A Day in the Lives of Monsieur et Madame Mak Sean

 

They had her kneeling on the shore facing the water. “I was waiting for the blow” recounted my grandmother of that mid-December day in 1978. 

A few days before, grandma and several other women in the village were ordered to the river to make prohok, as it was prohok season. The morning of that fateful day, one of the women was granted permission to go home later in the day. Grandma stashed away three fish carcasses to send along with the woman to my mother and her siblings. Mom and her brothers could salt and grill them to eat in the morning, all in secret of course. The village official found out and the security force brought grandma to the shoreline. As recounted later by survivors, one method of single killing, if one lived near a river, was to bash the head or slash the throat of the victim and push him/her into the water (bullets were too valuable). Another method was to take the victim to the middle of the river and drown him/her (happened to the daughter of our family’s friends, her father watched quietly from the shore). 

With grandma kneeling on shore, the Khmer Rouge cadre listed her crimes and the punishments. “Stealing from angkar makes you an enemy” and “eating in secret makes you an enemy of angkar” and many more that grandma couldn’t quite recall. All she remembered was the feeling of resignation, that she resigned herself to the fact that they were going to kill her soon, that she will never see her husband and remaining children again. But then the cadre said she considered my grandparents good people so she let grandma go home for the day, but to report back to work the next morning. 

Since early December everyone could hear the sound of fighting in the distance. The sound kept getting closer and closer as December went on. Grandpa, who was assigned to guard the crops every night along with one village officer, had heard bits and pieces of news on the officer’s radio. And the news was not good for angkar. He believed things were about to change very soon. In the morning when grandma was supposed to go back to the worksite, grandpa told her not to go back yet. Grandpa and his friend (friendship formed in hardship) came back from the worksite about midday and told grandma that the Khmer Rouge security force was gone from the village. He was afraid that if they came back, they would kill everyone. With children and family members all gathered along with some rice and meat scavenged from the kitchen, two families made their escape back to Phnom Penh. 

Grandpa was right. After the dust settled, they found out that the security force did indeed come back later that night. My family estimated that there were about 400 people in the village, not counting the base people (people already there before the Khmer Rouge took over), and only around 10 non-intact families survived.

M. et Mme Mak Sean

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 7 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Thank you, LC. Excellent post.

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    LC: . But then the cadre said she considered my grandparents good people so she let grandma go home for the day, but to report back to work the next morning. 

    Did your grandparents have an ideas as to why she didn’t do the usual?  (Was this cadre alone, or part of a group?) 

    In any case, I’m glad they made it through and out, and that you are here to tell us about it. 

    • #2
  3. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Harrowing tale from the front lines when all humanity ceases.

    It must have been a journey still fraught with danger back to Phnom Penh. Glad they made it.

    I have never been to Phnom Penh or the Khmer Republic, but the videos I have seen of the atrocity museum are sickening. 

    • #3
  4. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Savages. 

    • #4
  5. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    A barbaric regime, a system of terror all the way down, was prepared to kill a woman for taking two fish for her family to eat. It sounds like the local female top thug was most likely deterred by the fear of near term consequences from a righteously vengeful population empowered by a rival group with guns.

    This harrowing tale is part of our Group Writing Series under the August 2021 Group Writing Theme: “A day in the life.” Stop by to sign up for the August theme: “A day in the life.”

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #5
  6. LC Member
    LC
    @LidensCheng

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    LC: . But then the cadre said she considered my grandparents good people so she let grandma go home for the day, but to report back to work the next morning.

    Did your grandparents have an ideas as to why she didn’t do the usual? (Was this cadre alone, or part of a group?)

    In any case, I’m glad they made it through and out, and that you are here to tell us about it.

    When my family arrived at that village, they questioned grandpa and he said he was a factory worker. He found out shortly that one of his employees ended up at the same village as well. His employee told him that he identified grandpa and said they were both factory workers. He also told grandpa that the village chief used to deliver raw materials to the paper mill where grandpa managed in the 1960s. Though Mak Sean is not a unique Khmer name, my grandfather looked quite striking in his younger days. Not at all Khmer-like, not a look easily forgotten. The chief must have known or seen grandpa before. When my aunt died from starvation a few months into the regime, the chief and a few other villagers came and wrapped her body with clean cloth and took her body to be buried. A bit of kindness shown to my family. About two months after that, someone (we knew who that person was) identified my great-uncle. So they took him away, followed by his wife and daughter a few months later. Grandma said her and grandpa were waiting their turn as that was the natural order of things. And maybe follow by the children, too. But their turn never came. This is just all speculation.
    Grandma always says grandpa’s goodness was the reason they survived.

    • #6
  7. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    A story well told, thank you LC. As the academy, and some of our elected representative’s pursue socialism I cannot help notice that none of them purchase, and then retire to a beach home in North Korea.

    • #7