A World Remembers: Memorials honor COVID-19's 5 million dead

  • FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, Zoe Nassimoff, of Argentina, looks at white flags that are part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's temporary art installation, "In America: Remember," in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington. Nassimoff's grandparent who lived in Florida died from COVID-19.

    FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, Zoe Nassimoff, of Argentina, looks at white flags that are part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's temporary art installation, "In America: Remember," in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington. Nassimoff's grandparent who lived in Florida died from COVID-19. Associated Press

  • Volunteers work on the COVID-19 memorial wall in Westminster in London, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Bereaved Families for Justice have been re-painting the faded hearts on the tribute and adding inscriptions for people who can not get to the wall.

    Volunteers work on the COVID-19 memorial wall in Westminster in London, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Bereaved Families for Justice have been re-painting the faded hearts on the tribute and adding inscriptions for people who can not get to the wall. Associated Press

  • A woman walks with her dog through the Wood of Memory, created in remembrance of those who have died of COVID-19, at the Parco della Trucca, in Bergamo, Italy, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

    A woman walks with her dog through the Wood of Memory, created in remembrance of those who have died of COVID-19, at the Parco della Trucca, in Bergamo, Italy, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. Associated Press

  • Rocks with the names of victims of COVID-19 cover the ground at a monument outside the government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

    Rocks with the names of victims of COVID-19 cover the ground at a monument outside the government house in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2021, file photo, Fernanda Natasha Bravo Cruz, center, who lost her father to COVID-19 cries supported by her mother, Noemia Bravo Cruz, second right, and by friends Cleo Manhas, left, and Clara Marcia, right, during a protest with flags representing coronavirus victims in Brazil and against the government's health policies outside Congress in Brasilia, Brazil. Activists and families placed 600 flags, each with a person's name, to represent the 600,000 death toll, announced the previous day.

    FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2021, file photo, Fernanda Natasha Bravo Cruz, center, who lost her father to COVID-19 cries supported by her mother, Noemia Bravo Cruz, second right, and by friends Cleo Manhas, left, and Clara Marcia, right, during a protest with flags representing coronavirus victims in Brazil and against the government's health policies outside Congress in Brasilia, Brazil. Activists and families placed 600 flags, each with a person's name, to represent the 600,000 death toll, announced the previous day. Associated Press

  • A Muslim woman uses her phone as she walks by names of health care workers who died of COVID-19 engraved on Pandemic Heroes Monument, in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The monument will be inaugurated on Nov. 10, which marks National Heroes day in Indonesia.

    A Muslim woman uses her phone as she walks by names of health care workers who died of COVID-19 engraved on Pandemic Heroes Monument, in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The monument will be inaugurated on Nov. 10, which marks National Heroes day in Indonesia. Associated Press

  • With the Washington Monument in the background, people look at white flags that are part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's temporary art installation, "In America: Remember," in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. The installation consists of more than 630,000 flags.

    With the Washington Monument in the background, people look at white flags that are part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's temporary art installation, "In America: Remember," in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. The installation consists of more than 630,000 flags. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2021, file photo, portraits of doctors who died from COVID-19 are displayed in Lima, Peru.

    FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2021, file photo, portraits of doctors who died from COVID-19 are displayed in Lima, Peru. Associated Press

  • A photograph of Anand Babu Kesarwani, who died of COVID-19, hangs on a wall of his hardware shop in Chhitpalgarh village, in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021.

    A photograph of Anand Babu Kesarwani, who died of COVID-19, hangs on a wall of his hardware shop in Chhitpalgarh village, in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. Associated Press

  • Galina Artyomenko, a local journalist and influential behind the monument, looks at 'Sad Angel', a memorial for St. Petersburg's medical workers who died of coronavirus in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021.

    Galina Artyomenko, a local journalist and influential behind the monument, looks at 'Sad Angel', a memorial for St. Petersburg's medical workers who died of coronavirus in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. Associated Press

  • People visit artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's "In America: Remember," a temporary art installation made up of white flags to commemorate Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.

    People visit artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's "In America: Remember," a temporary art installation made up of white flags to commemorate Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Associated Press

  • Women stand at a memorial outside the government house covered with small rocks to remember the victims of COVID-19 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021.

    Women stand at a memorial outside the government house covered with small rocks to remember the victims of COVID-19 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. Associated Press

  • White flags representing people who have died of COVID-19 in Brazil cover a field as part of a protest against the government's health policies outside the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Activists said they placed 600 flags, each with a person's name, to represent the 600,000 death toll, announced the previous day.

    White flags representing people who have died of COVID-19 in Brazil cover a field as part of a protest against the government's health policies outside the National Congress in Brasilia, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Activists said they placed 600 flags, each with a person's name, to represent the 600,000 death toll, announced the previous day. Associated Press

  • A person reaches out to touch a panel of the COVID Memorial Quilt, part of a project by Madeleine Fugate to honor and remember all those lost to COVID-19, displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Fugate's memorial quilt started out in May 2020 as a seventh grade class project. Inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which her mother worked on in the 1980s, the then-13-year-old encouraged families in her native Los Angeles to send her fabric squares representing their lost loved ones that she'd stitch together.

    A person reaches out to touch a panel of the COVID Memorial Quilt, part of a project by Madeleine Fugate to honor and remember all those lost to COVID-19, displayed at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Fugate's memorial quilt started out in May 2020 as a seventh grade class project. Inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which her mother worked on in the 1980s, the then-13-year-old encouraged families in her native Los Angeles to send her fabric squares representing their lost loved ones that she'd stitch together. Associated Press

  • A mother and child look at ribbons tied to the perimeter fencing of the St. James Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. Each ribbon represents the more than 88,900 people who have died from the virus in the country.

    A mother and child look at ribbons tied to the perimeter fencing of the St. James Presbyterian Church in Johannesburg, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. Each ribbon represents the more than 88,900 people who have died from the virus in the country. Associated Press

  • FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, Zoe Nassimoff, of Argentina, holds a white flag that is part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's temporary art installation, "In America: Remember," in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington. Nassimoff wrote on the flag in memory of her grandparent who lived in Florida and died from COVID-19.

    FILE - In this Sept. 17, 2021, file photo, Zoe Nassimoff, of Argentina, holds a white flag that is part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg's temporary art installation, "In America: Remember," in remembrance of Americans who have died of COVID-19, on the National Mall in Washington. Nassimoff wrote on the flag in memory of her grandparent who lived in Florida and died from COVID-19. Associated Press

  • A worker engraves the name of a health worker who died of COVID-19 on Pandemic Heroes Monument, in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The monument will be inaugurated on November 10, which marks National Heroes day in Indonesia.

    A worker engraves the name of a health worker who died of COVID-19 on Pandemic Heroes Monument, in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. The monument will be inaugurated on November 10, which marks National Heroes day in Indonesia. Associated Press

  • Mike Baronick reacts after seeing the name of his wife, who died from COVID-19, written on a rock during his first visit to the Rami's Heart COVID-19 Memorial in Wall Township, N.J., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. The memorial, which started out on a Jersey shore beach made of shells and rocks, has found a permanent home at Allaire Community Farm. Started by Rima Samman and named after her brother Rami, who was killed by the coronavirus, it has grown to more than 4,000 victims' names, with dozens of new names added every week.

    Mike Baronick reacts after seeing the name of his wife, who died from COVID-19, written on a rock during his first visit to the Rami's Heart COVID-19 Memorial in Wall Township, N.J., Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. The memorial, which started out on a Jersey shore beach made of shells and rocks, has found a permanent home at Allaire Community Farm. Started by Rima Samman and named after her brother Rami, who was killed by the coronavirus, it has grown to more than 4,000 victims' names, with dozens of new names added every week. Associated Press

  • A volunteer re-paints a faded heart on the COVID-19 memorial wall in Westminster in London, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Bereaved Families for Justice have been re-painting the faded hearts on the tribute and adding inscriptions for people who can not get to the wall.

    A volunteer re-paints a faded heart on the COVID-19 memorial wall in Westminster in London, Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Bereaved Families for Justice have been re-painting the faded hearts on the tribute and adding inscriptions for people who can not get to the wall. Associated Press

  • A Brazilian flag hangs on a clothesline on Copacabana beach amid white scarves that represent those who have died of COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. The action was organized by the NGO "Rio de Paz" to protest the government's handling of the pandemic as the country nears a total of 600,000 COVID-19 related deaths.

    A Brazilian flag hangs on a clothesline on Copacabana beach amid white scarves that represent those who have died of COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. The action was organized by the NGO "Rio de Paz" to protest the government's handling of the pandemic as the country nears a total of 600,000 COVID-19 related deaths. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/30/2021 7:16 AM

BERGAMO, Italy -- The Italian city that suffered the brunt of COVID-19's first deadly wave is dedicating a vivid memorial to the pandemic dead: A grove of trees, creating oxygen in a park opposite the hospital where so many died, unable to breathe.


Bergamo, in northern Italy, is among the many communities around the globe dedicating memorials to commemorate lives lost in a pandemic that is nearing the terrible threshold of 5 million confirmed dead.

 

Some have been drawn from artist's ideas or civic group proposals, but others are spontaneous displays of grief and frustration. Everywhere, the task of creating collective memorials is fraught, with the pandemic far from vanquished and new dead still being mourned.

Memorial flags, hearts, ribbons: These simple objects have stood in for virus victims, representing lost lives in eye-catching memorials from London to Washington D.C., and Brazil to South Africa.

The collective impact of white flags covering 20 acres on the National Mall in the U.S. capital was literally breathtaking, representing the more than 740,000 Americans killed by COVID-19, the highest official national death toll in the world.

One honored 80-year-old Carey Alexander Washington of South Carolina, who was vaccinated and contracted the virus while still working as a clinical psychologist in March. His 6-year-old granddaughter Izzy collapsed in grief when she found her ''papa's' flag -- a moment captured by a photographer and shared on Twitter.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

'Families like mine, we're still grieving,' said Washington's daughter, Tanya, who traveled from Atlanta to see the memorial. 'It was important to witness that honor that was being given to them. It gave a voice to all our loved ones that have been lost.'


A memorial wall in London similarly conveys the scale of loss, with pink and red hearts painted by bereaved loved ones on a wall along the River Thames. Walking the memorial's length without pausing to read names and inscriptions takes a full nine minutes. The hearts represent the over 140,000 coronavirus deaths in Britain, Europe's second-highest toll after Russia; like elsewhere in the world, the actual number is estimated to be much higher:160,000.

'It shocks people,'' said Fran Hall, a spokeswoman for the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. She lost her husband, Steve Mead, in September 2020, the day before his 66th birthday. 'Every time we are here, people stop and talk to us, and quite often they are moved to tears as they are walking by, and thank us.'

In Brazil's capital, relatives of COVID-19 victims planted thousands of white flags in front of Brazil's Congress in a one-day, emotion-laden action meant to raise awareness of Brazil's toll of more than 600,000, the second-highest in the world.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And in South Africa, blue and white ribbons are tied to a fence at the St. James Presbyterian Church in Bedford Gardens, east of Johannesburg, to remember the country's 89,000 dead: each blue ribbon counting for 10 lives, white for one.

How victims of war, atrocities and even health crises are remembered has evolved through the ages. Victorious statues of generals gave way to tombs of the unknown soldier after World War I, in a bid to remember the sacrifices of ordinary soldiers. Paris' Arche de Triomphe was one of the first.

'World War I was a benchmark, which is particularly relevant because it was followed by the 1918 flu pandemic,' said Jennifer Allen, an assistant professor of history at Yale University who has studied memorial culture.

That pandemic seems to have been little memorialized, partly because of the keen focus on the war dead. 'It was a period of mass death," Allen said. "That is why we talk about the lost generation.'

Holocaust memorials were the next major testaments to mass killing, Allen said. They span big, traditional monuments like Berlin's Holocaust Memorial, and more personalized tributes where victims are named, like the so-called Stumbling Stones outside buildings were Jews lived before the Holocaust.

Not since the AIDS quilt made its way across the United States, with loved ones adding squares for people who had succumbed, has a health crisis been the object of memorials of a scale like those now honoring the COVID-19 dead. The quilt has grown to nearly 50,000 squares, representing more than 105,000 individuals.

Memorials like the AIDS quilt and the Stumbling Stones have helped solidify a trend toward grass-roots remembrances and the desire to honor victims as individuals, Allen said. Both are emerging in the COVID-19 memorials.

'We want to get to the individuals, who make up all of the millions of deaths,'' Allen said. 'As people so often point out: These were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, neighbors. '

Collectively memorializing the coronavirus dead has been complicated by the weight of private grief, which was too often borne alone in the first wave, when funerals could not take place and loved ones too often died without the presence or caress of a loved one.

An Italian Facebook group, Noi Denunceremo, was started as a place to publicly, if virtually, remember the dead during the country's first draconian lockdown, and developed quickly into a collection of data on alleged failures that have been turned over to prosecutors.

In India, one of the world's most affected countries, an online memorial was launched in February, www.nationalcovidmemorial.in, inviting submissions verified with death certificates. So far, it has only 250 tributes, a minute fraction of the over 457,000 confirmed dead, which is itself a vast undercount.

'It's not memorializing only, it's how we can pay respect and dignity" to the dead, said Abhijit Chowdhury of the COVID Care Network that started the memorial from the eastern city of Kolkata.

In Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, a bronze statue called 'Sad Angel' was placed in March outside a medical school to honor the dozens of doctors and medical workers who died of COVID-19. The sculpture of an angel with his shoulders slumped and head hanging disconsolately is especially poignant because its creator, Roman Shustrov, himself died of the virus in May 2020.

Italy has not dedicated a national monument to its some 132,000 confirmed dead, but it has designated a coronavirus remembrance day. Premier Mario Draghi stood among the first newly planted trees in Bergamo's Trucca Park on March 18, the first anniversary of the indelible image of army trucks bringing dead to other cities for cremation after the city's morgue was overwhelmed.

Bergamo's mayor said the city considered proposals for statues or plaques bearing the names of the dead. One was too monumental; the other ignored that so many dead were not officially counted due to lack of testing.

'The Woods of Memory is a living monument, and it immediately seemed to us to be the most convincing, the most emotive and the one that was closest to our sentiments,'' Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori said.

Only 100 trees have been planted so far of the 700 that are planned, facing the hospital's morgue. The rest should be planted by next year's March 18 remembrance day.

There are no plans to add names, but in at least one case, loved ones have claimed a sapling: Roses are planted at the base, with personal mementoes hanging from it and a white rock bearing the handwritten name of a dearly departed: Sergio.

___

AP journalists Pan Pylas in London, Phil Marcelo in Boston, Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi, Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg, Irina Titova in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Débora Álvares in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this report.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.