English Feature #7-35654 Broadcast December 10, 2001
Tomorrow, December 11, it will be exactly three months since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington. Today on New American Voices, a Russian immigrant who was on his way to his office near the World Trade Center on that fateful September morning recalls what happened.
"The cloud, such a big cloud, like after a nuclear explosion, came, and it covered everybody. I was running with other people to the Battery Park, to the water, and the cloud covered us, and people started coughing, and it was darkness, and it was, I mean, it was terrible."
Samuel Kliger is a Moscow-trained sociologist now working for the New York Association of New Americans in Manhattan. He remembers September 11th as a gloriously beautiful autumn day, with a bright blue sky and crystal-clear air.
"I work just three blocks from the World Trade Center. And this morning, when I came out of the subway, I saw that something is going on. And when I look at the towers, I saw flames, and smoke, and everything, and when I came to NYANA, where I work, they started to evacuate everybody, and I even was not able to come into my office. Everybody was staying on the street, and very soon, in one hour or whatever, the first tower collapsed, and it was such a greatsmoke, and noise -- just terrible, I cannot describe it, even in my own language."
Mr. Kliger says that, in a way, it was like watching a surrealistic movie -- a movie in which he himself became an actor in scenes of mass confusion.
"We were running toward the Brooklyn Bridge and then through the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn. All the telephones were shut off, no communications, I walked home, no subway, and I was trying to call my family…"
Despite the interruption of communications, Mr. Kliger found out soon enough what was happening.
"People on the street told me that, well, two planes hit first the north building and then the south building, and apparently it's a terrorist attack. And then in Brooklyn I came to a store and there was a TV there and I saw on TV everything, and then I leaned that there is another hit in the Pentagon, and another plane crashed in Pennsylvania, and we all understood what was going on."
Like many families whose loved ones worked near the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, Samuel Kliger's family could not reach him at work, and did not know what had happened to him.
"When I came home my little boy, my little son was crying, saying "Daddy, how are you, I know that you work there - he's just seven years old, so he thought I am working just in the towers, so he was crying, and my daughter was crying…"
Until September 11th, the Kliger family had a view of the World Trade Center towers from their sixth-floor apartment in Brooklyn.
"Through the window every morning, every evening, always we see the Twin Towers. Now they're not there, and my daughter cries every day, and she even wrote a poem - 'Twin tower one, twin tower two, I love you,' - something like that. I mean, psychologically, it's hard."
Mr. Kliger, a Russian immigrant who came to this country twelve years ago, says he felt the psychological impact of the terrorist attacks on three distinct levels.
"As a person, I felt that I am just, kind of - I don't want to use this word, but I felt I am raped. Something like that. I was attacked, personally, my family and everybody -- it was kind of very personal, because I saw it, I am here… Personally, it was like very, very bad."
Samuel Kliger says he also experienced the attack from the perspective of someone who grew up in Russia.
"As a Russian immigrant, I felt -- yes, yes, it was kind of distinguished feeling. I remember in the former Soviet Union in the 70s, in the 80s, despite the fact that we are in a Cold War with the Americans, -- it was the idea that war between the US and the Soviet Union may happen, and it would be a nuclear war. So now I felt like something is going on, like it's starting a new war."
And on the third level, Mr. Kliger reacted to the attack as an American.
"As American, I felt also assaulted, and I felt that something should be done. I must do something as an American to stand against this terrible thing. So - active part associated with America. Passive part was associated with the Russian part of my soul. And kind of the sad part was personal. And of course it was a mixture, a cocktail of feelings."
Shortly after the September 11th attacks Mr. Kliger conducted a survey of Russian-speakers in New York City on their reaction to the events. Next week on New American Voices he tells us the survey found both solidarity and divisiveness in the Russian community.