Pandemic memorials, in Luxembourg and abroad

Place de la Constitution in Luxembourg City contains a memorial to all the people killed in WWII. But there is no memorial in Luxembourg to the people who died during the Spanish flu pandemic Nader Ghavami/archives

Place de la Constitution in Luxembourg City contains a memorial to all the people killed in WWII. But there is no memorial in Luxembourg to the people who died during the Spanish flu pandemic Nader Ghavami/archives

Luxembourg’s parliament last week agreed to a minute’s silence on 23 June 2021, the country’s national day, to remember those who lost their lives to covid-19 as well as pay tribute to the front-line staff. As the global death-toll from covid-19 edges closer to 2 million, Delano examines Luxembourg's track record with monuments and how other countries are remembering their dead.

A monument is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a “lasting evidence, reminder, or example of someone or something notable or great”. Although many existing monuments have been brought into question by the Black Lives Matter movement, the act of memorialising, or the act of preserving memories, events or people, can help in the grieving process.

Prior to the pandemic, Luxembourg erected monuments and held events to remember those killed in mass catastrophes. Memorials to the roughly 6,000 Luxembourgers killed during WWII, not to mention the foreign combatants, are commonplace, with the most memorable on Place de la Constitution (see picture).

In 2012, Luxembourg unveiled a monument to victims of road traffic accidents which, in 2019, killed 22 and seriously injured 248. And there are a number of collective activities including the “relais pour la vie” to remember those who die of cancer, which kills around 1,100 each year. In many instances, these memorials are brought about on a grassroots level, with the relais coordinated by not for profit the Cancer Foundation.

War memorials, meanwhile, are often installed as local initiatives started by historical conservation groups working with communes. The very idea of a minute’s silence came about after a member of the public launched a petition that gained well over the 4,500-signature threshold required for a debate in parliament. Given that deputies did not dismiss the idea for a Luxembourg covid-19 memorial further into the future, it could be we will see memorial initiatives further down the line.

Artists' impression from Gomez Platero shows The World Memorial to the Pandemic

What could a covid-19 monument look like?

In the US, artists and collectives have created ephemeral memorials. A car park outside the Queens Museum in New York City was transformed when artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada painted a 20,000 square foot memorial of a doctor wearing a mask. There are a number of online initiatives including covidmemorial.online, created by volunteers for people to post about loved ones lost to covid-19. As the site creators write: “This virus has a face, and too often that face belongs to someone we love.”

The first large-scale monument to global victims of the covid-19 pandemic could be constructed in Uruguay, where architecture firm Gomez Platero has designed “World Memorial to the Pandemic”, a large circular platform designed to be placed on the edge of an urban waterfront, although its final site has yet to be agreed.

A movement in the UK has pushed for a day of remembrance, like 11 November when Britons mark the end of WWI. In this instance, the proposed remembrance day is 1 January 2021. Concurrently, there is a UK project to plant a Forest of Memories around the UK. “We will plant, at a minimum, a tree for every life lost during the pandemic,” its website reads. “It is our sincere hope that this will help the bereaved create a lasting gift of remembrance, in a special place to visit, for years to come.”