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Som Sila and Lam Séna, Students

All of the children in our family studied hard, and we all liked science. My oldest brother Som Sila had a PhD in economic engineering from Yugoslavia and my second brother Lam Viry had a master’s degree in civil engineering from Russia. My third brother, Lam Séna, earned his MD in France, and my adopted brother Kan Serei Sambath has a PhD in law, also from France.

I don’t remember my two oldest brothers very well. They left Cambodia to study abroad when I was seven or eight. When I first saw Sila’s picture, I asked my mom who he was. She said, “Oh, that’s the day he left for Yugoslavia.” I don’t remember what Viry looked like at all because there is no photograph of him, nothing. My mother said Sila never talked and never married, but Viry talked a lot. He married a Russian woman and they had a daughter.

Séna finished his MD in Cambodia in 1973, then was given a scholarship to study pediatric medicine in France. He was married before he left and had two children. Séna was luckier than Sila and Viry; he had better information in France than they did in Yugoslavia or Russia, so when the Khmer Rouge announced that students living overseas should return to Cambodia and help rebuild their country, he didn’t believe them and stayed in Europe. My two other brothers must have believed what the Khmer Rouge said because both of them came home.

The rest of us had our educations interrupted by the Khmer Rouge regime. My fifth brother, Lam Taing Thorany, is very smart. He was the one who led my sisters and me to my grandparents’ village when we were evacuated from Phnom Penh. We didn’t really know how to find their village because we were taking the back roads to avoid being caught by the Angkar. But Thorany knew which way to go by touching the trees. If the tree was hot on one side in the late afternoon, he knew that the hot part was to the west.

Thorany he studied at the Faculty of Economics in Phnom Penh and was given a scholarship to study in Japan. But he said no because he wanted to study with my brother Séna in France. At first he was waiting for my brother to find him a university; then he filled out all the forms and sent in the documents. His acceptance arrived the day before the Khmer Rouge came to Phnom Penh. He was very disappointed, but that’s karma.

After the regime, when they opened Tuol Sleng and let everyone inside to see it, I went there. I saw the pictures of my brother there, and later brought my mom. She cried and cried until she was nearly in a coma. She had always thought that my brothers were still alive; even the fortunetellers said this. My brother Thorany went to Vietnam after the regime ended to try to find information on them, but learned nothing.

Lam Séna lived and practiced medicine in France until 2003 when he returned to Cambodia. Lam Taing Thorany moved to the United States in 1984, and has never come back to visit.

Som Sila was arrested by the Khmer Rouge on March 20, 1977 when he returned to Cambodia after having studied in Yugoslavia since 1964. He died at Tuol Sleng on May 5, 1977. His brother Lam Viry was arrested on October 12, 1976; he returned to Cambodia from 12 years of study in Russia. His last confession was dated March 18, 1977.