Czech Center in New York to mark 20th anniversary of 9/11 attacks with audiovisual show

A book by a Czech-born architect who helped in the aftermath has also been released in English and Czech.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 08.09.2021 14:09 (updated on 12.09.2021)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. The Czech Center in New York will commemorate the event with a video projection set to a new musical score. Here in the Czech Republic, a new book called “Tower 9/11 Story” by author Jiří Boudník has been published in Czech and English.

There are a few Czech connections to the event. The only known video of both planes hitting the Twin Towers was made by a Czech immigrant. A Czech flag was also found in the rubble of the collapsed towers.

The Czech Center New York, in cooperation with the Czech Consulate General in New York and the Harmony Foundation, on Sept. 9 and 10 will have a program called Requiem 2021. It will include “Oratio Spei” (Prayer of Hope) by Slovak composer Juraj Filas accompanied by a video projected onto the walls of the Bohemian National Hall in Manhattan.

"This digital show commemorating 9/11 also sheds a light on the thousands who have suffered in the years since. To this day, first responders, construction workers, policemen, and bystanders are succumbing to cancer and other diseases; a direct result of the toxic fumes and debris,” show director Anna Eva Kotyza said.

The virtual reality and business graduate from New York University (NYU) said she was honored to use her skills to share the stories of the people involved.

“Growing up a stone's throw away from the World Trade Center, I remember friends and neighbors getting their lung cancer diagnosis, still others who were struggling to return to normalcy after the horrors they had seen,” she added.

The long-term vision is for the requiem and the visual program to be performed all around the world.

The Bohemian National Hall is the home to the Czech Center New York as well as the Czech Consulate. Among the items on display on the building's walls is a damaged Czech flag that was recovered from the World Trade Center site. The New York Police Department presented the flag to representatives of the Czech government in 2006. The flag was restored in the Czech Republic and then returned to New York.

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The new book “Tower 9/11 Story” by a Czech-American architect and author Jiří Boudník is described as a love letter to the New York City and its people. He was in the city at the time of the attack, and went on foot from Brooklyn to help rescue people, as public transportation had shut down. As an architect, he understood the buildings were about to collapse.

He arrived too late, though, and rather than help save people he worked to recover bodies. He also used his skills to create 3D models of the site to aid in the search and clean-up efforts. Writing the book was a form of therapy for PTSD, he said told the Bohemian Benevolent and Literary Association, which is holding a Zoom meeting with the author on Sept. 11. The book is available at bookstores and from online retailers including its publisher, Kosmas.cz.

The 9/11 attacks caused 2,977 fatalities and over 25,000 injuries as well as substantial long-term health consequences. Two commercial airliners were hijacked and forced to crash into the World Trade Center in New York. A third hijacked plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth hijacked crashed near Pittsburgh, after the passengers tried to take back control. The terrorist group al-Qaeda was behind the attacks.

The only known video of both planes hitting the Twin Towers was made by Pavel Hlava, a Czech immigrant who was making a video of his journey from New York to Pennsylvania for a job. The video didn’t become public until 2003.

Hlava’s brother Josef was with him in an SUV, and since Josef had never been to New York before they took a detour to get a better view of the skyline of lower Manhattan, according a 2003 report in the New York Times.

Pavel Hlava was filming the Twin Towers by chance as the first plane hit, and didn’t even notice what had happened. By the time he and his coworkers emerged from Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the first tower was in flames.

“A short while ago we were camera-ing the twins and they were cool And now they're on fire,” he said in Czech during the taping.

He continued to film as the second plane flew almost overhead and hit the second tower.

The story of why it took so long to be seen is a bit convoluted, but the language barrier seemed to have played a role. Hlava did try to sell the take just after the attacks, but seems to have not been able to communicate what he had. A bartender who had obtained a copy of the tape told someone about it, and eventually it came to the attention of a freelance news photographer who brought it to the attention of the New York Times.

Hlava used the money he received from the sale of the rights to the video to return to Brno, South Moravia, where bought a flat and opened a nightclub.

There was also a response in the Czech Republic right after the attacks occurred. On Sept. 13, 2001, all of the church bells rang across the Czech Republic. People left flowers, candles, and notes in front of the U.S. Embassy.

Then-President Václav Havel expressed solidarity with the U.S. and said the event was an “attack on freedom and democracy.”

He also commented on the attacks in his speech at the end of of 2001. ”[The victims'] horrific deaths and subsequently their families' sufferings, as well as the shock experienced by the entire world, have alerted us to the evil that exists in this world. This has been a great omen, a great challenge for deeds, a great impulse for strengthening human solidarity, for the ability of self-restraint, and for the willingness to struggle for fundamental human values,” he said.

Havel visited the World Trade Center site in September 2002 when he was in New York to meet with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

As happened happened everywhere worldwide, security measures increased in Prague. One of the most visible was the presence of an armored personnel carrier placed outside the Prague headquarters of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, located in the former Czechoslovak Federal Assembly building near Wenceslas Square. The adjacent section of street was also barricaded with concrete barriers.

Detail of the Sept. 11 memorial at Kampa. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)
Detail of the Sept. 11 memorial at Kampa. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)

The situation was not ideal, however, and RFE/RL moved to a new more secure purpose-built location outside of the city center and started broadcasting from there in February 2009. The former Czechoslovak Federal Assembly building was renovated into the New Building of the National Museum and the once-barricaded street has been transformed into a public space called the Museum Oasis.

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A monument to the 343 firefighters who died in the Sept. 11 attacks was unveiled in Prague in Kampa Park near the base of Charles Bridge on Sept. 11, 2010. The monument came about from the efforts of the Prague 1 Volunteer Firefighters.

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