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The Khmer Rouge survivor who forgave his family's killers

Sokreaksa Himm shook hands with the killers of his parents and siblings after he became a Christian

Sokreaksa Himm (right), a survivor of the Khmer Rouge massacre meets a former member of a death squad that killed his parents and siblings in this file image

Sokreaksa Himm (right), a survivor of the Khmer Rouge massacre meets a former member of a death squad that killed his parents and siblings in this file image. (Photo: Golden Apple Silver Setting)

Published: March 15, 2023 09:47 AM GMT

Updated: March 15, 2023 09:59 AM GMT

It’s been an extremely long and painful journey to learn how to forgive the unforgivable, says a Christian who survived Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge and witnessed the massacre of his family by the genocidal regime.

“Please note that what I am sharing with you is not a formula or theory of forgiveness — it is simply my personal experience of learning how to forgive,” said Sokreaksa Himm, 59, a Cambodian-born Canadian citizen.

Himm shared his “unimaginable experience” with dozens of people at Faith Methodist Church in Kuching, the capital of Malaysia’s Sarawak state, the Borneo Post reported on March 11.

The session was titled “A Morning with Sokreaksa Himm: From Killing Fields to Forgiveness.”

“It took me many years to learn to overcome my struggles. The process of healing was a very long and painful journey,” he was quoted as saying.

The sharing was part of a series of sessions he led in several churches in the Christian-majority state in the Southeast Asian country.

It came more than four decades after Himm fled Cambodia after narrowly escaping death at the hands of Khmer Rouge soldiers, leaving behind 13 family members dead.

He said he was only 11 when the Khmer Rouge took over their city of Siem Reap, in northwestern Cambodia, in 1975.

His family was told to pack three days’ worth of food supplies and forced to move to the countryside, where they survived for two years by working as laborers.

Things changed for the worse in 1977 when his father was arrested. He and his family members were beaten with clubs and slashed with machetes before being executed one by one, and shoved into a mass grave.

Himm said he survived the massacre miraculously. He climbed out of the grave and hid in the weeds when the soldiers left.

Then, he returned to the grave and cried — three days and nights, while taking a vow to seek revenge.

The Khmer Rouge’s murderous campaign continued, and an estimated two million people perished due to mass killings, starvation, and diseases. The regime was overthrown after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979.

Himm returned to the city to live with his aunt, but his life became miserable as he suffered from mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.   

He continued his education and then joined the police force, largely to fulfill his promise of avenging the killing of his family members.

However, his plan did not materialize, and he was forced to flee to Thailand through jungles littered with mines from the civil war. He spent five years in a refugee camp before he moved to Canada.

He became a Christian in Canada after he “found faith in Christ.”  

His conversion to Christianity became a life-changing event “that gave him a whole new reason to seek the murderers: to forgive them,” according to his testimony to the Forgiveness Project, a charity that collects and shares stories from both victims/survivors and perpetrators of crime and conflict who have rebuilt their lives following hurt and trauma.

He said that through years of Bible study and communion with God, he started a new life but could not release himself from “the prison of hatred, anger, and vengeance.”

Slowly he started realizing that “forgiveness truly is divine” and so he had to find a way of forgiving those who killed his parents and siblings “before the bitterness inside destroyed me.”

“If you’ve been deeply hurt, it isn’t easy to forgive but we can learn a lesson from Jesus, who forgave those who crucified him,” he said in his testimony.

This was the beginning of his new mission. He did not just forgive those he hated, but he started traveling around the world to share his story. Kuching was his third such trip.

“I share my story hoping that people will learn from my experience, as a motivation for them to heal from their own hurt.

“I hope my story will impact their lives and they will be able to move on from there,” said the father of two.

He also visited Cambodia where he funded the building of schools and churches and offered training to local leaders.

He even located and met with two of the former Khmer Rouge soldiers who were involved in the killing of his family members.

Many people thought he would take his revenge when they first heard about the planned meeting.

“To the surprise of the men and most of the villagers, I shook hands with the two men and forgave them,” he recalled.

He authored three books, titled "The Tears of My Soul," "After the Heavy Rain", and "Shepherd of My Soul."


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