>Remembering the ‘Killing Fields’


Enterprise/CHRIS GOODENOW (click to enlarge)
Titonath Dith (right) at home in Lynnwood with his wife, Antoinette Jo Santoro Dith (top left) and their sons, 3-month-old Nathan Pran Dith (bottom-left) and 3 1/2-year-old Sydney Franchesco Dith (center), Monday, May 12. His father, Dith Pran, is pictured to the bottom-left in a photo taken around 1980 after he started working for the New York Times. To the right, is an early picture of Titonath’s mother and siblings.

Lynnwood man plans genocide foundation in honor of his late father

Enterprise editor

His father survived death camps in Cambodia and went on to become a spokesman for its victims.
Now, Lynnwood resident Titonath Dith wants to honor his father’s memory by creating a memorial to Cambodian victims of genocide.
“It’s so easy for people to not want to think about it because it’s so horrific,” said Titonath, 39. “We always say ‘it should never be forgotten.'”
An Edmonds physical therapist, Titonath was a child when he boarded the last evacuating helicopter out of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s besieged capital city, April 17, 1975, with his mother, brothers and sister.His father, Dith Pran, had worked as a freelance photographer and translator with former New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg, who covered the Vietnam War. When the communist Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot took control of Phnom Penh in 1975, Schanberg and other journalists were forced to leave but Dith was forced to stay behind. He spent the next five years in labor camps before escaping to Thailand in the fall of 1979. Dith went on to work as a staff photographer with the New York Times.
The 1984 film “The Killing Fields” was based on Schanberg’s book “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” about his experiences with Dith, who died of pancreatic cancer March 30.
Titonath, who moved to Lynnwood eight years ago after visiting his brother in the Puget Sound area, said he spoke to his father about starting a genocide memorial shortly after his father’s diagnosis in January. He plans to call it the Dith Pran Foundation and it will likely be located in Washington, D.C.
“I didn’t give him the specifics; I just told him I’d like to form a foundation,” Titonath said. “He was happy.”
Titonath has enlisted the support of his sister Hemkarey, his brother Titony Dith and Schanberg’s nephew, David Barron. Schanberg, who gave the eulogy at Dith’s funeral, will serve as president of the board of directors for the nonprofit that will be formed, Titonath said.
“I think there are a lot of ideas floating around,” Barron said. “The main idea was really to empower the Cambodian people in a lot of ways, potentially in terms of setting up scholarships for educational purposes. In order for (genocide) not to happen again, you have to educate people.”
A long-term vision, Barron and Titonath say, is to expand the memorial into a museum about global genocide.
Genocide in Darfur, the Balkans, the Holocaust and others all may have a place within that new museum, Titonath said. In the shorter term, however, his focus is on a memorial of the Cambodian genocide under Pol Pot, whose regime was responsible for the deaths of nearly 2 million people.
Cambodia has a memorial, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Pehn, the site of a high school turned death camp. “This is where they executed dozens of people,” Titonath said. He noted that the Khmer Rouge killed families intentionally “because they didn’t want the children to grow up seeking revenge.”
Titonath knew at an early age that he wanted to be a physical therapist, largely because he knew too well how Cambodians suffered from war.
In 1989, he worked on public health projects in his native country and longed to bring orthotics and other assistive devices to Cambodians who’d lost limbs because of land minds.
Next June, he’ll fly to Washington, D.C., to join family and friends for a ceremony in the Buddhist tradition: a 100-day memorial for his father.
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