New York attacks: “become a good person”

World mirror

Status: 05.09.2021 4:54 a.m.

Brook Peters was five when the World Trade Center collapsed – and a fan of the fire department. Firemen sent him messages before going into the burning towers. For years Brook felt guilty – he coped with them cinematically.

By Christiane Meier, ARD-Studio New York

The memory of September 11, 2001 is still present for Brook Peters, it is deeply engraved in his memory, even if he was a little boy at the time. When he gets to the top of Manhattan he says he can feel the pressure in his stomach and the emptiness under his feet. “Then you remember what happened here – but also how we rebuilt the city.”

Brook was five years old and a huge fire service fan. The fire station around the corner was his second home, the firefighters his heroes and surrogate fathers. It was Brook’s second day of preschool, 500 yards from the World Trade Center, when terror changed his world forever. When Brook returns to school today, everything will come back to him.

His mother picked him up and brought him to the fire department, where she thought he was safe. But then she decided to run away with me. “It was a terrible scene,” he recalls. “It was a wave of ash and glass that hit us when my mother got me out of the fire truck and ran north. I saw over her shoulder the towers collapse, people jumping down – all before my eyes.”

New York – Children of September 11th

Christiane Meier, ARD New York, Weltspiegel, 3.9.2021

Buried in the towers

It was 9:59 in the morning when the south tower collapsed – half an hour later the north tower collapsed as well. With him, eleven of his personal friends disappeared from the fire station 24.

Before the men had to go into the towers, in their desperation they had left little Brook goodbye notes for their families. But the five-year-old messes everything up and feels guilty for years. “I had to learn to deal with this guilt, with these feelings. One of the last messages I got was: Become a good person, take care of your mother, but most of all, become a good person.

Ten years ago, when Brook was just 15, he made a film about himself and his experiences. He had been in therapy for seven years. Surrounded by so much death and frequent funerals, he says – that forced him to mature earlier. But behind the With the camera it was like being behind a protective shield – “when you see something that actually makes you cry. It is a buffer and helps you to cope with it.”

The fact that the twin towers were on fire could be seen from far and wide on September 11th, 2001 – at the foot of the WTC and in its surroundings, almost inscribable dramas were taking place.

Image: dpa

A film as coping

It was only later that Brook realized how alone he was with his experiences. His girlfriend Claire admires him for his award-winning film, but for Brook it was vital because it shows a child’s perspective. Because the children concerned had never been discussed. Brooks says they were kept secret. “Sharing this experience is like a relief.” Working on the film showed him that he was not alone: ​​”Although I had lost so many father figures and role models, the trauma I had experienced with my classmates was not just my own.”

With their dog Lion, Brook and Claire have been living a rather withdrawn everyday life since the beginning of the corona pandemic. Brook didn’t become a filmmaker; instead, he studied philosophy. He’s been looking for work for a while now. Something to help people with would be ideal for him, he believes, be it in the local government or be it for a non-profit organization. He wants to change something.

The pain remains – especially with people who have lost relatives and friends in the collapsing towers.


No anger or doubts about the wars

Even though Brooks’ life was so heavily influenced by the terrorist attacks, he has no anger. He also has doubts about his own country’s reaction at the time. The war in Afghanistan – he does not know whether it will help him to bring the events to a close. “We spent trillions and thousands of soldiers died. And many more people in Afghanistan and before that in Iraq. We haven’t solved any problems. I don’t think I’ll find peace with that.”

Fear of new attacks has stayed with Brook throughout his life, but he is not intimidated by it. “It’s all about resilience. Everyone has to get over this hill. Be it a mountain or an anthill. Getting through that and using it constructively could make the world a better place.”

On the anniversary of the attacks, Brook wants to visit his old fire station. Maybe to find peace after all. For the younger generation, September 11th has long been history, they only experienced consequences, the wars, the anti-terror laws. But they can learn that New Yorkers are resilient.

You can see these and other reports in Weltspiegel – on Sunday at 7:20 p.m. in Das Erste.

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