They were among the first-responders of the 9-11 terrorist attack in New York who sacrificed their lives rescuing others.
David Martin Weiss. Stephen E. Belson. Brian Grady McDonnell.
In all, 343 firefighters and paramedics of the Fire Department of New York; 37 officers of the Port Authority Police; and 23 officers of the New York Police Department perished in the line of duty.
The up close and personal stories of these first responders—and the tragic events of 9-11—are told in an incredibly intimate, emotional and inspirational new special exhibit at the Museum, “Ground Zero 360: Never Forget,” now open through Aug. 25. The New York terrorist attack killed 2,750 people at Ground Zero. First responders helped save about 14,250 people. About 17,000 people were believed inside the twin towers of the World Trade Center when the attacks began.
“You might ask how this exhibit…fits into our Mission, and it’s an easy question to answer,” Museum President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins told a group of about 75 at a special opening night reception for the exhibit, which is free with paid admission to the Museum.
“The 9-11 terrorist attack provides lessons about both the destructive force of hatred and the redemptive power of tremendous heroism, in the face of adversity. There is no better example of the ethical response to hatred than the selfless acts of the 9-11 responders, who put themselves at risk to save others,” she said.
The exhibit displays the work of Nicola McLean, a New York-based Irish photographer who captured powerful images in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Her husband, Paul McCormack, was the presiding New York Police Department Commanding Officer of the 41st Precinct at the time.
Together, over the course of 10 years, the couple created the exhibit in remembrance of the victims of the attacks and in honor of the heroic actions of the first responders who worked tirelessly in the hours, days and weeks that followed.
“Not only did they rush into the crumbling buildings to help people to safety, they worked tirelessly to uncover the remains of victims to help their loved ones find some semblance of closure,” said Ms. Higgins. “Then, in the aftermath of the destruction, they participated in the massive cleanup effort to help the city return to some sense of normalcy, not knowing their exposure to ‘the Pile’ would have long-lasting health implications.”
Walking into the exhibit, a wall of flyers greets the visitor—flyers of smiling faces of the missing with desperate messages from loved ones to contact them—that were posted throughout lower Manhattan in the hours and days following Sept. 11. For those who recall where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, the flyers immediately transport them back to the events of that day.
While the exhibit includes a small piece of I-beam—part of 200,000 tons of steal that collapsed at Ground Zero in NYC—and incredible photographs of the destruction of the attack, it is the stories of first responders that imbue the exhibit narrative with hope, heroism and resilience.
The story of NYPD Patrol Officer Moira Smith, the only female officer of NYPD to die with 22 other officers responding to the attacks, is particularly moving. Her voice is heard on police audio recordings calling for immediate backup—tough to listen to, but compelling for their meaning—which are included as part of the exhibit.
Jimmy Smith, her husband and former NYPD Officer, attended the opening event along with Ms. McClean, Mr. McCormack and Michelle and Tom Mason, both retired NYPD command staff executives who were present at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks. Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Dallas Fire-Rescue Chief Louie Bright III were special guests at the opening event.
As he began his remarks, Mr. McCormack paid tribute to local Holocaust Survivors who were in attendance. “I couldn’t think of a more wonderful place to be than to be with you tonight,” he told the survivors. “You embody what you inspire here. Your mission is to keep the memory alive and to have us never forget…We share that mission with you as we will never forget those who sacrificed everything to save others” on 9-11.
Sponsors for the exhibit include the Communities Foundation of Texas and the Office of Cultural Affairs of the City of Dallas. Community Partners include the Center for American and International Law and the West End Association.
Be sure to join us at the Museum on July 23 at 6:30 p.m. for the film presentation, “9/11”. For more information visit, DallasHolocaustMuseum.org
-Chris Kelley for the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance