In the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States saw an outpouring of support, generosity, and empathy from every corner of the globe. Today, as many Americans take time to remember the tragic events and the 2,996 lives lost 16 years ago, we look at three stories of communities around the world that continue to demonstrate that same support and solidarity for both the victims and the first responders.
Spontaneous Condolences: The Hague, Netherlands
In the days following the events of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Embassy in the Netherlands saw an outpouring of support from the Dutch public. “It was unprecedented,” said Jos Van Tegelen, the webmaster who has worked for the Embassy for nearly 25 years. “Dutch people sent drawings, letters, cards. People brought flowers, gifts, and communities signed condolence books.” Van Tegelen tells of how then Queen Beatrix’s Royal Carriage stopped for a moment on the street outside the Chancery during the annual Prinsjesdag procession to show respect. The entire Dutch Cabinet walked over to the Embassy to lay flowers and stand together for a moment of silence. “People wanted to express their emotions. Children had such an urge to express what they saw,” he added.
All of the cards, condolence books, stuffed toys, paintings, construction paper animals, and letters have been kept. Now, as the staff of U.S. Embassy The Hague prepares to move to a new embassy campus, they also prepare to find a home for this archive. The staff has reached out to the U.S. Diplomacy Center and other archives connected with September 11th. “Our goal is to make sure that these sentiments are preserved,” said Sherry Keneson-Hall, Public Affairs Officer at U.S. Embassy The Hague. “That is also why we launched a Twitter and Instagram campaign this year to highlight these condolences."
Each day during the week leading to the 9/11 anniversary, the Embassy shared a photograph. “I was so moved by these cards, poems, drawings, and such that I thought we should share these. Some of the students who made these items could now have their own children. I think they might be surprised that we kept them. It is important to me that they know we cared and we still do.”
A Formal, Majestic Memorial: Padua, Italy
Padua, Italy, a medium-sized city not far from Venice, may seem like an unlikely location for a memorial to the victims of the 9/11 attacks. But nestled amongst traditional Italian masterpieces like the Cappella degli Scrovegni, there is no doubt that American architect Daniel Libeskind’s Memoria e Luce (Memory and Light) belongs here.
Covering an area of 2,500 square feet, with a height of 56 feet, Memoria e Luce is one of the world’s most formal and majestic memorial tributes to the September 11th tragedy. Designed to resemble an open book—the ‘Book of History’—the monument’s most prominent feature is a recovered piece of steel from South Tower of the World Trade Center that still shows its original construction number. This 19.6-foot-long I-beam was first shown at the American Pavilion during the 2002 Venice Biennale. The U.S. Department of State later donated the structural fragment to Italy’s Veneto Region which, in turn, gave it to one of the region’s most prominent communities, the City of Padua.
Every year since the completion of the memorial in 2005, the City of Padua has held a commemoration ceremony for the victims of September 11th attacks. Representatives from the U.S. Consulate in Milan also attend. In remarks at this year’s ceremony, Public Affairs Officer Kim Natoli highlighted the importance of this shared memorial: “September 11 struck all of humanity. On that terrible day, more than 2,600 Americans and nearly 400 people from 90 different nationalities lost their lives. Together, as allies, we look toward the future and confirm our commitment to share our strengths and ideas to make the world a better place.”
Spontaneous and Organized Solidarity: Pristina, Kosovo
Immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. Office in Pristina, Kosovo (now U.S. Embassy Pristina) received an outpouring of condolences and sympathies from Kosovo’s political leadership, civil society, and general public alike. Arzen Randobrava, an Information Assistant at U.S. Embassy Pristina, recalled the events of the day: “At first, I could not believe that such a thing could happen. For many in Kosovo, it was disbelief, then mixed with numbness, then a pain which became sadness towards the end of the day. I went home and cried.”
In the days following the attacks, groups gathered across Kosovo – some organized and some spontaneous – to march in support of the United States, to light candles, and to donate blood. One Kosovo civil society organization began an annual film festival dedicated to honoring the victims of 9/11 by “celebrating life and fighting destruction with creation.” Some Kosovo citizens even went to the U.S. Office, volunteering to go fight alongside U.S. servicemen and women in the Global War on Terrorism.
Since the 2001, these memorials and tributes have continued. At a memorial ceremony last year, Kosovo’s then Speaker of Parliament highlighted how the 9/11 attacks “threatened our way of life and our shared democratic values.” For him, the memorial was an opportunity to pledge Kosovo’s continued support of the United States in the ongoing fight against all forms of terrorism and violent extremism.
For others, it is an opportunity for solidarity. Every year in the capital city of Pristina, a group of Kosovo’s police, firefighters and other crisis responders gather around an American flag lowered to half-staff. For them, it’s not only a chance to honor the victims, but also to honor the bravery and courage of their fellow first responders who rushed into danger on that day.
Editor’s Note: This entry is also published in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on Medium.com.