I am a witness to tragedy. I am also the son of a Holocaust survivor.
The day began ordinarily enough. I took the E train from the Port Authority to the World Trade Center. I walked through the now-collapsed North Bridge to 3 World Financial Center, the worldwide headquarters of Lehman Bros., where I work as an equity research analyst. I first went to the sixth floor for morning call, and after that went to my office on the ‘1st floor overlooking 1 WTC, the North Tower. I began a conference call with, ironically, investors from Israel. The call, which began at 8:30 a.m., abruptly ended at 8:45 with an explosion.
I looked out my window and saw a gaping hole in 1 WTC. A burst of debris followed onto the roof of the adjacent building. I thought "bomb," not "plane." I, along with other Lehman Bros. employees, evacuated the building in an orderly fashion. A few of us exited onto West Street, directly across the burning tower. Within a few minutes, a United jet appeared in the periphery. It appeared disproportionately large relative to the World Trade Center. The jet was aiming directly for the South Tower. We ran. I can’t remember where.
I found myself at the corner of West and Vessey streets, less than one block from the burning North Tower. The wind, blowing east, shielded us from the rain of terror on the other side of the complex. Emergency vehicles were beginning to arrive. Then the jumping began. One and another and another. I counted eight before I had to turn away from the next one. The gasps from the other onlookers were all I needed to turn my head. The tears were flowing. I guess the certainty of the jump was deemed superior to the horror of the flames and smoke. Hard to imagine.
We then were moved by the police one block further north. The firemen were getting ready. Tanks of oxygen, masks, hoses, and axes were taken out. I finally understood what it meant to be among New York’s "Bravest." I saw the fireman stand around for a few minutes until the order came to "go in." The danger was clear. They went anyway.
A few minutes later, the horror began. Explosions, renegade planes, and jumpers did not prepare me for what happened next. The South Tower collapsed. A disgorged chunk was crashing down on the rescue personnel policemen, firemen, emergency medical technicians, and others. A cloud of smoke was marching up West Street. We ran ahead unscathed. Those standing east were not so lucky.
I stood mesmerized by the collapse. And then the North Tower imploded like one of those controlled demolitions. No chunks, just implosion. I had enough and began walking with two colleagues. They were hungry. We stepped into a bar. I left along with the others. It was too loud.
We then went to the office building where the wife of a colleague worked. It was open. He walked. I took the elevator. The reunion was, as expected, emotional. I tried calling my wife, but to no avail. The lines were busy. I called home from my office after the first explosion and left a message that I was okay. The second message arrived a few hours later.
I then began to walk. I stopped on Broadway to watch CNN for a while. I then walked all the way to Columbia University. I took a bus to the George Washington Bridge bus terminal, hitched a ride across the bridge, and took a cab the rest of the way home. I got home at 4:40 p.m.
My travails pale compared to those of the victims, the rescuers, and their families. Sadness, anger, irritability, and fatigue have emerged. I spoke at a community forum last Wednesday night. I also cried a few times. My wife has been terrifically supportive. Recuperation has begun. I returned to work on Monday. Lehman Bros. is (amazingly) operational.
And yet, this is only the beginning. The list of missing continues to grow. Some families have begun the grieving process. Others still remain in disbelief. As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I remain haunted by the ash.
Let us all pray for a more benevolent future.
Editor’s note: This piece, written on Sept, 14, ‘001, originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sept. ‘5, ‘001.