As Yun Bin scaled atop a pile of corpses in order to climb out of a well he had been clubbed into by Khmer Rouge soldiers, he asked the souls of the dead beneath him for help.
“I asked the souls of those who died in the well to help me survive. I asked for their souls to help me to get out of the well and I promised to them that I would find justice for them,” the 60-year-old rice farmer told the Khmer Rouge tribunal during a morning of harrowing testimony on Monday.
On May 25, 1978, as purges in the Khmer Rouge’s East Zone intensified amid suspicions about the region’s alleged links to Vietnam, Mr. Bin, then part of a mobile work unit, was called to a “study session” in what is now Tbong Khmum province.
But when he arrived, he was tied up and thrown onto a horse-drawn cart with about 40 people, some of whom were shirtless and covered in blood, he told the court.
About 15 minutes later, Mr. Bin said, he was kicked from the cart and marched to a nearby well—where a massacre occurred.
“When we arrived at the execution site, they beat me with an ax and I lost consciousness, and during unconsciousness my feeling was that I ran to tell my parents that in fact they did not take me to study; they took me to be executed,” he said.
“A while later, I regained my consciousness and there were four or five people on top of my body, and… I saw many dead people all around me. Some of them, their bodies were swollen and with worms.”
Even as he regained consciousness in the well, Mr. Bin said, bodies were still falling around him. And while most were dead, some people were screaming for their parents. To silence them, the Khmer Rouge soldiers threw a grenade into the well, he said.
“They shouted at those who still survived in the well: ‘Why [do] you keep shouting?’ So the Khmer Rouge soldier threw a grenade into the well to finish off those who were still alive,” he said.
“After that first grenade blasted, there were still a few in the well who still survived so the Khmer Rouge threw another grenade into the well and then there was silence.”
Uninjured by the explosions—and the only survivor of the massacre—Mr. Bin piled the bodies on top of each other and tried to climb out of the well. After numerous attempts, he finally clambered to the surface.
Managing to evade local cadre, he trekked through banana plantations while suffering from infested head wounds, Mr. Bin said. He eventually made it to his family home in the East Zone, where he was nursed back to health before fleeing into the forest with his father when the Khmer Rouge evicted the village. His father later died of illness while they were hiding in the forest together.
Asked about the toll the horrors had taken on his life, Mr. Bin said he was still reeling from the memories today.
“All the people who were taken away with me all died except me alone who survived,” he said. “I was sorrowful and terrified.”