I attended a very moving presentation at the Minnesota Humanities Center on April 17. The title of the event was “April 17 – Year Zero to Infinity, the Cambodian Experience.” Many of the people there were either Cambodians who made it to America, had been in the military or had been providing services to the refugees.
On April 17, 1975, Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge. During the five years of fighting, approximately 10% of Cambodia’s 7 million people died. After the fall, hundreds of thousands died or were murdered. One person present said ” April 17 is the day our hearts dropped to the bottom.”
Several people shared their stories of flight and refugee camps. One presenter said he was ten years old at the time when he and his family started to flee. Their father had already been executed by the communists. He was twenty-three when he arrived in Minnesota. People were trying to make it to Thailand, but he said even the Thais were complicit in cruelty to his group.
While the stories are dramatic, it seems that the survivors did not often talk about about their experiences. There is an effort now to capture those stories.