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I didn’t know my paternal grandfather. I didn’t know how he looked like. No pictures of him had survived. He was killed along with his eldest son by the Khmer Rouge shortly after Pol Pot came to power. Under a regime which anonymity was the way to survive, returning to your birthplace was a big mistake. Unfortunately, that was exactly what my paternal family and many other Cambodians did when the Khmer Rouge evacuated residences out of the capital and other urban cities.
As an educated man, my grandfather was a prime candidate for eradication and having an older brother who was on the Khmer Rouge’s traitor hit-list guaranteed his execution. Miraculously, my father along with his mother and all three sisters were left alive. I didn’t really know my paternal grandmother either. She passed away when I was very young. Of my paternal family, I know just bits and pieces. My father won’t revisit old memories. In a way, he’s more like my maternal grandfather than he thought. Until the day he passed away three years ago, my maternal grandfather hardly ever talked about the past, especially what happened to my family under the Khmer Rouge’s hellish regime.
Of my maternal family, I know the general tidbits such as the one time my mom was shot during an air raid one evening in 1971 and the subsequent visit from Vietcong fighters to my family’s home in the early morning after. I also know of the time when my grandfather and his friends/coworkers were escaping the Khmer Rouge fighters and got lost in the jungle sometime in late 1970.
What remains of my maternal family, only my mother and grandmother can recall the past with any clarity. My uncle was too young to remember much, only the feeling of being hungry all the time stays with him. My aunt didn’t make it, having died from starvation several months in; she was not yet five. My other uncle, who saved my mom’s life time after time and whose gutsy life could fill page after page, passed away almost two decades ago.
I have never taken any effort into writing down their memories. However, I believe it’s important that I do sooner than later. It’s important for the sake of all my relatives that died in the war, all my relatives that suffered and survived the war, and my younger cousins who are so innocent to such horrors.