With a life story that is as heartbreaking as it is courageous, Dith Pran has become an icon among refugees and genocide survivors. Born in Cambodia in 1942, Pran's young life was an essentially ordinary middle-class existence. An ambitious student, Pran studied French and taught himself English before the end of high school - abilities which later led him to a position with the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Cambodia. Communist group Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, and Pran's life changed dramatically. He managed to get his immediate family out of the country, but, out of loyalty and a keen sense of responsibility, chose to stay behind and work as a translator for New York Times reporters. Soon, Pran decided to go into hiding within his own country. He disguised himself as a lower-class citizen and made every effort to conceal his level of education and ties to Americans in an attempt to avoid execution. After four years of enslavement, abuse, and life-threatening starvation at the hands of the new regime, Pran gained freedom when the Khmer Rouge was overthrown. Returning to his home town, he discovered that 50 members of his family had been killed in the genocide. Although he was named a village administrative chief upon his return, Pran left the country to reunite with his wife and four children, who had successfully escaped to the United States four years earlier. In 1984, the tragedy and unfathomable scope of his experiences in Cambodia were captured in the Academy Award-winning film, The Killing Fields. Two years later, Pran became a United States citizen. For the remaining years of his life, Pran continued to work as a New York Times reporter and photojournalist, and also founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project. Pran died in March 2008, but is remembered fondly as a fearless and inspirational survivor.
"All tragedies have universal implications."