Khmer Rouge survivor 'not afraid to cry' now
Written by W. Evan Golder
July 2, 2011

Arn Chorn Pond played revolutionary songs on his flute to avoid being killed by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s. (photo W. Evan Golder)

Tourists to Cambodia today can look with horror at the stacks of skulls in display cases at the Genocide Museum, stand bewildered at the detailed records the Khmer Rouge kept of the millions they killed, or watch where they step as they walk through the Killing Fields where teeth, bits of bones and shreds of clothing are working their way out of the mass graves.

But all of this pales before the first-person stories told by Arn Chorn Pond during a Suncoast Saturday presentation. He was a teenager in the 1970s, living in a temple and going to school there, when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia.

During their five-year rule, they killed 2 million persons, including 20,000 at the temple where he lived. Forced to participate or else be killed, Pond survived by doing such things as pushing dead bodies into mass graves and playing revolutionary songs on the flute. He watched thousands of persons being killed.

“I was afraid to become friends with anyone,” he said, “because they might die tomorrow. You feel powerless. If you start to open your heart, you die.”

In particular, his heart went out to the children, thousands of whom he saw die. These included his own brother and sister, who died of starvation.

“It became very hard for me to cry,” he said.

Finally, out of desperation, he ran away, living on the run in the jungle for many months until some girls looking for firewood found him unconscious and brought him to a refugee village.

Eventually he was brought to Franconia, N.H., where he became adopted by the Rev. Peter Pond’s family. He graduated from high school and college, and eventually became convinced that Americans, particularly politicians and people of influence, needed to hear his story.

Since then he has received many international awards, spoken all over the world on behalf of Amnesty International, and initiated many programs for children in Cambodia, where he now lives.

“And now I’m not afraid to cry,” he said.