Posts Tagged ‘John Guzlowski’

September 11, 2001: for some that day will never end

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Today is the 18th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center. We share a few memories from three writers below. One is the story of a “mind-numbing” few hours, another from a “short view” kind of guy, and a third of a job offer refused.

John Guzlowski, author. His parents were survivors of Nazi work camps – we’ve written his story about it here.

I got a letter on Sept. 12, 2001, from my friend Bill Anderson who tended to take a cynical view of people and government and the human animal in general.

The following was the response I wrote to him that day:

I wish I could take the long view the way you do, Bill: look at the attack, and see it the way it probably is –  President Bush seeing this as his way of putting a lock on his second term, Americans showing their true nature by making money on increased gas prices, Hollywood being angry because this will put the next Bruce Willis film on hold for two weeks. The long view: we’re all self-serving crooks.

I’m not good at the long view. I’m more of a short view guy: One of my wife Linda’s cousins saw the first tower go down from her office. Her name is Lisa. She was a wonderfully fat baby. One time her mom, Linda’s Aunt Anne, dressed her in a tutu, and Linda’s dad Tony laughed and laughed, and still 25 years later the family talks about the tutu and how much we all loved her in her tutu and laughed with joy at her beauty.

“I’m more of a short view guy.”

Lisa got out okay. She was evacuated, and finally found herself across the river at a phone booth in Hoboken, New Jersey. She called home to Aunt Anne and Uncle Buddy. He’s also a short view guy: He was with Patton’s soldiers when they freed the first concentration camps. He still shakes and cries when he remembers the piles of corpses.

My niece is an emergency room nurse at NYU hospital. (I think I saw her in the background on an NBC spot about the hospital – but I wasn’t sure. She looked old and tired and gray with pain.) Her dad, Linda’s brother Bruce, was calling her and calling her to make sure she was okay. Finally she got through to him late in the afternoon on Tuesday. He begged her to leave the hospital, said he would drive down from Connecticut and get her. Cried and begged her. He said he was her father and she had to listen to him. (Bruce isn’t much of a crier. He’s a jokey, tough Brooklyn guy.) But she was his baby and he wanted her away from all of it. And she said she couldn’t leave. He cried some more and pleaded, and she hung up on him. She had to get back to work.

And all those people looking for their relatives and friends, holding pictures up to the TV cameras and telling us about how some guy was a great friend, and he was a waiter in a restaurant at the top of the building. And I see a photo of this poor foreign-looking schmuck with a big nose and a dopey NY baseball cap that’s way too big, who probably came here with a paper suitcase and thought that working up at that restaurant was the greatest thing possible in the world. And the friend hoping to find this guy thinks this guy is alive someplace, maybe in a coma in some hospital.

And I know there’s not a chance in hell this guy or any other guy or gal in any of these pictures is alive. They’re dead, all dead, but I wouldn’t tell this guy holding the picture.

Boy, these are stories that touch me so hard I can’t think about the other stuff, the long view.

Mary Morris, author. We’ve written about her anniversary here. This is a different kind of story, for a different kind of anniversary:

MIA for several “mind-numbing” hours

Eighteen years ago Larry and I went for a walk. Normally he took the R train to work but it was a beautiful morning so he took a different train. One that didn’t let him off inside the World Trade Center. A beautiful morning, a twist of fate. When my mother-in-law called and asked if Larry was home, I told her she could call him at work. When she said, “Where exactly is his office?” my heart stopped.

During those mind-numbing hours our house filled with people. Someone brought sandwiches. The dog barked every time

a person came or went. And then he ran to the door, not barking, I knew that Larry had come home, covered in a fine dust of glass that would send splinters into my flesh and our daughters’.

This is very personal and hard to say. This is not something we will ever get over. When I see the lights in the sky, it takes my breath away. We were lucky that day. And I am grateful. My heart goes out to those for whom that day will never end.

Erin Huntzinger, professor at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who also recalls the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, with a rental truck filled with explosives – “a blind cleric was the master mind.”

I was on Wall Street during the first World Trade Center bombing [in 1993]. I had a lunch interview at the Trade Center’s Windows on the World restaurant with the firm of Canter Fitzgerald. I got too busy trading around a client’s big position and had to cancel our lunch. It was a overcast day with intermittent rain. The markets slowed, I got a coffee, and I took a phone call from my dad. Suddenly our building shook. At first I thought it was a lighting strike to our building. Soon after I looked down and saw black smoke which billowed from the Peninsula Hotel and the World Trade Center parking entrance. Then helicopters circled the towers. Our secondary generators, backup cell connections, computers, and trading platforms kicked on.

It’s personal.

As I walked home to my condo in battery park, I passed scores of cop cars, ambulances, and fire trucks. The Peninsula hotel was taped off as a crime scene. Its facade was unrecognizable. The West Side highway was closed at 14th street and traffic was backed up for miles. I eventually turned down the job a Canter Fitzgerald, even though a number of friends begged me to join them.

On September 11, 2001, I was in Los Angeles. I was woken by my girlfriend who was on location in Vancouver. She was almost incoherent as she directed me to “just turn the TV on.” I did. I watched in horror as my phone just kept vibrating from call after call. I watched as fire streamed from the towers from the commercial airlines. It was surreal. I wept and wept as I watched the looped visual of the planes impacting the buildings. Then the networks flashed to live shots. I watched as friends and acquaintances, many from Canter Fitzgerald, died in front of me. The firehouse, where I had hung out playing cards, was vaporized. As I unblinkingly watched the screen, Boris, my NYPD dog, comforted me by sitting in my lap intermittently licking the salt streaming down my cheeks. I was speechless for hours as my eyes just fixated on the bodies falling amongst the flames. For me the slogan never forget is extremely emotional and personal.

May God Bless them all.

“Then she spoke, in Polish, slowly. She said, ‘Co teraz?’ What now?”

Friday, July 19th, 2019

Born in a refugee camp in Germany, writer John Guzlowski came to America in 1951 with his parents, Jan and Tekla Guzlowski. They were “Displaced Persons”: “When we landed at Ellis Island we were unmistakably foreign… We were regarded as Polacks – dirty, dumb, lazy, dishonest, immoral, licentious, drunken Polacks. I’ve felt hobbled by being a Polack and a DP, Displaced Person,” he wrote. His father had spent five years as a slave laborer in Buchenwald Concentration Camp and came to America with a trunk made from planks from a barrack’s wall. His mother was also in a slave labor camp, but only at the end of her life was she willing to break her long silence, telling the story of how the women in her family were raped and murdered by the Germans. 

In poetry and prose, Guzlowski spent thirty years obsessively writing about his parents’ wartime trauma and its long after-effects in their lives. Here’s “My Father Tells me How he Met My Mother,” from his book, Echoes of Tattered Tongues, retold in his father’s voice. He explains: “The German guards were trying to empty out Buchenwald, the camp he was in. The Germans didn’t want to leave any evidence of the atrocities they had committed. So they sent the men in the camp on a death march hoping that the skeletons the men were would just fall to the ground and die during the march.”

We came upon a small slave camp in the woods, three or four buildings, a fence of barbed wire, a closed gate.

Some of us were dying and fell to our knees right there. Others kept walking and stumbling toward that gate. There was no one around, no German guards, no soldiers. They must have run away because they thought the war was finished and the Americans were near. There were no prisoners either that we could see in the barracks beyond the fence. We thought that maybe the ones who’d been there had been taken like us on a death march.

It was so quiet.

One of the men, a Frenchman, stepped up to the gate and shouted hello. That’s all he said. He said it in German first and then French, but no one answered. It sounded funny in French, “Bonjour, bonjour.”

Jan Guzlowski, on arrival in America in 1951

An army truck stood in front of one of the barracks buildings, and I thought I saw some movement there. Even with only one good eye, I could see it. Someone moving near the back of the truck. I pointed this out to the Frenchman, and he saw it too. And we both shouted then, him in French and me in Polish. I shouted, “Dzien dobry, dzien dobry.” I felt foolish saying, “Good day.” There had not been a good day for a long time.

A woman then came out of one of the barracks. Like us, she was dressed in rags, striped rags. She stumbled to the gate and stopped there. She looked at us, and we looked at her. No one said anything for a while. I could see she was weak. She held the gate so tightly with her hands so she wouldn’t fall.

I couldn’t speak. I had not seen a woman for months and had not talked to one for years. The Germans would kill you for talking to a woman.

Then she spoke, in Polish, slowly. She said, “Co teraz?” What now?

I didn’t know what to say. My tongue was like a rock in my mouth.

She said it again, “Co teraz?” And I still didn’t know what to say, or what would happen, or if the world would end that day or not. I was hungry and spent, and I didn’t know anything.

I looked at her and felt so weak, felt like I was going to fall and join my brothers dying behind me, and your mother pulled the gate open and said, “Proszę wejdź.” Please come in.

And I did.

“A New Year’s Eve party In 1958. My sister Donna is between them. I’m the grumpy one.” – Says John Guzlowski