Ground Zero: The losses of 9/11 still haunt former N.Y. mayor

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

After 14 years, memories of September 11, 2001 are still painful for former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

“September 11 had a profound effect on me. I lost a dozen very, very close friends,” Giuliani said to a crowd of more than 1,000 November 1, at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.

Giuliani was there to talk to supporters of the Holocaust Memorial Center for its 31st anniversary dinner.

“The attacks still make me very angry,” Giuliani said. “When I greeted President Bush four days after the attacks he put his arm behind my head and said, ‘What can I do for  you?’ I told him, ‘President, if you find Bin Laden I want to be the one to kill him.’“

Giuliani reiterated his post 9/11 views when he said,  “Let me say it as it is – the Islamic extremist terrorists failed in their mission to attack the financial heart of New York City. Twice as many people are living there today as there were before the attacks.”

Turning his attention to his time as a federal prosecutor, Giuliani said of all the people he prosecuted, he is most proud of being the person who handled the Nazi Karl Linnas’ extradition to the former Soviet Union.

“This guy’s defense was ‘I only killed 3,000 people, not the 12,000 they are claiming.’”

 Linnas lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years before he was sentenced to death in absentia and deported to Soviet Estonia.

Many lessons are to be learned from the Holocaust, Giuliani said.

“When you go to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, you almost faint when you get a sense of how close Hitler came to wiping out the Jewish people. You realize just how much evil there is in the world.”

Citing the rise in anti-Semitism in this country and in Europe, Giuliani said, ”If you want to end anti-Semitism, you don’t make a deal with the Ayatollah of Iran who is the biggest anti-Semite in the world. I don’t know how America can lead other countries when we are dealing with a man who wants to destroy Israel and who also calls for death to America. I don’t like that very much.”

Religion influences his life, but Giuliani admits that his views are not necessarily conventional.

“I probably have a more secular view of God than exists in traditional Catholicism, but I pray,” Giuliani said. “Religion has instilled a sense of honesty and integrity in me, but I only confess to my best friend, who just happens to be a priest.”

Another priest, Father Mychal Judge, was one of Giuliani’s closest confidantes and the first recorded casualty of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

“When I lost him I felt like I was all alone,” Giuliani said. “I used to tell him to go pray for me and he would say, ‘no go pray for yourself’.”

Father Judge was a Catholic priest who served as chaplain to the New York City Fire Department. When the plane hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower, Father Judge ran in beside the firefighters he served.

Religion also played a significant role in a tragic scenario of a dying Catholic firefighter who was married to a Jewish woman, Giuliani said.

“Firefighter Wiley’s wife came to me when the fire surgeon said her husband was not going to make it and asked me to call the Pope to say a mass for her husband. So, I called the Monsignor and asked him, ‘How do I call the Pope?’” Giuliani continued, “the Monsignor said I should call Cardinal O’ Connor. O’Connor told me he would call the Pope to say a mass the next day. In the meanwhile, the Cardinal told me to get both sides of the family, who didn’t speak to each other, in the same room. So I did and O’Connor showed up with a Rabbi and explained to the family that Jesus died as a Jew. It was important now to come together. Wiley died the next day and the entire family came to mass at Saint Patrick’s.”

“We lost 343 firefighters, including many senior people, the generals who lead their men into the fire. We lost our youngest and oldest firefighter in the attacks,” Giuliani said. “I realized I needed some simple clear goals to do the best job possible and as quickly and humanely possible to let New Yorkers know there was a better tomorrow.”

Named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2001 for his actions following September 11, Giuliani said he hopes to be remembered for turning around his city.

“When I was elected mayor in 1993, 74 percent said the city was going in the wrong direction. When I left office, 78 percent said they were optimistic, in spite of September 11. A leader gets people to look up. That’s what I wanted people to do – to look up from ground zero.”
 

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