Tuol Sleng is a former high school that was transformed into one of the most infamous prisons, Security Prison 21 (S-21), in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era. The name Tuol Sleng translates to ‘hill of poison tree’ but many Cambodians the prison was called “Choul min dael chenh” – the place where people go in but never come out.
In August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge took control over Cambodia, this High School was turned into a prison and interrogation center by Khmer Rouge. They renamed the High School to Security Prison 21 (S-21) and reconstructed the building into a prison. The classrooms were converted into tiny cells and torture chambers, all windows were covered with iron bars and the buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire.
During the four years S-21 was in use over 17 000 people were imprisoned and killed at this prison. Only six people are known to have survived the prison.
In 1979 the Vietnamese Army invaded Cambodia and the prison was uncovered. When the Vietnamese Army found S-21 the prison staff had already fled leaving thousands of written documents and photographs of all the people that had been imprisoned at S-21. Altogether more than 6 000 photographs were found and these photographs are still remaining at the museum today.
In 1980, the prison was reopened by the government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea as a historical museum memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime.