25th Sep, 2020

A lost wallet - how one man survived the killing fields of Cambodia

Ross Crawford 29th Jan, 2019 Updated: 30th Jan, 2019

A LOST wallet saved the life of the man who gave the keynote address at this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day event in Redditch.

As his family fled the terror of murderous Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, Sokphal Din lost his wallet in the rush.

“The wallet contained photographs of his family and his student card,” said Councillor Bill Hartnett, who helped host the genocide survivor.

“It was a stroke of fortune because if the authorities had found the student card he would have been considered ‘educated’ and would have been killed.”

Close to two million citizens – almost a quarter of the population – are estimated to have died in the killing fields of Cambodia during Pol Pot’s four year reign of terror.

In the end he was only overthrown by the invading Vietnamese Army in 1979.

“Sokphal’s family had been well to do but things were so bad people were giving away gold in exchange for grains of rice – they used paper money for toilet paper and sanitary towels,” said Coun Hartnett.

Holocaust Memorial Day in Redditch was last Saturday, January 26 on the theme ‘torn from home’.

It began with a video message from last year’s HMD speaker Carl Wilkins, who had spoken about the genocide in Rwanda.

He then gave a handover to Sokphal who spoke eloquently about the horrors of genocide and how everything must be done to prevent such acts happening.

He told how he and his family survived on a daily ration of a bowl of water rice soup with salt, and how his most precious possession was a spoon.

Highly educated, his dream was to become a doctor, but instead the family had to flee until eventually together with his mother and sister they reached Thailand and safety.

He now speaks out against genocide, works as a translator and part time for supermarket giant Sainsburys.

“This year programme was one of the most diverse I can recall with drama from Ipsley Middle School, a choir from Matchborough First School , a traditional Indian dance from Kerala Cultural Association, a Polish youth choir, Redditch Gospel Choir, the It’s A Sign choir and readings from Studley High School students,” said Coun Harnett.

Guests included the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire Andrew Grant, who gave one of the readings, and the Mayor of Redditch Councillor Juliet Brunner.

“I would like to thank all who participated in and attended our Holocaust Memorial Day,” said Coun Hartnett.

Borough Mayor Coun Juliet Brunner, who chaired the Holocaust Memorial Day steering committee which organised the event in Redditch said: “It was wonderful to have the representatives from our communities supporting this commemoration, including our children whose performances were exceptional.

”It was most humbling to hear our guest speaker Sokphal Din sharing his experiences of the Cambodian genocide.”

The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire Andrew Grant added: “What a memorable event and so professionally put together in remembrance of the appalling Nazi holocaust whilst also remembering other atrocities throughout the world with heartrending stories from speakers and performances.

“It was a very moving and memorable occasion highlighting such detestable events.

Congratulations to the Councillors and Community of Redditch for putting such a memorable event together. Showing tolerance to all people of race, religion or colour.”

Rachel Maclean MP said: “It may feel like our country is divided, but what united everyone in Redditch on Saturday was our determination to remember the victims and also to pay tribute to the survivors of the Holocaust.

“It was a moving and heart-warming service at the Town Hall involving our diverse and welcoming community.”

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