Sobering Monuments Every Traveler Should Visit

Travel and tourism shouldn’t just be limited to swanky hotels and sunny beaches. In order to truly learn about the world around us, it’s necessary to visit memorials, cemeteries, and other monuments to some of the saddest, most infuriating moments in history. This list is certainly (and sadly) not exhaustive.

16th Street Baptist Church
Located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, Ala., this church was the site of a racially motivated bombing in 1963 that claimed the lives of four African-American girls aged 11 to 14. Ku Klux Klan member Robert Cambliss was later charged and found guilty of murder, and a 2000 inquiry into the crime led to two more arrests. The church still holds services to this day, and a sculpture park dedicated to the four bombing victims can be found across the street.

Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum
Between 1940 and 1945, roughly 1.1 million people lost their lives inside the network of 48 concentration camps in southwestern Poland now collectively known as Auschwitz. Most were gassed or otherwise executed by the Nazis, but many others died from starvation, infectious diseases, and barbaric medical experimentation. Two years after Auschwitz was liberated by Allied troops, the Polish government designated the site as a memorial to the victims of Nazi persecution; also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Auschwitz receives more than 1 million visitors per year.

Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre
When the Rwandan Genocide began in April 1994, 65,000 fleeing Tutsi men, women, and children sought refuge at the Murambi Technical School after local authorities informed them that food and military assistance awaited them there. However, this was nothing more than a monstrous lie. Not long after the refugees arrived at the school, the power was cut and Hutu militiamen massacred as many as 45,000 people who hid in the classrooms; most of those who escaped were later captured and killed in other locations. The school was later renamed the Murambi Genocide Memorial Centre, and is today one of Rwanda’s many monuments to the genocide.

Museum Kura Hulanda
Dubbed one of the best museums in the Caribbean by Lonely Planet, this educational center on the island of Curacao offers one of the most comprehensive looks at the brutal Atlantic Slave Trade. Roughly 11 million men, women, and children were taken by force from Africa and transported to the Americas between the 16th and 19th centuries; it’s estimated that as many as 2.4 million perished during the voyage. Museum Kura Hulanda contains a myriad of artifacts and written accounts about this ugly period of human history.

Srebrenica Genocide Memorial
Later described by UN officials as the worst European atrocity since the genocide committed during WWII, more than 8,000 Bosnians lost their lives in July 1995 at the hands of Bosnian Serb Army; nearly a quarter of the victims have yet to be identified. The Srebrenica Genocide Memorial, where 6,066 victims are buried and honored with gravestones, opened in 2003. President Clinton, who was present at the inauguration of the memorial, stated: “I hope and pray that Srebrenica will be for all the world a sober reminder of our common humanity.”

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail
Beginning in 1838, more than 16,000 Cherokee people were relocated from their ancestral homes in the American South to ‘Indian Territory’ on what is now Oklahoma. Hundred died during the walk, while thousands more died “as a result of relocation”, according to the National Park Service. The trail has been preserved in almost its entirety, winding through parts of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Tsitsernakaberd
Every year on April 24, thousands of Armenians make a pilgrimage to this memorial site in the capital city of Yerevan to pay respects to victims of the 1915 genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman government. The adjacent Armenian Genocide Museum offers a chilling look at the incident, during which 1.5 million people were killed over a span of several years. Many victims lost their lives in extermination camps, while others were subjected to cruel death marches.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Formerly a high school and then a prison facility, this museum in the heart of Phnom Penh details the brutal massacre of roughly one-third of Cambodia’s population at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime in the mid to late 1970s. The cell blocks have been preserved, and many of the cells contain photos of former prisoners; more than 17,000 people were held at Tuol Sleng during Pol Pot’s reign. Other areas of the museum contain artifacts about the Khmer Rouge, and a particularly ghastly exhibit features torture instruments used on some of the prisoners.

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