Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Survivor’s tale told in German

Survivor’s tale told in German

Survivor’s tale told in German

121212 04

German journalist Alexander Goeb first met Cambodian painter and Tuol Sleng prison survivor Vann Nath in 1992.

He was on assignment, working on a radio program in Phnom Penh about the destruction of Cambodian culture under the Khmer Rouge.

They kept in touch and developed a friendship. Goeb and his wife, Bettina Eichhorn, interviewed Nath with the help of his son, Nara Lon, and helped raise money for the ageing artist during his long struggle with kidney disease.

Nath died in September last year, but his legacy lives on through the relationship with Goeb. The result is the first German translation of Nath’s memoir, A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 Prison, set to come out next May.

I Painted For My Life is the revised title of the original text, first published in 1998, but that isn’t the only addition.

Goeb plans to tack on his own written portrait of Nath, and include the funeral oration given by Cambodian film-maker Rithy Panh.

“So far, there is no German translation of the diaries in Germany. I have tried in vain for many years, but the publishers were evidently worried about the financial risk,” said Goeb, who hopes the text will introduce Nath to Germans.

“The crimes against humanity committed in the time of Pol Pot are comparable in many, if not all, aspects to the events during the Nazi period.”

Nath, born in Battambang province, was arrested by the Khmer Rouge in late 1977 and taken to Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, where his jailers commanded him to paint large portraits of Khmer Rouge strongman Pol Pot.

The prison, called S-21, was a centre of death where an estimated 14,000 people were killed. Nath was one of only a handful of Cambodians to make it out alive. In later years, he made paintings of torture at S-21 that hang in the museum today.

His experience speaks to the life of some artists under the Khmer Rouge, who were spared and put to work performing music in official arts units or, as was the case with Nath, forced to create.

“Many of them are still alive today; they still remember the Khmer Rouge songs,” Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said.

 “The Khmer Rouge were artistic too; they had their own songs, their own music, their own performances, their own film.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joe Freeman at [email protected]


  • Hun Sen’s China visit ‘a good opportunity’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Beijing on Sunday to discuss economic and trade issues presents a good opportunity for the Kingdom to strengthen Chinese ties and counter punitive measures by the West, an analyst says. The prime minister’s four-day official visit to

  • Close to the edge: Hair raising pictures from Kulen Mountain

    A new hair raising attraction on Kulen Mountain has finally opened to the public, with people flocking to the protruding cliff edge overlooking green mountainous forests to take photographs. The giant overhanging rock is situated in an area known as Mahendraparvata – an ancient city of

  • ‘Action needed to stop road deaths doubling by next year’

    Minister of Interior Sar Kheng has expressed concern over the rate of traffic accidents, saying the death toll will double by 2020 if no effective preventive measures were put in place. At least five people on average are killed on Cambodian roads every day. The interior

  • Cambodian rice to lose EU duty-free status

    The Cambodian rice sector is set to lose its duty-free export status to the EU today – its major rice market – after the European bloc decided to impose tariffs on rice from Cambodia and Myanmar to curb a surge in such imports. The decision will be