Remembering 9/11 twenty years later

image by Michael Foran via Wikimedia Commons

This past weekend three former presidents and the current chief executive attended events to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. Millions of others watched on television. Commemorations took place not just in the United States. Queen Elizabeth II requested that the Coldstream Guards at Windsor Castle play the “Star Spangled Banner” during the changing of the guard, just as she had done twenty years ago. And these were just a few public gatherings that marked the anniversary of a truly global event. It is important to remember that the victims came not just from the United States but around the world.

The arrival of September 11 on the calendar each year for the past two decades has always brought with it sadness and introspection but this year’s commemorations seemed different in some subtle way. After twenty years the events of September 11, 2001, at least to many, seem to have transitioned from current events to history. I have noticed over the past several years that when the topic of 9/11 arises, often as a topic for an assignment or research paper, that student recollection of the World Trade Center and other 9/11 attacks has grown increasingly vague. That is because most college-age students today were so young when those events took place. Today’s freshman and sophomores were not even yet born. To them—perhaps you, if you are one of those students—9/11 plays the roll that Pearl Harbor, the John F. Kennedy assassination, and the 1986 Challenger explosion play for previous generations. As I point out in the introduction to this research guide I recently created for those interested in exploring 9/11 more fully, many City Tech staff and faculty still working at the college today were here on that morning twenty years ago. I personally was not at the college yet, but I was living in Brooklyn and recall it all quite vividly. I noted to myself this past Saturday that the sunlight, weather, and cloudless sky were eerily familiar to the way they had been on that day. When I mentioned that to others, they said the same thing.

One of my colleagues told me of the college’s closing early that day, and how he and several others walked to a faculty member’s nearby apartment to watch the news unfold and to plan for how to get home. This was an issue because it was unclear at the time which public transportation might be operating and which might not. Could one get across the Hudson River and back home to loved ones in New Jersey? Were the commuter trains running to Westchester, Long Island, and Connecticut? And what about even the buses and subways? No one was sure. Communication itself was difficult if not impossible. So many were trying to reach friends and family that cell phone connectivity largely collapsed. This was especially true for millions in the Greater New York area because much of much of the communication infrastructure had been atop the Twin Towers themselves and thus destroyed. I recall that even on my landline at home I could make and receive calls to certain people out-of-state but not to others. This went on for several days. The internet was still a fairly new technology, and social media as we know it did not even exist. My own cable-less television lost its transmission and I was reduced to listening to commentary, much of it hearsay and speculation, on the radio. This was immediacy of that morning.

Nearly 3000 people lost their lives in the attacks here in New York City. People today might not realize how much worse it almost was. Many at the time feared the number might be closer to 40,000 or higher. Nearly 50,000 individuals worked in the Twin Towers. Many though were not yet at their desks because it was still early, an election day, and also the first day of school for many districts. Parents taking their children to school had not yet arrived. What is more, security officials at many of the organizations within the towers had also done a good job updating their emergency and evacuation plans in the eight years since the 1993 bombing of the same site. It is still unnerving to think of how much worse it all could have been. That does not even get into events at the Pentagon and aboard Flight 93 that crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

Twenty years is a long time—a lifetime for many. With time comes at least some perspective. Still, it never really gets easier. The events of 9/11 are something that will always stay with me, as they will for millions of others.

Traveling exhibit “Americans and the Holocaust” coming to City Tech in Fall 2021

One Friday earlier this month, shortly after New Years, I had lunch in Midtown Manhattan with a friend who is also a Holocaust survivor. We wanted to meet so soon after the holidays because he was heading to Mexico the following Monday for two weeks to speak at schools and to various groups about his experience during the Second World War. Later that very week I too was heading elsewhere, in my case to Washington D.C. for two days of training at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on the National Mall. The training was in preparation for an exhibit entitled “Americans and the Holocaust: A Traveling Exhibition for Libraries” coming to New York City College of Technology in Fall 2021.

“Americans and the Holocaust” is a joint initiative of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and American Library Association. There are many others who have played a role in making it happen as well. “Americans and the Holocaust” was made possible by the generous support of lead sponsor Jeannie & Jonathan Lavine. Additional major funding was provided by the Bildners — Joan & Allen z”l, Elisa Spungen & Rob, Nancy & Jim; and Jane and Daniel Och. The Museum’s exhibitions are also supported by the Lester Robbins and Sheila Johnson Robbins Traveling and Special Exhibitions Fund, established in 1990.

City Tech is one of fifty institutions across the United States, including in Alaska and Hawaii, who will host “Americans and the Holocaust” as it tours the country in 2020-2022. There at the training were the 49 other project directors representing their various institutions. For two full days we listened to USHMM officials, historians, ALA representatives, and others explain the scope of the exhibit, the history of the Holocaust and the Second World War, the nature of genocide itself, and other topics. We also broke into groups to share ideas and learn from one another. It was a rewarding experience.

We here at the Ursula C. Schwerin Library thought that today, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, would be an appropriate moment to mention the coming of “Americans and the Holocaust” to City Tech. What is more, today, January 27, 2020, is an especially poignant day to do so; it was 75 years ago today that the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz. Time is moving along and there are fewer Holocaust survivors left as the years pass. When I had lunch with my friend a few weeks back I asked him how many Holocaust survivors remain with us today. He estimated approximately 100,000 in the United States and 400,000 worldwide. That is why now is an opportune and crucial time to host “Americans and the Holocaust.” In addition to showcasing the 1100 square foot interactive exhibit itself in October-November 2021, there will be numerous panel discussions, expert speakers, and other events, all open to the public.

We will have more to share as things develop in the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, please watch the brief video above that explains more.

First World War discussion: Tuesday 27 February, 2:30 – 4:00 pm

It is hard to believe that we began our project commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War a year and a half ago. Please join the library on Tuesday February 27th from 2:30 – 4:00 pm for a catered lunch and discussion at which we will discuss what we have learned and taken away from the experience. This is the concluding event for a grant library faculty earned from The Library of America, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and National Endowment for the Humanities.  The event is being held in the Library Projection Room, A432.
Please RSVP to Professor Keith Muchowski by 5:00 pm, this Friday, February 23rd if you are planning attend:
kmuchowski@citytech.cuny.edu
And if you have not seen it, watch our film here.

 

New Yorkers in Uniform

This coming Wednesday, the 15th, the Ursula C. Schwerin Library is hosting a showing of a film produced by library faculty for the World War One centennial. Please RSVP to the contact below if interested in attending.

The visual culture of the Great War

We added a computer with a rotating wheel of two dozen images to the Great War exhibit currently on display in the library. We intend to change the images each time we change the panels over the course of the exhibit’s run throughout September and October. This series is top heavy with photographs from 1914, keeping in spirit with the first six panels currently on view. Come check out part 1 between now and September 13. After that, we will put up installment number 2. The exhibit is open to the public during regular hours.

 

The Great War in Broad Outlines, part one

Late last week we installed part 1 of The Great War in Broad Outlines. The Ursula C. Schwerin Library will be showing this traveling exhibition from the Embassy of Belgium in five installments this September and October in recognition of the centennial of the First World War. City Tech is located in downtown Brooklyn, within walking distance of the Cadman Plaza greenmarket (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays), Brooklyn Heights Promenade, and Brooklyn Bridge. Come see part 1, the first six of thirty panels, between now and September 14, and make the rest of this special exhibition part of your late summer and fall.
For directions and times that the library is open, check our website here.

Our big crate

There was excitement on the college’s loading dock yesterday when this shipment arrived. It is not every day that a 403 pound crate arrives  from the Embassy of Belgium in Washington D.C. Inside the container is an exhibit that will be on display in the Ursula C. Schwerin Library this September and October in recognition of the centennial of the First World War. The Great War lasted from 1914-18. We in the library would like to thank the staff in Buildings and Grounds for their work in receiving the crate and getting it to the library in such a quick and timely manner. Details on the exhibit itself will be forthcoming early next week.

City Tech 75th anniversary exhibit, catch it now

The Student Government Association representatives were in the library yesterday to take some photographs with the exhibit they prepared for the City Tech 75th anniversary. Many of the materials came from the Library Archives. Catch the display before it ends this coming Monday, April 3.

SGA in the Archives


Representatives from the City Tech Student Government Association were in the Library Archives earlier this week searching for materials to put into the display they are creating in recognition of the college’s 70th anniversary. What was then the New York State Institute of Applied Arts & Sciences began offering classes in the 1947-47 school year.