Learn About The Unfathomable Horror Of The Khmer Rouge Genocide Through Loung Ung’s Story Of Resilience And Family Bonding
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung gives readers a firsthand look into one of the darkest chapters in human history: the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.
It’s impossible to fully understand or appreciate what it was like for those people living during this time, but this account has given them a voice.
Ung offers a narrative that is raw and powerful, capturing both the unimaginable horror and extraordinary resilience of her experience.
We learn about how Cambodian society was restructured under oppressive rule, as well as how her family faced starvation.
The importance of family bonds shines through while compassion and grit overcomes immense adversity.
This story will no doubt move you with its heartbreaking reality and incredible strength.
Through Ung’s honest portrayals, readers gain an insight into one of humanity’s most tragic events – a must-read for anyone with an interest in true stories of survival and resilience in the face of extreme odds.
The Khmer Rouge Uprising: How One Family Lost Everything In A Citizens’ Day Of Terror
Loung Ung enjoyed a comfortable and privileged life in her family home in Cambodia’s capital city of Phnom Penh; they were among the few fortunate enough to have access to modern conveniences like electricity, toilets, television and telephone.
Her father was a high-ranking military official and owned a fancy Mazda sports car – something that was rare at the time.
She spent her days going to school six days a week and enjoying trips to the movies, eating out and shopping sprees.
But one day, everything changed when soldiers equipped with megaphones marched into the city.
They were members of the Khmer Rouge, a rebel army who intended to put an end to democracy in Cambodia through communism.
The soldiers hollered for people to leave the confines of the city or else face certain death.
Ung’s family had no choice but to flee their home and pile into an old truck with what little possessions they managed to grab on such short notice.
They weren’t alone; thousands of other families shared the same fate as the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia and brought an abrupt ending Loung Ung’s comfortable lifestyle forever.
Living In Fear: How A Cambodian Family Concealed Their Identities From The Khmer Rouge To Survive
Ung’s family realized that the only way to protect themselves from persecution in their new Khmer Rouge environment was to keep their true identities hidden.
With her father’s past military role in the former government, living in the city, and her mother being of Chinese-Cambodian background all becoming targets for persecution, they had to be careful to conceal who they were.
At a checkpoint, Ung’s father lied and said he was a peasant farmer while her mother claimed she sold clothes at a local market.
This ruse allowed them to pass, but it was just the beginning of their disguise.
The Khmer Rouge wanted everyone to live as peasant farmers and punishing anyone who wasn’t seen as truly Cambodian or had previously lived in the city.
For this reason, they constantly had to pretend they weren’t anything more than low-status peasants — even if realizing that would possibly mean death if discovered by the regime.
Her family knew couldn’t show any sign that challenged this idealized version of Cambodian life lest they draw attention and bring down wrath on themselves.
The Brutal Reality Of Life Under The Khmer Rouge Regime
When the Khmer Rouge took over, Ung’s family was told to abandon city life and move to a rural village for mandatory labor.
300 others were in the same boat as them and together, they all had to work from dawn till dusk planting rice and digging trenches.
However, due to shortage of food, two thirds of these people ended up starved or dead from illnesses within five months.
In order to further control society, the Khmer Rouge bifurcated its citizens into three distinct social classes: those associated with the old government or having received formal education (including Ung’s family) along with other city-dwellers formed the third-class group.
This group was subjected to a horrible fate.
Not only weren’t they given enough food supplies leading many of them to go hungry but were unfairly put under extreme strain regarding labor demands.
To make matters worse, Ung’s 11-year-old brother Kim had to get a servant job in the village chief’s household just so that his family got their hands on some scraps now and then.
He even had to face beatings by the chief’s children on most occasions—just so his family could not go hungry!
Such was the horrific reality of being enslaved under the regime of Khmer Rouge.
The Crushing Reality Of Family Separation In The Khmer Rouge Regime
Ung’s older sister, Keav, was the first of the family to be seized by the Khmer Rouge.
One morning, soldiers arrived at her rural village and informed all adults that every teenage boy and girl must be taken away from their families and sent to labor camps.
The family was horrified, but had no choice but to watch as Keav was abruptly taken away.
The last thing Ung saw before her sister left were her words: “There is no need to fear.” These brave words proved all too true as it seemed that Keav would survive, even with all odds stacked against her in the labor camp.
Unfortunately, even Keav could not fight through horrific conditions such as malnutrition and the lack of medicine that the regime inflicted upon its captives.
After a period of enduring these harsh conditions, Keav eventually succumbed to dysentery.
Despite being sent to a ‘hospital,’ with people pretending they were health professionals, there was nobody capable of saving her life – she was gone forever.
The Khmer Rouge: A Regime That Tore Families Apart And Left Survivors Scattered In Every Direction
The family of Ung were always aware that their father’s true identity could one day be discovered by the Khmer Rouge.
This was their worst nightmare, and it was realized one night in December 1976 when two soldiers showed up at the family’s hut and took him away.
Most likely he was taken to the edge of a mass grave and struck down with a hammer.
This meant the Khmer Rouge knew the truth – that her father had been an associate of the former regime.
The family quickly realized they would have to split up in order to find safety.
Her mother told her children to leave the village in different directions, saying they were orphans if anyone asked them any questions.
Although this meant leaving her young daughter Geak behind, it needed to be done in order for them all to hopefully survive.
It seemed their only hope was to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible and hope that the regime wouldn’t be able to track them all down and execute them all for their parents’ past offenses against society.
A Mother’s Difficult Decision Saves Her Children’s Lives During The Khmer Rouge Regime
Ung’s mother faced the most difficult decision in her lifetime: to send out her young children, alone and unprotected, into the world.
But this ultimately ended up saving them from tragedy.
This was only further proven when Ung, one year later, shook with fear upon waking in a work camp for orphaned children.
Fortunately, she was able to get permission to leave the camp for the day, so she was able to race back to her old village; but it was too late.
Her baby sister and mother had already been abducted by soldiers and were presumed lost forever.
But thanks to her mother’s agonizing decision and sacrifice, Ung survived the Khmer Rouge’s genocide and was eventually able to resettle in America with her brother Meng in 1980.
Against all odds, she was given an opportunity to pursue a future full of hope- all due to her mother’s brave choice.
The book First They Killed My Father provides a poignant and harrowing look at the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The story follows Loung Ung’s struggles against an oppressive, violent regime that inflicted unthinkable suffering and pain on Cambodian people for years.
It reveals how families were broken apart, with many individuals dying from starvation, disease or execution by the cruelest methods.
Yet despite these dire circumstances, Loung Ung’s family remained united throughout their ordeal, showing that human connection and love can transcend even great tragedy.
The final lesson of this powerful testimony is one of resilience and hope in the face of adversity.