Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago

One of the oldest cemeteries in Chicago is Oak Woods Cemetery, which was founded in 1854, but started burying people in 1860.  Located in the South Side of Chicago, it used to be outside of Chicago’s boundaries, but that changed as the city grew.  What I enjoyed most about my visit there was discovering the diverse range of people buried in it.

When visiting an American cemetery, one of the most valuable websites is Findagrave.com.  It is basically a cemetery database.  Anybody with an account can add graves to it.  Some people actually add graves to it for fun, since it is an invaluable resource for genealogical research.  The more famous the cemetery, the more likely most, if not all, of its graves have been added to it.  What is even more amazing is that for famous graves, people often add photos and coordinate locations, so that you can easily find a specific grave using your GPS.  Before visiting Oak Woods Cemetery, I researched which famous people were buried there, and then used Findagrave and my phone’s GPS to find them.

Perhaps what makes Oak Woods Cemetery most unique is that, according to Rick Kogan’s May 31, 2013 article in the Chicago Tribune, it contains the largest known mass grave in the Western Hemisphere.  Known as the Confederate Mound, this mass grave contains the bodies of approximately 4,200 Confederate soldiers from the American Civil War.  The reason why these Southern troops were buried in the North is because they were prisoners of war living in a military prison in Chicago called Camp Douglas.  The conditions at the camp were terrible, however, a smallpox epidemic caused the deaths of most of the Confederate soldiers buried in the mass grave.  These soldiers’ bodies were actually relocated to Oak Woods Cemetery after the Civil War, because, according to the National Park Service, the U.S. Government had to close their original burial place, due to flooding.

Oak Woods Cemetery’s Confederate Mound

In 1895, an ex-Confederate group in Chicago erected a monument over Oak Woods’ Confederate mass grave.  In response, the following year, a Southern abolitionist erected a cenotaph (empty tomb in honor of a person or group) at Oak Woods in honor of Southern abolitionists.  Oak Woods also has a smaller monument over a mass grave of Union soldiers.

The Abolitionist Cenotaph at Oak Woods Cemetery
Oak Woods Cemetery’s Monument over the Graves of Union Soldiers

Ironically, Oak Woods not only houses dead Confederate troops, but also some famous African Americans.  My favorite person buried at Oak Woods is the Olympic running champion, Jesse Owens.  He famously represented the United States in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany, where he beat a German runner, and thus disproved Hitler’s belief in the superiority of the “Aryan” race.  Other famous African Americans buried at Oak Woods include Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor, and Ida B. Wells, a journalist and civil rights activist.

The diversity of Oak Woods Cemetery does not end with Confederate soldiers and Civil Rights activists.  Not far from the Confederate Mound is a separate Jewish cemetery.  However, it is maintained by several synagogues instead of by Dignity Memorial, which maintains the rest of the cemetery.  Sadly, because of the huge expense of maintaining graves, and because the Jewish cemetery is older, the graves are in poor condition.

Oak Woods Cemetery’s Jewish Section

Last but not least, another famous person buried at Oak Woods Cemetery is Enrico Fermi.  He is the Italian scientist who created the first nuclear reactor, meaning that he helped create the atomic bomb.

Oak Woods Cemetery clearly shows that once we are dead, we are all truly equal, no matter what notions we may have about it while we are still alive. If only people could get along in life as they do in death.

You may also be interested in my post about Graceland Cemetery.

Sources and Further Reading

“Confederate Mound at Oak Woods Cemetery Chicago, Illinois.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/national_cemeteries/Illinois/Confederate_Mound_Oak_Woods_Cemetery.html (accessed May 29, 2020).

“It Tells His Life Story: Abolitionist Shaft in Oakwoods Erected by T.D. Lowther”. Chicago Tribune. June 9, 1896.

American Experience: Jesse Owens. Directed by Laurens Grant. Boston: WGBH, 2012. 

Kogan, Rick. “Camp Douglas Effort Stirs Ghosts of the Civil War.” Chicago Tribune. May 31, 2013. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-xpm-2013-05-31-ct-ae-0602-kogan-sidewalks-20130531-story.html (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oak Woods Cemetery.” Dignity Memorial. https://www.dignitymemorial.com/funeral-homes/chicago-il/oak-woods-cemetery/6248 (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oak Woods Cemetery.” Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/173554/oak-woods-cemetery (accessed May 29, 2020).

“Oakwoods Cemetery.” Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois. https://jgsi.org/OakOakwoods-Cemeterywoods-Cemetery (accessed May 29, 2020).

Arlington National Cemetery

In the United States, the last Monday of the month of May is Memorial Day, in which everyone takes off from work to remember those who died in various U.S. wars.  Originally called Decoration Day, this national holiday began in 1868 to commemorate those who died in the American Civil War (1861-1865).  However, eventually, the holiday evolved into remembering those who died in any U.S. war. 

The American Civil War also gave birth to Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, which is arguably the most famous cemetery in the United States.  Although it is currently closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic (except for those who have family members buried there), during normal situations, it provides daily bus tours to visitors.  Because of its vast size of 624 acres, with over 400,000 burials, the tour only covers several major highlights.

Perhaps one of the most important stops on the tour is Arlington House, since it is a mansion located on the cemetery grounds that predates the Civil War.  Once the Civil War began, the United States’ government took over this strategic location near the country’s capital.  However, they chose to make the land surrounding the mansion a cemetery, in order to prevent its owner from eventually returning to it.  Its owner was the Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  He inherited the house from his wife, who was herself a descendant of George Washington’s wife, Martha (from Martha’s first husband). 

During the Civil War, the U.S. government buried soldiers from any rank at Arlington.  However, as time passed, the Cemetery gained prestige, and now has a more selective process of who can be buried there.  Among the famous men buried there (as mentioned on the tour) are General John J. Pershing who served in WWI, President John F. Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Ted (the former two served in WWII, and the latter enlisted after the War), and President William Howard Taft.  President Taft never served in the military, so I am not sure how he ended up at Arlington.  However, he is the only person to have served as both the U.S. president and the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  Finally, Audie Murphy is buried at Arlington.  He was the most decorated soldier in WWII.

John F. Kennedy was actually a war hero during WWII. The 1963 film PT 109 tells that story.  After the War, Audie Murphy landed a career in Hollywood.  The 1955 film To Hell and Back is an autobiographical movie that stars him.  I have watched both films a while ago.  I do not remember them well but do remember thinking that they were mediocre but interesting films.

Perhaps the most famous site at Arlington National Cemetery is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  This tomb began in 1921, with the remains of four unidentified dead soldiers from World War I.  Unidentified soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were subsequently added to the tomb.  Volunteers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guard it 24/7, in rain or shine.  Seeing the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its guard is perhaps the highlight of the Arlington National Cemetery tour. 

Since the Cemetery is currently closed, you can download the app to have a free tour from home, or find the same information on a site called ANC Explorer:  https://ancexplorer.army.mil/publicwmv/#/arlington-national/ You might also be interested to know that during this pandemic, the Cemetery decided to open its 105-year-old time capsule.

Sources and Further Reading

Arlington: Field of Honor. Directed by John B. Bredar. New York: National Geographic, 2005.

“General Information.” Arlington National Cemetery Tours. https://www.arlingtontours.com/general-information (accessed May 24, 2020).

“History of Arlington National Cemetery.” Arlington National Cemetery. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Explore/History/History-of-Arlington-National-Cemetery (accessed May 24, 2020).

Machemer, Theresa. Arlington National Cemetery Opens Its 105-Year-Old Time Capsule.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 20, 2020. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/arlington-cemetery-opens-its-105-year-old-time-capsule-180974924/?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=socialmedia&fbclid=IwAR3C6LRxI9DqfUV_Cxd2IP4a1nvDd1zBrzsj-cHAsuPiuGhrYrBHG_Fzyhc (accessed May 24, 2020).

PT 109. Directed by Leslie H. Martinson. Burbank, California: Warner Bros., 1963.

Sorto, Gabrielle. “What You Need to Know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.” CNN. May 27, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/27/us/tomb-of-the-unknown-soldier-trnd/index.html (accessed May 24, 2020).

To Hell and Back. Directed by Jesse Hibbs. Universal City, California: Universal Studios, 1955.

Van Vleck, Jennifer Leigh. “Arlington National Cemetery and the Origins of Memorial Day.” Arlington National Cemetery. May 21, 2020. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Blog/Post/10817/Arlington-National-Cemetery-and-the-Origins-of-Memorial-Day (accessed May 24, 2020).

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

The state of Indiana annually hosts one of the most prestigious automobile races in the world: the Indianapolis 500 (more commonly known as the Indy 500).  The race’s name derives from the fact that it is held in Indiana’s state capital of Indianapolis, and that the racers drive around the racetrack 200 times, equaling a distance of 500 miles.  The Indy 500 usually occurs during the United States’ Memorial Day Weekend, so was originally scheduled for May 24, 2020 this year.  However, due to the COVID-19 situation, it has been postponed to August 23rd.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The Indy 500, along with France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race and the Monaco Grand Prix make up the Triple Crown of Motorsports.  The Indy 500 is the oldest of these three automobile races.  Because of its importance to the history of automobile racing, a Museum dedicated to the Indy 500 opened in 1956, known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.  Since 1976, the Museum has been located at the center of the actual racetrack.  Although located on site, it is run by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation, Inc., which is independent of those who run the actual Indy 500 race.

Visitors to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum must drive through the racetrack’s main entrance in order to get to the Museum’s parking lot.  Once at the Museum, visitors can choose different bus and golf cart tours around the track.  However, since I have never even watched an Indy 500 race, I did not bother paying for a tour.  Instead, my visit solely consisted of visiting the actual museum building. 

The Museum includes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, which is a large plaque that contains the names of different race car drivers.  However, the main exhibit at the museum was a room full of race car winners from different decades.  Not every Indy 500 race car winner is there, but many are there, including the first winner from 1911.  Walking around the room is like walking through an Indy 500 timeline. It is interesting to look at how race cares have changed over the years.  The Indy 500 has faithfully occurred every year except during parts of WWI (from 1917 to 1918), and WWII (from 1942 to 1945).  Other points of interest at the Museum are a temporary exhibit section, an 8-minute video about the history of the Indy 500, a race car driving simulator, and a variety of other race cars and suits.

This is the first Indy 500 winner, the Marmon Wasp, which is believed to be the first car to have a rearview mirror. Ray Harroun drove it.

Sources and Further Reading

“1911 Marmon Wasp.” Historic Vehicle Association. https://www.historicvehicle.org/national-historic-vehicle-register/vehicles/1911-marmon-wasp/ (accessed May 15, 2020).

“History of Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum.” Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. https://indyracingmuseum.org/about-us/museum-history/ (accessed May 15, 2020).

Horner, Scott. “2019 Indy 500: What You Need to Know about the Triple Crown of Motor Sports.” IndyStar. May 14, 2019. https://www.indystar.com/story/sports/motor/2019/05/14/what-is-motor-sports-triple-crown-fernando-alonso-indy-500/3574885002/ (accessed May 15, 2020).

Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant

Did you ever wonder where sewage water goes, or what happens to water that has been flushed down the toilet?  I had the privilege of visiting the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant to learn more about this.  This facility serves approximately 1.3 million residents living in both the northern part of Chicago and in seventeen of its northern suburbs in Cook County.  People can request tours to see this water reclamation plant, as well as others in the Chicago area.  However, I visited the plant during Open House Chicago, which is a weekend event that happens every October in Chicago in which different buildings, museums, etc. open up their spaces for free to the public.

Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant in Skokie, Illinois

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) began in 1889.  Among its early projects was reversing the Chicago River so that it flowed away from Lake Michigan (Chicago’s source of drinking water) rather than towards it.  As Chicago grew in population, so did its need for reclamation plants.  The Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, Illinois was built in 1930, and is among the largest in the world.  The Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant was built in 1928, and originally called the North Side Sewage Treatment Works.  It was renamed in memory of a Board Commissioner in 2012.  Although people can tour Chicago’s water reclamation plants, they cannot tour the plant that deals with Chicago’s drinking water, due to security concerns.  This is the Jardine Water Purification Plant, located north of Navy Pier.

My tour of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant began with watching a video, which provided an overview of the water reclamation process.  This video is available on YouTube.  Next, we walked over to the areas mentioned in the video.

Although we walked to this section last, the first step in the water reclamation process is to remove the largest sewage materials, which, according to my guide, can include strange things like dead rats.  The waste is first removed in the Pump and Blower Building.  From there, the largest material waste goes down a tube, southeast to the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant in Cicero, Illinois.  At that facility, waste is transformed into compost.

Inside Terrence J. O’Brien’s Pump and Blower Building

What does not go to Stickney ends up going through the rest of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  First, the water goes into circular vats, where the remaining solids sink.  The secondary treatment includes microorganisms that “eat” away the bacteria.  Lastly, the water gets pumped into an Ultraviolet Wastewater Disinfectant Facility, where UV light helps kill additional bacteria.  Completed in 2016, this is currently the largest UV disinfectant facility in the world.  Once the water treatment process has finished, the water flows into the North Branch of the Chicago River, located across the street from the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  Apparently, the water exiting the Reclamation Plant is cleaner than the River, which is believable, because the North Branch of the Chicago River never looks clean.

This is Step 2 of the water reclamation process, where the water is aerated so that the microorganisms eating the bacteria can thrive.

People riding the Yellow Line (Skokie Swift) of the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), which is the elevated train (the “L”) that connects Chicago to its northern suburb of Skokie, have a great view of the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.  Since this is an elevated train, it passes right over the facility.

Sources and Further Reading

“Facility Tours.” Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. https://mwrd.org/facility-tours (accessed May 8, 2020).

Fore, Allison. “North Side Water Reclamation Plant is Renamed to Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.” Patch. November 16, 2012. https://patch.com/illinois/chicagoheights/bp–north-side-water-reclamation-plant-is-renamed-to-76d7ad1a48 (accessed May 8, 2020).

Garcia, Evan. “World’s Largest Ultraviolet Disinfection Facility Tackles Chicago River.” WTTW. March 23, 2016. https://news.wttw.com/2016/03/23/worlds-largest-ultraviolet-disinfection-facility-tackles-chicago-river (accessed May 8, 2020).

MWRD. “Terrence O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant Video Tour.” March 11, 2019. Video, 7:41. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ4IbCBf7g0 (accessed May 8, 2020).

“One Water Spotlight: Stickney Water Reclamation Plant.” US Water Alliance. http://uswateralliance.org/resources/one-water-spotlight-stickney-water-reclamation-plant (accessed May 8, 2020).

“Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant.” Open House Chicago. https://openhousechicago.org/sites/site/terrence-j-obrien-water-reclamation-plant/ (accessed May 8, 2020).

“Our History.” Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. https://mwrd.org/our-history (accessed May 8, 2020).

Stratford-upon-Avon and The Globe Theatre

Every April 23rd is Shakespeare Day, which is a day to commemorate the famous British playwright.  William Shakespeare’s fans chose that day because he died on April 23, 1616, and may have also been born on that day in 1564 (his baptism was April 26, so it is possible).  Although the English used in his plays may not be the easiest to understand, his works have endured throughout the centuries.  Perhaps the main reason for this is because the themes found within his plays continue to remain relevant up to the present day.  Additionally, Shakespeare does a wonderful job of portraying humanity and placing you inside the minds of both villains and heroes.  Finally, whether you realize or not, Shakespearean created many phrases and words that have now entered into the English language.

If Shakespeare fans want to learn more about The Bard, they should visit his birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon, which is about a two-hour drive away from London.  Stratford-upon-Avon is a town along the River Avon, which is why “upon-Avon” is a part of its name.  This distinguishes it from other places in England with the name of Stratford.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace Home at Stratford-upon-Avon.

At Stratford-upon-Avon, you can visit Shakespeare’s boyhood home, his wife’s home, and the home of his daughter and son-in-law.  You can also see the Edward VI School, which is believed to have been Shakespeare’s school.  With the exception of the school, which is still active, the homes were restored by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust still maintains the homes and offers tours of them to visitors.  When I visited, the tour guides wore 16th century garb, and at Shakespeare’s Birthplace Home, even performed scenes from two of Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare’s supposed school, the Edward VI School at Stratford-upon-Avon.

At the home of Anne Hathaway, who was Shakespeare’s wife (not the actress of the same name), the tour guides described why Shakespeare and Anne got married.  About eight years younger than Anne, 18-year-old William had to marry Anne after impregnating her.  They ultimately had 3 children.  However, Shakespeare ended up living in London to work as an actor and playwright, while his family remained at Stratford-upon-Avon.

This is the childhood home of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife.

The home of Shakespeare’s oldest daughter, Susanna, is called Hall’s Croft, and was the largest home in town.  Because Susanna’s husband, John Hall, was a doctor, the top floor displayed medical instruments from the 16th century.  They looked frightening!

Shakespeare fans should also try to visit the reconstructed Globe Theatre in London.  The original Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, burned down.  However, in 1997, a new Globe Theatre was built, with the attempt to make it look as much like the original as possible.  It is a circular, open-air theatre, and stands near the foundations of the original Globe Theatre (another building is on the original location).  The Globe Theatre currently provides historic tours of its building, where tour guides explain what a theater experience would have been like in Shakespeare’s day.  According to my tour guide, poorer people could not afford the seats, so paid an entry fee of a penny to stand in the middle of the theatre.  My tour guide mentioned how that would have been a smelly experience, because people hardly showered then, and because people used the middle of the theatre as the public toilet.  The original Globe Theatre had woodchips on the ground, which helped to cover up the litter, but the new Globe Theatre does not replicate this feature, due to fire hazards.

This is the Millennium Bridge over the River Thames in London. The Globe Theatre is the circular, white building on the left.

Today, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre performs plays at the Globe Theatre during the warmer months of the year.  Visitors may purchase tickets to watch the play standing, just like the lower classes did during Shakespeare’s day.  However, that means that if it rains, those are the people who will get wet.

These are the seats at the Globe Theatre.

Because the Globe Theatre is currently closed, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Globe is currently streaming recordings of its older performances online: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/watch/

You can also take a virtual tour of the theatre: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/discover/about-us/virtual-tour/

As Shakespeare says in Act 2, Scene 7 of As You Like It, “We have seen better days.”  However, hopefully, by the end of this year, the Coronavirus will listen to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1, and will have “Melted into thin air.”

Shakespeare is buried at Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-upon-Avon. It might be hard to see in this photo, but you should look up his epitaph.

Sources and Further Reading

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Globe Theatre.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/Globe-Theatre (accessed May 1, 2020).

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “William Shakespeare.” https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Shakespeare (accessed May 1, 2020).

“Shakespeare Phrases.” Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/shakespeares-phrases/# (accessed May 1, 2020).

Shakespeare Trust Birthplace. https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/ (accessed May 1, 2020).

Shakespeare’s Globe. https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/ (accessed May 1, 2020).

Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day

Since April is Genocide Awareness month, and since today is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, I thought that I would discuss it.  Although you cannot currently visit a museum about the Armenian Genocide, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps there is a monument commemorating the Genocide near you.

April 24 is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, because on that day in 1915, the Ottoman Empire’s government began to arrest Armenian intellectuals, and thus officially begin the Genocide.  The causes of the Genocide were complex, and included political, national, and religious motivations.  It occurred during WWI, so the Armenians were accused of siding with the Ottoman Empire’s enemies, the Russians.  Additionally, nationalism was on the rise during that time, and the Turks and Armenians had a separate ethnicity and language.  Finally, the Ottoman Empire was primarily Muslim, while Armenians were/are Christian.  Although the numbers are contested, approximately 1.5 million Armenians died between 1914 to 1923.

I found this sign about the Armenian Genocide in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, near the Cathedral of St. James.

After the Genocide, Armenians found themselves scattered throughout the world.  Therefore, monuments commemorating the tragedy have been erected throughout the globe.  Armenia’s capital of Yerevan has a museum dedicated to the Genocide called the Armenian Genocide Museum Institute.  The only memorial I have seen dedicated to the Armenian Genocide is one that was erected in 2015 at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, Illinois (suburban Chicago), for the 100th anniversary of the Genocide.

The Armenian Genocide Memorial at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, IL.

Like most genocides, the Armenian Genocide began slowly, with the elite taken away first.  Eventually, the women, children, and elderly were rounded up and sent to the desert (although young women often had a worse fate).  Along the way, many perished, including my great-great-grandmother.  However, she was not Armenian.  She was Assyrian.  Although these numbers are also contested, at least 200,000 Assyrians and 500,000 Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire perished during the Genocide.  These smaller Christian populations found themselves in the same situation as the Armenians.  According to 1914-1918 Online: International Encyclopedia of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire’s Christian population dropped from 20% to 2% because of the Genocide.

This is one of several monuments to the Assyrian Genocide (a subset of the Armenian Genocide) found at Montrose Cemetery in Chicago. Although Turkey hardly has any Assyrians now, most Assyrians trace their families back to Turkey, and most had family who died because of the Genocide.

Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer who coined the word “genocide” and started the Genocide Convention of the U.N., was originally inspired to do his work because of the Armenian Genocide.  However, even during his time, people did not know much about the Armenian Genocide.  His contemporary, Adolf Hitler, said the following a few weeks before invading Poland and starting WWII in 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

The Armenian Genocide still continues to remain under the radar.  Ever since the 1930s, Hollywood has attempted to make a film based on The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a 1933 novel about the Armenian Genocide by a Jewish man who himself had to flee Nazi Germany.  However, whenever Hollywood began any attempts, Turkey placed pressure against it.  Hollywood did not make a film about the Armenian Genocide until over 100 years later, with 2016’s film The Promise.  Before the film was even released, it received negative ratings on IMDB, proving that many people were angry about its release.  Interestingly enough, around the same time that The Promise was released, Turkish and U.S. producers released a film about the Ottoman Empire during WWI called The Ottoman Lieutenant.  Some accuse it of being a reactionary film against The Promise, since it portrays Turkey’s stance on the Armenian Genocide, meaning that it downplayed what happened and denied that it was systematically planned.  Turkey continues to deny the Armenian Genocide. The United States only recently officially recognized it, on December 12, 2019.

This text is from the credits of the 2016 film The Promise.

April is Genocide Awareness month not only because the Armenian Genocide began then, but because the Cambodian Genocide began in April of 1975, and the Rwandan Genocide began in April of 1994. Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, often falls in April too. Below are posts that I wrote about several museums that commemorate genocides.

The National Cambodian Heritage Museum & Killing Fields Memorial

The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Sources and Further Reading

The Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute Foundation. http://www.genocide-museum.am/eng/index.php (accessed April 24, 2020).

Bagdasarian, Adam. Forgotten Fire. London: DK Publishing, 2000.

Booker, Brakkton. “Senate Passes Armenia Genocide Measure, Ignoring White House Objections.” NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/12/12/787582258/senate-passes-armenia-genocide-measure-ignoring-white-house-objections (accessed April 24, 2020).

“Genocide Awareness.” Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center. https://hhrecny.org/genocide-awareness/ (accessed April 24, 2020).

Grandma’s Tattoos. Directed by Suzanne Khardalian. Sweden: HB PeA Holmquist Film, 2011.

“Hitler and the Armenian Genocide.” The Genocide Education Project. https://genocideeducation.org/background/hitler-and-the-armenian-genocide/ (accessed April 24, 2020).

Kherdian, David. The Road from Home. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1995.

The Ottoman Lieutenant. Directed by Joseph Ruben. Newport Beach, CA: Eastern Sunrise Films, 2017.

The Promise. Directed by Terry George. New York: Film Nation Entertainment, 2016.

Ritman, Alex and Mia Galuppo. “’The Promise’ vs. ‘The Ottoman Lieutenant’: Two Movies Battle Over the Armenian Genocide.” The Hollywood Reporter. April 21, 2017. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/promise-ottoman-lieutenant-two-movies-battle-armenian-genocide-996196 (accessed April 24, 2020).

Seidenberg, Bob. “St. James Armenian Church Dedicates ‘Khachkar’ to Victims of 1915 Massacre.” Chicago Tribune. November 4, 2015. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-evr-armenian-cross-tl-1029-20151104-story.html (accessed April 24, 2020).

Suny, Ronald Grigor. “Armenian Genocide.” 1915-1918: International Encyclopedia of the First World War. May 26, 2015. https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/armenian_genocide (accessed April 24, 2020).

They Shall Not Perish: The Story of Near East Relief. Directed by George Billard. Eldred, NY: Acorne Productions, 2016.

Werfel, Franz. The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Translated by Geoffrey Dunlop. Jaffrey, NH: Verba Mundi, 2012.

Yacoub, Joseph. Year of the Sword: The Assyrian Christian Genocide, A History. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

April 21, 2020 is this year’s date for Yom HaShoah, or Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Israel commemorates the day by sounding a siren for 2 minutes throughout the country.  During that time, the entire nation is required to stop what they are doing (including driving), until the siren stops.  “Yom” means “day” in Hebrew, and “Shoah,” which is a word used several times in the Bible, means “calamity.”

Yom HaShoah always falls on the 27th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, since that marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  When the Nazis invaded Poland and started WWII on September 1, 1939, they forced all of its Jewish inhabitants to live in certain enclosed areas (ghettos) within their cities.  Since Warsaw is the capital of Poland, that city held the largest of these ghettos.  The Nazis gradually transported people from the ghettos to concentration camps, so in 1943, the remaining survivors in the Warsaw Ghetto had had enough, and revolted against the Germans.  Although the revolt was unsuccessful, it was the largest Jewish uprising during the Holocaust.  The 2002 film The Pianist depicts this tragic event.

Dr. Janusz Korczak took care of orphans in the Warsaw Ghetto. This memorial to him is in Skokie, Illinois, a town that had the largest Holocaust survivor population outside of Israel.

The two largest Holocaust museums in the world are Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C., respectively.  Israel’s museum (Yad Vashem means “a memorial and a name” and comes from Isaiah 56:5) began in 1953, five years after Israel became an independent nation.  The United States’ museum was completed forty years later, in 1993.  Both museums are free, crowded, provide tours in several languages, and incorporate the video testimonies of survivors as part of their exhibits.  Both also have amazing websites filled with primary sources such as photos, video testimonies, documents, etc.  Additionally, Yad Vashem has a database of all of the documented victims of the Holocaust, as well as a database of all of the documented “Righteous Among the Nations,” or individuals who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.  Yad Vashem has also planted a tree for every known Righteous Among the Nations, with the name of a rescuer placed on a plaque beneath each tree.  Visitors can see the trees as they walk around the Museum’s grounds.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

Perhaps two of the most visceral memorials at Yad Vashem are the Children’s Memorial and the Hall of Names.  The Children’s Memorial is a separate building on the Museum’s grounds, memorializing the approximately 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust.  It contains photos of children, and a candle placed in the center of the room, with mirrors reflecting the candle’s light throughout the space.  The Hall of Names contains books of the names of victims, as well as a domed ceiling with the photos of many victims spread across it. (The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum also has a room full of victims’ photos.) However, Yad Vashem’s main exhibit ends in hope. It ends with a large window overlooking the city of Jerusalem, which is a way of showing visitors that Hitler’s goal of annihilating the Jews failed.

The most visceral display at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is the shoe collection.  It displays 4,000 shoes, on long-term loan from Majdanek concentration camp near Lublin, Poland.  When you hear that six million Jews died during the Holocaust, it just sounds like statistics.  However, when you see 4,000 different types of shoes piled on top of each other, the reality that each one belonged to a unique individual who died makes the numbers sink in more.

Quote located on one of the walls of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

I have also written about the third largest Holocaust museum in the world: The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.

Sources and Further Reading

“The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.” Yad Vashem. https://yvng.yadvashem.org/index.html?language=en (accessed April 18, 2020).

Gilad, Elon. “Shoah: How a Biblical Term Became the Hebrew Word for Holocaust.” Haaretz. May 1, 2019. https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/holocaust-remembrance-day/.premium-shoah-how-a-biblical-term-became-the-hebrew-word-for-holocaust-1.5236861 (accessed April 18, 2020).

“The Righteous Among the Nations Database.” Yad Vashem. https://righteous.yadvashem.org/ (accessed April 18, 2020).

“Yom Hashoah.” BBC. April 27, 2011. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/holydays/yomhashoa.shtml (accessed April 18, 2020).