Dith Pran (September 27, 1942 – March 30, 2008) was a Cambodian photojournalist best known as a refugee and Cambodian Genocide survivor. He also had an Academy Award-winning film "The Killing Fields". He was portrayed in the movie by Haing S. Ngor (actor).
Born in Siem Reap, Cambodia, near the Angkor Wat, his father worked as a public-works official. He learned French and English at school. The U.S. Army also hired him as a translator. After ties with the United States ended, Dith began working with a British film crew, and then as a hotel receptionist.
When Dith met New York Times reporter "Sydney Schanberg" in 1975, he taught himself how to take pictures and stayed behind in Cambodia to cover the fall of the capital Phnom Penh to the communist Khmer Rouge forces. Schanberg and other foreign reporters were allowed to leave, but Dith was not permitted to leave the country. Due to the suppression of knowledge during the Genocide, Dith hid the fact that he was educated. He pretended to not know Americans and pretended to be a taxi driver. When Cambodians were forced to work in labor camps, Dith had to endure four years of starvation and torture before Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge in December 1978. He coined the phrase "killing fields" to refer to the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he saw during his 40-mile escape. His three brothers were killed back in Cambodia.
Dith traveled back to Siem Reap, where it was learned that 50 members of his family had died. The Vietnamese had made him village chief, but Dith escaped to Thailand on October 3, 1979 after fearing that they knew of his American ties.
Dith Pran, whose ordeal at the hands of Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime was depicted in the movie "The Killing Fields," became a crusader for the restoration of his homeland.
Dith, who died on Sunday at age 65, compiled a book of recollections of survivors of Cambodia's genocide and was named a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In addition to working as a photographer for The New York Times, he ran the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project.
Following are quotes from Dith about Cambodia:
Dith: "It is important for me that the new generation of Cambodians and Cambodian Americans become active and tell the world what happened to them and their families ... I want them never to forget the faces of their relatives and friends who were killed during that time. The dead are crying out for justice."
Dith: "I see ... a pile of skulls and bones. For the first time since my arrival, what I see before me is too painful, and I break down completely. These are my relatives, friends and neighbors, I keep thinking ... It is a long time before I am calm again. And then I am able, with my bare hands, to rearrange the skulls and bones so that they are not scattered about."
Dith: "This is sad for the Cambodian people because he was never held accountable for the deaths of 2 million of his fellow countryman. The Jewish people's search for justice did not end with the death of Hitler and the Cambodian people's search for justice doesn't end with Pol Pot."
-- Upon the death of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in 1998, quoted in The Times.
"There is no doctor who can heal me. But I know that a man like Pol Pot, he is even sicker than I am. He is crazy in the head because he believed in killing people. He believed in starving children. We both have the horror in our heads."
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