The donation this week of 400 kg of documents from Israel Young, an American who lives in Stockholm, to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, offers evidence not only of the Khmer Rouge’s role on the world stage, but also of the connections between Democratic Kampuchea and its sympathizers worldwide.
Israel Young’s journey from the folk music scene in New York City’s Greenwich Village in the 1960s to the Sweden-Kampuchea Friendship Association in Stockholm was driven, he said, by his opposition to the war in Vietnam.
In New York, Young ran the Folklore Center—a hub of the folk revival movement that US singer Bob Dylan described as “an ancient chapel, like a shoebox sized institute” in his book, “Chronicles.” In 1961, Young produced Dylan’s first concert.
In New York, Young, who was active in the anti-war movement, met Hing Sokhom, an economics professor who headed a group of Cambodian expats supporting then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s government in exile during the Lon Nol regime.
“I loved [Hing Sokhom],” Young, now 78, said by phone from Stockholm on Tuesday night. “I helped convince him to go back to Cambodia.”
It was advice he would forever regret.
“I got a letter from New York: ‘Izzy, I’m going back to build up my country,’” he recalled of Hing Sokhom. “The next time I saw him he was in a book of photographs from Tuol Sleng.”
Young moved to Stockholm in 1973, and through his anti-war activities fell in with the Swedish Kampuchea Friendship Association, which in 1978 sent a delegation to Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea.
“Everybody in that group were solemn communists, except me,” Young said. “I’m a liberal.”
Young is now relieved that he was not picked to go with the four-person delegation.
“I would have gotten killed before Malcolm Caldwell,” he said, referring to the British writer who traveled to Cambodia and was murdered in 1978. “I would have asked questions,” he said.
Young said he had a chance to ask at least one of those questions in 1979, when Ieng Thirith, the wife of Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, visited Stockholm.
He asked her why all his Cambodian friends who had returned to build up their homeland had vanished. “She said, in perfect, strained English, as if she had been practicing it in front of a mirror: Yes, there were excesses,” he recalled.
Young says he has even more documents that he’d consider adding to the DC-Cam collection: “Interesting things, buried, buried,” he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.