If you think history is bland or boring, I promise that you’ve just never had the right teacher (or read the right books!). History can do all of the things a good movie or book or play can do – it can make you laugh, making you think, make you mad, and sure, it can make you cry.
These 15 people are sharing the moments that always make them tear up, no matter how many times they hear about them.
15. Life isn’t always fair.
It doesn’t exactly make me cry, but Albert Goring, the staunchly anti-Nazi brother of Hermann Goring, spent the second world war helping jews and dissidents to escape.
He was caught several times, but was let off the hook due to his brother’s influence within the Reich. After the war, he was shunned for his last name and his accomplishments forgotten.
14. Mental illness is a thief.
Virginia Woolf’s suicide and the note she left behind makes me f**king weep like a baby.
Just the way she expresses sentiments of happiness and love to her husband, but also her guilt and struggle with mental illness- it just kills me.
13. Human beings are capable of terrible things.
The R**e of Nanking in 1937.
Looking up photos of what the Japanese did there left me silent for a while. They Raped and murdered women, Bayonetted babies, (you can look up a photo of it.) used the wounded as rifle and bayonet practice, forced mothers on their sons and fathers on their daughters, and made a contest out of beheading civilians.
(There is a Japanese newspaper article you can look up about it. It’s disgusting.) and the worst part about it is that the Japanese government denies most of these acts. Along with a lot of other war crimes that they committed afterwards.
It always shakes me to my core to know that human beings are capable of doing such horrible things to one another. And smile while doing it.
12. What a night for everyone involved.
RMS Carpathia was the first ship to arrive on the scene when the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. Every one of the Titanic’s 705 survivors were rescued by Carpathia, which made a tremendously heroic effort that night in the North Atlantic.
The scene is dramatized in A Night to Remember, the classic film from 1958 (and one of the more accurate, especially given the constraints of technology at that time) — Harold Cottam, the radio operator on Carpathia, had already gone off-duty when the Titanic’s distress signals were received.
He immediately conveyed the message to Captain Arthur Rostron, who jumped out of bed and ordered the ship to change course.
11. Well that’s horrifying.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, at least some men were alive in a pocket of air inside one of the capsized ships.
Navy personnel could hear them banging on the hull and trying to signal for help, but there was no way to get at them safely.
The water was full of fuel and oil, so blowtorches weren’t a workable idea. And there was no way for divers to get into the ship because the damage had rendered the whole thing a deathtrap of twisted steel. There wasn’t even any way to communicate with the trapped men.
So the guards at Pearl Harbor had to listen to those calls for help getting weaker and weaker, while inside everyone slowly suffocated.
When they hauled the ship up for scrap later, there were 16 notches scratched onto the wall of that compartment, which means at least one casualty of Pearl Harbor lived until December 23, 1941.
10. People don’t talk like this anymore.
A letter from the Civil War by Sullivan Ballou:
“My very dear Sarah: The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days — perhaps tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more …
“I have no misgivings about, or lack of confidence in the cause in which I am engaged, and my courage does not halt or falter. I know how strongly American Civilization now leans on the triumph of the Government and how great a debt we owe to those who went before us through the blood and sufferings of the Revolution. And I am willing — perfectly willing — to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt …
“Sarah my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me unresistibly on with all these chains to the battle field.
“The memories of the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me, and I feel most gratified to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. And hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years, when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together, and seen our sons grown up to honorable manhood, around us. I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me — perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar, that Ishall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battle field, it will whisper your name. Forgive my many faults and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have often times been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness …
“But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladdest days and in the darkest nights … always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again …”
Sullivan Ballou was killed a week later at the First Battle of Bull Run, July 21, 1861.
9. Imagine if they’d just…refused.
A story from my great grandfather who fought in WW1…
Soldiers would cease fire to pick up their men’s bodies and would have a smoke together, go back to their trenches and start firing again.
Neither side of front line soldiers actually wanted to be there. Just drafted for war.
8. It’s hard to know how to feel.
The kneel down of Willy Brandt, German chancellor of 1969-1974.
He was visiting the ghetto of Warschau and kneeled to apologize for the German war crimes, surprising everybody.
The thing that really gets to me was the backstory: Brandt emigrated Germany in 1934 for being a social democrat and for having been in the resistance. He spent his time in Oslo until he was captured by Nazi soldiers there and was able to flee to Sweden.
The press releases of the time really capture the strength of the moment and I’m sorry for my translation, this is what Hermann Schreiber wrote in Der Spiegel:
„Dann kniet er, der das nicht nötig hat, da für alle, die es nötig haben, aber nicht da knien – weil sie es nicht wagen oder nicht können oder nicht wagen können. Dann bekennt er sich zu einer Schuld, an der er selber nicht zu tragen hat, und bittet um eine Vergebung, derer er selber nicht bedarf. Dann kniet er da für Deutschland.“
“There he kneels, he, who does not have to, for those who would have to, but who are not kneeling – because they can not, or because they do not dare to or because they can not dare to kneel. There he admits to a guilt, he does not have to bare and asks for a forgiveness he does not need. There he is, kneeling for Germany.”
7. Finally a happy ending.
Sacagawea, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition to explore the lands we now know as the Western United States, had a vital coincidence on the journey that always makes me emotional to think about.
She was born a Shoshone but was taken around the age of 12 and made a slave to the Hidatsa. After being with them for 3 or so years, she was sold to a French man named Toussaint Charbonneau who took her as a wife. When Lewis and Clark met her, she was about 16 years old and pregnant with Charbonneau’s child. The birth was a tough one and Lewis helped with the child’s safe delivery before Sacagawea and Charbonneau joined them on the expedition.
Lewis and Clark knew they would meet the Shoshone on their journey and were hoping Sacagawea could help them procure some supplies, especially horses, to help them cross the Rocky Mountains.
Sacagawea didn’t speak English. She spoke Shoshone and Hidatsa. Charbonneau spoke Hidatsa and French and one of the members of Lewis and Clark’s expedition spoke French and English. Suffice to say, translation was complicated and complex.
When the expedition finally came upon the Shoshone’s territory, they agreed to meet and hear Lewis and Clark’s proposal. They sat down around the fire and began negotiations.
The Chief of the tribe began to speak with Sacagawea and the conversation proceeded rapidly. The others, unable to really understand what was going on, were confused when she and the Chief began to cry, and then to embrace.
In the years since her capture, it turned out, Sacagawea’s brother had become Chief. He had believed her dead and she did not recognize him at first.
The celebration, when the tribe learned who she was, and the appreciation bestowed upon Lewis and Clark for returning her, is hard to completely express.
6. I like these happy endings.
Just a slightly happier letter for those needing a recovery. From a former slave, so writing not as eloquent.
Samuel Cabble, a private in the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry (colored), was a slave before he joined the army. He was twenty-one years old.
Dear Wife i have enlisted in the army i am now in the state of Massachusetts but before this letter reaches you i will be in North Carolina and though great is the present national difficulties yet i look forward to a brighter day When i shall have the opportunity of seeing you in the full enjoyment of freedom i would like to no if you are still in slavery if you are it will not be long before we shall have crushed the system that now oppresses you for in the course of three months you shall have your liberty. great is the outpouring of the colored people that is now rallying with the hearts of lions against that very curse that has separated you an me yet we shall meet again and oh what a happy time that will be when this ungodly rebellion shall be put down and the curses of our land is trampled under our feet i am a soldier now and i shall use my utmost endeavor to strike at the rebellion and the heart of this system that so long has kept us in chains . . . remain your own affectionate husband until death—Samuel Cabble
Samuel Cabble returned to Missouri for his wife, and together they moved to Denver, Colorado.
5. It’s definitely not funny.
One of the girls in the Donner Party was fed her dead mother and told afterwards. They had an agreement to not feed people their family members, but they had broken off from the camp in an attempt to find rescue. She would randomly burst into tears about it at school years later.
The whole story of the Donner Party is so horrible and sad and it bothers me that it’s just used for cannibal jokes.
4. What is the matter with people?
One that really stands out to me from the sub is this image of the Filipino Zoo Girl that was on display in the Coney Island Zoo in 1914. She was bound by ropes and people tossed peanuts at her.
It’s just heartbreaking to see something like that happen, especially to a child so young, but human zoos were a thing up until as late as 1958.
3. A heavy heart.
Teddy Roosevelt’s mother Mittie and his wife Alice, who had just given birth days before, both died in the same house on the same day, hours apart from each other.
In his diary entry that day, he drew a large black X and scribbled “The light has gone out of my life.”
That’s some heavy s**t right there, man.
2. Bless her heart.
When Alexander Hamilton’s eldest son died, his second child Angelica Hamilton had a mental breakdown and she never recovered.
Sometimes, her family would walk into a room with only her in it, and she would be speaking to her dead brother.
1. Heartwarming and tragic.
During the German-Soviet war, there was a Red Army soldier who sang each night with a hauntingly-beautiful voice. His comrades would give him their tea rations and scarves to protect his larynx.
One night, he couldn’t sing because he had gotten sick. A German soldier crawled across no-man’s-land and tossed something into the Soviet trench; the Soviet soldiers thought it was a grenade.
However, it was a package containing a letter asking if the singer was okay and if he needed medicine. A truly heart-warming moment in an otherwise horrific front.
Is someone cutting onions in here? Ugh!
If there’s a historical fact that makes you cry (and it’s not on this list) share it with us in the comments!