Survivor – the story of a torture victim in Cambodia

16.000 people were killed. Only seven survived. One of them was Chum Mey.

Survivor "Chum Mey"

S-21. Tuol Sleng.

Those are words that for Cambodian people more than anything else symbolize the horror of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. Tuol Sleng was the prison where suspected traitors were brought for torturing before being shot at the Killing Fields.

No less than 16.000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng from 1975 until 1979. Only seven of them survived. The rest were brutally killed.

The short documentary Survivor was made in cooperation with the Norwegian editor and former Asia correspondent John Einar Sandvand. Survivor tells the story about Chum Mey, a previous mechanic who was one of only seven survivors of the Tuol Sleng prison.


Cambodian film maker Sao Sopheak

The Cambodian film maker Sao Sopheak  directed the film. For the last couple of years Sopheak has been studying film making at the Meta House (German Cambodian Cultural Center) in Phnom Penh.

In the twelve minute long video Chum Mey shows us the Tuol Sleng prison and tells in his own words how he was tortured and beaten.

The communist movement Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, ruled Cambodia from April 1975 until January 1979. It was one of the most brutal regimes the world has known in modern history and it is estimated that up to two million people – one fourth of the population – died during the Pol Pot years.

Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh was the biggest of many socalled security centers where suspected traitors of the Khmer Rouge were sent after being arrested. For days they were tortured until they agreed to write a detailed report of how they supposedly had worked against the regime. Almost all of them were then sent to Choeung Ek – better known as the Killing Fields – to be killed.

Chum Mey in front of portrait photos of prisoners at Tuol Sleng

Why did Chum Mey survive?

Because of luck. The prison needed a mechanic. Chum Mey had the necessary experience. It was decided to let him stay alive to perform necessary reparations at the prison.

But Chum Mey also witnessed the killing of his wife and newborn child at the end of the Khmer Rouge period. And he had to live with the gruesome memories of the torture and pain in Tuol Sleng.

Today he is dedicated to share his pain and experiences with anyone who wants to listen. Almost every day he travels to Tuol Sleng where he talks to visitors about what went on in the buildings. He was also a key witness when Tuol Sleng boss Duch went on trial in the international tribunal set up to try the senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

It is a story of meaningless torture and the darkest sides of human nature. I cried when I first heard him tell about how his nails were pulled out from his fingers and how he was given electric shocks through his ears.

Skulls from a Khmer Rouge mass grave at a temple in Takeo province, Cambodia

This film was screened at Meta House in Phnom Penh in January 2011 with more than 200 people, including Chum Mey himself, present.


Enjoy watch a film SURVIVOR below:



4 Replies to “Survivor – the story of a torture victim in Cambodia”

  1. I am not Cambodian but thank you for making this documentary. The world needs to know the atrocities commited by Pol Pot and his gang of homocidal maniacs so that we can prevent this from happening again in the future. Unfortunately, there will always be evil people in the world but hopefully films like this will convince the good not to idly stand by and watch it happen again.

    To all the victims of this genocide: I am truly sorry for all your suffering. As an American, I am ashamed at my government for abandoning all of you in your time of need. I can’t even imagine the horror you must all have felt.

  2. Great documentary and my heart goes out to all those that suffered. And also to Chum Mey for sharing his story.
    We are currently doing a performance on the history of the S21 to educate people what happened. I feel its a time in history not many people have heard of and your documentary and Chum Meys story has helped us look forward with our project.

    thank you

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