Echoes of the Holocaust
Shalom Robinson, M.D., Editor

Holocaust Survivors and Survivors of the Cambodian Tragedy: Similarities and Differences

Dan Savin, M.D. and Shalom Robinson, M.D.

Mop is a 33-year-old male who lives with his wife and six children in a resettlement site near Battambang city. When he has work, he earns about $1.50 per day hauling dirt to repair the single road near his house. Unfortunately, he has been jobless for the past three months. The family had been living off the small savings they amassed from the time Mop worked for several months as a carpenter; now those savings are gone.

Mop was born in Takeo province near Phnom Penh, but the family moved to western Cambodia in 1971 because there was too much fighting near his home town. He recalls that his father was a very learned man who had his own barber shop, and could speak French and Thai. Mop remembers taking care of the family's cows while his father was at work.

Mop remembers much gunfire and shelling when Pol Pot took over the country in 1975. He was separated from his mother and father, and forced to work in a youth gang along with a number of other children his age. He was starving, and got caught "stealing" some grains of rice from the fields by Khmer Rouge leaders. He was severely beaten, and afterward heard a rumor that he was on a list to be killed. He ran away to another village where he hoped the leader would be more lenient, but this leader sent him back to be killed. During a moment when his captors were off guard, he was able to escape into the woods and finally made it to another town, where the Khmer Rouge leader actually took pity on him. This leader, who had no sons of his own, let Mop stay with him, feeding him well for several months and, in effect, saving his life.

Subsequently, Mop was required to join another youth gang for the remainder of the Khmer Rouge regime. Mop saw many of his compatriots beaten to death or hanged by the Khmer Rouge cadres; many others died of starvation.

After the Vietnamese invasion he was reunited with his mother and older brother, but found out that his father had been executed two years earlier for allegedly serving in the army during the previous regime-though actually he had not served. Hearing this, he decided to join one of the resistance factions, the US-supported Khmer People's National Liberation Front. From 1979 to 1993 Mop was a soldier and was involved in many fierce battles with both the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese. Many of his comrades were killed or severely wounded, and he sustained minor injuries on several occasions. While he was a soldier he met the woman he married in Site II camp. Although he was usually away on military operations, he was able to start a family.

The family repatriated in 1993, and has been living in the resettlement site ever since. Unemployed, and without farmland, he has been quite depressed for the past several months, though he says that he cannot imagine times ever being worse than they were during the Khmer Rouge rule. His appetite is good, though he complains that his family does not have enough to eat. He denies having any difficulty concentrating or making decisions. He has often thought that life is not worth living, but would never kill himself because he must raise his children. He says that on occasion, he enjoys talking and socializing with friends and family. He reports a decreased energy level and thinks that he is moving slower than usual, but he thinks this is due to a viral illness. Mop does not think he has done anything to deserve his current fate, though he says that perhaps he did something wrong in a past life.

Mop continues to think frequently about Pol Pot times, though not so much as he used to several years ago. When he listens to news about Pol Pot times he has recurrent intrusive images of people being beaten to death. He has nightmares about people being beaten to death or hanged, though not as frequently as he used to. When he hears gunfire or shelling in the distance, he often feels as though Pol Pot times are going to happen all over again. He is easily startled by loud noises. Mop tries to avoid thoughts or feelings associated with Pol Pot times, but is often unable to do so.

Mop worries a lot about his future and does not think that things will get much better for him, though he continues to cope as best he can for the sake of his children.

Bou is a 34-year-old man who lives in a small village in western Cambodia with his wife, and four children ranging in age from 18 months to 10 years. He was born in this village, and has lived in it his entire life. Both of his parents as well as four brothers and sisters also live there. He has a rice farm, a small vegetable garden, a few chickens, and some banana trees. When he is not too busy on his own farm, he hires out as a laborer on a farm nearby.

Bou's mother and father are also farmers, and were born in this same village. He remembers how peaceful the village when he was a small child. He went to school up to grade five and learned to read and write. He says that things became difficult in the village even before the Pol Pot regime began because there were many battles between the Khmer Rouge and government troops. He and his family had to leave their house on several occasions as alternating factions took over his village. The family, which was previously fairly well off, was reduced to poverty as they lost many of their belongings, including farm animals, when they were forced to flee.

When the Pol Pot regime began, he was sent with a group of youths to work in another district many kilometers away. He was separated from his mother and father and was only allowed to see them once a month at the most. The Khmer Rouge leader of this youth group was actually from the same village as the youths, so he knew them and was not as cruel as most of the other group leaders. He does not remember anyone from his group being executed and though they were all extremely emaciated, he does not think anyone died of starvation. He worked very hard, but was never beaten. Only four or five people from his village were executed. [Page 2 of 7]

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