Czech-born architect Jiří Boudník was working in New York City when it was hit by the 9/11 attacks. During the next six months, he assisted with the clean-up operation at Ground Zero. Now, on the ten-year anniversary of the historic event, Mr. Boudník, who has since returned to the Czech Republic, has published a book in which he shares his personal 9/11 experiences. It is titled Věže, Czech for Towers. We spoke to him at the book’s launch in Prague’s American Center on Wednesday.
“The book has three layers. The first layer is written from the point of view of an architect who loves New York City, the history of the island, its people. And that is the kind of the basis of the book, the rigid structure. And on top of that is really what happened on September 11th and the months that followed. This is I would say the meat of the story.
“And then there is a third layer, which is a layer of dreams, because we all had dreams. The fact that we were inhaling some bad fumes there, maybe some of us had hallucinations, but it certainly affected our dreams, and we shared them every night, after our work at ground zero, when we would go to a bar and talk about that.”
The ten-year anniversary of 9/11 just passed, and a lot of people shared their 9/11 stories. What is yours?
“I was working as a project manager for a big construction company. We were building a federal courthouse in Brooklyn, and that day, we had our meeting with the subcontractors. When I received the first phone call that someone flew into one of the towers, which at the time looked like an accident, I didn’t pay any attention to it. And I said, I will call you later. Fifteen minutes later, the superintendent of the building busted the door open and ordered us to evacuate the building, because it was a federal building, a potential target.
“And when I left the building, I saw the towers on fire and realized that there may be some partial collapse. I remembered that eight years ago, in 1993, I had gone to visit someone who worked in the World Trade Center, and all the fire trucks and ambulances were parked right underneath the buildings.
“So that flashback came to me and I realized, someone has to go and warn them. The first tower fell when I was halfway over the bridge, I had decided to just grab my hardhat and try and warn them. And the second tower collapsed when I was at City Hall already, so I didn’t make it there on time. But from the second day, I decided to help the firemen search for survivors in the debris.”
You have since moved back to the Czech Republic, and marked the ten-year anniversary of this event here. What is it like, after having been a New Yorker for so many years, to be here on this day?
“Actually, it helps me to be away. For the past eight years, I cannot bring myself to go to Ground Zero anymore. It is a totally different place, it doesn’t feel like Ground Zero and it is a connection that was completely severed by the clean-up and the rebuilding process. So I keep Ground Zero more in my head, in my memories and my relationships to some of the firemen and engineers I know from that time. We are still good friends. So Ground Zero for me exists more in my heart, in my head and in memories.”