In June of 1944, Nazi troops marched into the quiet village of Oradour-sur-Glane (above) in German-occupied France and herded 642 villagers into the town square. Men were taken to barns, and women and children were locked inside the church before it was set aflame. Those who didn’t succumb to burns or suffocation were shot as they tried to escape the blaze. Historians believe the troops targeted the village after receiving intelligence that residents there were involved in the Resistance. In 1946, the French government declared the site a national memorial.
Tuol Sleng is a portrait of cruelty. Photographs of emaciated corpses dress the rooms in a macabre wallpaper, and rusty blood spatter stains the ceilings—evidence of the systematic arrest, torture, and slaughter of Cambodian civilians during the haunting reign of the Khmer Rouge. Decades after playing an integral role in one of the worst mass killings of the 20th century, the former detention center now invites tourists inside to explore its history of violence.
The scene at Tuol Sleng is not unusual. Each year, millions of so-called “dark tourists” flock to war memorials, natural disaster sites, and decommissioned prisons around the world to witness what remains of their tragic pasts.