A lasting record: Preserving history by sharing

9/11 survivor Mark Baron pictured at Valhalla’s memorial The Rising.

Former Edgemont resident Mark Baron was on the 70th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower writing an email Sept. 11, 2001 when he felt the building move. He didn’t hear anything, but he felt it move.

He knew the tower was built to sway in the wind, but he became concerned when he looked out the window and saw debris falling. His immediate thought was a plane hit the building.

He packed his things in his briefcase to leave. It was a slow process getting out, and he noticed firefighters making their way up the stairs as other people were leaving.

Baron shared his story recently with Barry Leibowitz, a Hartsdale resident and member of Greenburgh’s 9/11 Living History Committee. The interview debuted on YouTube in late February. It is the first in a series of interviews that will be televised at police, fire, ambulance headquarters in the villages and unincorporated section of Greenburgh, archived at the Greenburgh library, shared with schools and broadcast on local public access television each year on the 9/11 anniversary.

Leibowitz joined the committee in the fall when he saw Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner’s post on Facebook about the newly formed committee.

“Six or seven of us were at the initial meeting for this [project] and started throwing ideas around,” Leibowitz said. “It started to take shape from there.”

Their nebulous ideas and discussions began to morph into a plan.

“In the course of a few months, we came up with a few ways to reach out to people,” Leibowitz said. “Paul [Feiner] subsequently put out another notice to people who might be interested in telling their story about 9/11.”

Prior to conducting the interview, Leibowitz met with Baron to establish a level of comfort before talking about such a heavy topic.

“I thought it would be a good idea, both from the interviewer’s point of view, and from the perspective of the person being interviewed,” he said. “It’s a challenging subject and not so easy for people to be telling these stories.”

The two sat down and talked in the studio at Greenburgh Town Hall.

Leibowitz has a background in journalism and previously worked with CBS as a reporter and editor. Part of his journalism experience included reporting on 9/11 and working on projects that were put together around 9/11 anniversaries.

“It’s a subject I’m not unfamiliar with, and because it’s such a significant event, I felt I had some perspective to bring to it,” Leibowitz said.

For Baron, it was a chance to tell his own story of what happened that day.

“If you don’t talk about it or write it down, it gets lost,” Baron said. “By now, I can get through telling the story. It’s a memory.”

This wasn’t always the case.

Baron said he was invited to tell his story at a 9/11 10th anniversary memorial event, but he wasn’t able to get through it. He also said it took a long time for him to drive by Ground Zero comfortably.

One thing that helped was the passage of time.

And, Baron said he sees the necessity of telling his story for future generations.

“People will know something happened on 9/11, but will they remember how it touched everyone’s lives?” he wondered. “If my legend or lore doesn’t get recorded, it’ll get lost. Was my story typical? I don’t know. But is there an importance in it not getting lost? Absolutely.”

Despite his difficulty sharing his story in the years after the tragedy, Baron was on board with the interview for the video project.

Finally, he said, “I was ready, willing and able to tell people about it. By nature, I’m not shy, but … in front of the town when they did the 10-year anniversary, I was a little hesitant.”

Meeting with Leibowitz prior to the interview put Baron at ease, he said, and enabled him to talk about what had happened from beginning to end for the first time.

Baron said the first responders were truly heroic.

“They ran in when we ran out,” he said. “I have a great deal of respect for them, even more than before.”

Baron’s motivation to participate in recording 9/11 history comes down to a personal experience from his younger days growing up in an apartment in Brooklyn. His neighbors across the hall were both Holocaust survivors marked by tattoos and the ordeal of Auschwitz.

“As a boy, I didn’t know what [the Holocaust] was,” he said. “I asked my parents, but they told me never to ask them about it.”

Baron regrets never talking to the neighbors about their experiences.

9/11 “was a terrible day and terrible thing that happened to the U.S.,” Baron said, “and it should be talked about.”

The 9/11 Living History Committee is seeking volunteers to work with the committee, as well as survivors, witnesses, first responders and family members interested in sharing their 9/11 story.

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