Originally the Toul Svay High School, from 1975 to 1979 the disturbing Toul Sleng Genocide Museum was the notorious Khmer Rouge prison known as S-21, through whose gates more than thirteen thousand people (up to twenty thousand according to some estimates) passed to their deaths. S-21 was an interrogation centre designed for the educated and elite: doctors, teachers, military personnel and government officials. The regime was indiscriminate in its choice of victims; even babies and children were among those detained, and subsequently slaughtered, to eliminate the possibility of them one day seeking to avenge their parents’ deaths.
Beyond the gates, still surrounded by high walls and ringed by barbed wire, an eerie silence descends on the complex of four buildings, juxtaposing harshly against the palm and frangipani trees in the former school playground. Up to 1500 prisoners were housed here at any time, either confined in tiny cells or chained to the floor or each other in the former classrooms.