossing over Beoung Ket rubber plantation.  Then we took a boat back to the far bank of Khsach Pracheh Village, Kroch Chhmar District.  When we reached the far bank of Kroch Chhmar District, we were not able to rest.  We decided to travel towards the eastern direction until we reached our native village.  When we were halfway there and had reached Khsach Pracheh Kandal, we stopped and rested with many other people.  My father kept saying, “We must return to our homes because the people who evacuated us said that we would only have to leave for a short period and then they would allow us to return to our native village.” While my father was speaking to my mother and a neighbor, we saw a large boat parked in front of the temple.  When we saw this, my family was immediately terrified, because we did not know what else would happen to us.  A moment later, we saw children dressed in black with rubber tire shoes and carrying rifles, come over and say in a slurred voice, “Go ahead and climb on the boat!  If you don’t climb on we have another plan.”  Everyone gathered together waiting to climb onto the boat.  When my father heard this voice, he gathered all of us together and we climbed on the boat. The boat took us to Prek Sangkah and back to Stung Throng District.  After we reached this place for a few hours, my family gathered some of my neighbors and we stole away from the large crowd of people. We walked along a field of sand and towards the east until we reached our native district.  We then waited for a boat to take us back to Kroch Chhmar.  When a boat arrived, we got on the boat. 


When we reached our native village, which was still quiet, each person said that they still did not dare return to their homes.  They decided to travel towards the North and to the fields behind their homes.  Behind our homes was a large lake that was about 1000 meters square.  It took us a long time to walk around the lake before we reached our destination called Tuol Kvet orchard.  We rested here for about 27 days.  Almost every day my father stole into the village to observe the situation there.  When he saw that there were some people there, he gathered all of us who had gone to live in the orchard to return to the village, because things had normalized.  My mother told me that at that time, “I lived next to the rice pot almost every day.” She continued, “I am clever at eating.  If there was rice porridge, I would only eat the solid rice.  I would not take any of the soup.  I would rather cry then eat the soup.” My family and the villagers lived in the orchard behind the houses for a long time before we decided to return to our native village. 


From that time on, my family was no longer evacuated from the village.  The villagers lived as normal until the Vietnamese army entered and liberated us from the people dressed in black, “the Khmer Rouge,” on 7 January 1979.  After the liberation, the villagers, like all the people throughout the country, believed that the country had achieved peace and we would no longer have to be afraid. 


My memories are drawn from the true stories my mother, my father, and my neighbors have told me of their bitter memories and experiences on 17 April 1975 and from my additional studies at school.  I entered school in 1981 in Kroch Chhmar Leu Primary School, Kroch Chhmar Sub-District, Kroch Chhmar District, Kampong Cham Province.  Almost every year, all the students throughout the country and I are able to rest on the 17th April, because this day is very extraordinary.  This is a day that I, like others throughout the country, cannot forget.  This day was the beginning of the acts of genocide, of auto-genocide, and of policies of starvation, forced labor, and execution.  Within a period of over three years in which our country fell into a state of zero, over 2 million innocent people died in the most extreme injustice. 


When I began working at the Documentation Center of Cambodia and researching the genocidal acts committed under the Democratic Kampuchea regime that began from 1975-1979, my memories became even more poignant.  Everyday when I walk to work, I believe that I am cooperating in the effort to search for justice for millions of victims who have died. 








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