Finding the Positive Amid a Family’s Searing 9/11 Tragedy

It was several years before Andrea Haberman’s purse was returned to her family. It took a few more years before her father, Gordon, was willing to go through what was in the purse inside an evidence bag he was given by the New York City police department. He described his reaction to the purse as “very visceral.”

On the other hand, for weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, Haberman kept calling his daughter’s cell phone number. No one answered. “You’re asking me why I would call that,” Haberman said to Mike Gousha during an intense, somber “On the Issues” program in Eckstein Hall’s Appellate Courtroom on Tuesday. “It was a connection to her.”

As the tenth anniversary of the death of Andrea Haberman and nearly 3,000 other people in the attacks of Sept. 11 arrives, Andrea’s family and friends remain deeply committed to keeping alive their connection to the 25-year-old daughter, sister, fiancé, and friend who was just hours into her first trip to New York.

Andrea Haberman grew up near West Bend. She was a Chicago-based employee of Carr Futures, a brokerage firm, when she was sent to New York for a business meeting in the Carr offices in the north tower of the World Trade Center. She was excited about her upcoming marriage to Al Kolodzik, who she met when they were students at St. Norbert College, near Green Bay.

When the large jet seized by terrorists crashed into the north tower, there were people from the 91st story on down who survived, but everyone from the 92nd floor on up died. The Carr offices – and Andrea at that moment – were on the 92nd floor. Within a short time, a second jet hit the south tower, another crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers foiled it from reaching Washington.

The story of Andrea and her family is told eloquently in a new book, Just a Few Sleeps Away, by Milwaukee writer Mike Nichols. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is running eight excerpts from the book this week. For more information on the book click here and for the newspaper series, click here. The conversation between Gordon Haberman and Gousha can be viewed here.

The family’s story has decidedly positive sides to it, Gordon Haberman told Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, and an audience of about 175. The positive sides include people who stepped forward to assist the Habermans who Gordon called angels on earth. They include the close-knit and supportive network the Habermans have become involved with, all members of families of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks or who died in other major airline terrorist attacks. They include a large number of people in New York who have become like family members to the Habermans, supporting them during the extensive amounts of time they have spent in the area. And they include members of the American military, many of whom, Gordon said, “died somehow in the name of my daughter.” He asked, “Where do we get such men?”

But overall, he said, “There is no sugar coating 9/11.”

The father said he has spent large amounts of time and energy trying to find out everything he could about the attacks and the people who were behind them. He has travelled to the American military prison in Guantanamo, attended trials of terrorists, and been part of sessions of the commission that investigated the 9-11 attacks. “I don’t try to understand so much anymore why they do what they do,” he said of terrorists. “But I do know we have to be vigilant.”

He and his family are obviously changed. Life does not just simply resume in the aftermath of such a tragedy. But, he said, the family wants to act constructively. “Anger, I think, is one of those emotions that stifles intelligence quickly,” he said.

The family has become active in charitable efforts related to what they have gone through. Last year, Gordon finally examined what was in the evidence bag, including Andrea’s purse, the temporary World Trade Center ID badge she was issued just minutes before the attack, and the mangled cell phone he tried to call so often. The purse is being donated to a museum exhibit about the attacks. And on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011, family members will take part in memorial tributes at the site of the World Trade Center and in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood, a community that lost more than 20 people in the attacks and then, among other things, embraced the Haberman family when it was in need of help. That kind of good will be honored, along with the tragedy.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Robert Haberman

    Last Sunday my wife Connie and I took our grandson to the Freedom Tower and while leaving wanted him to see the memorial pools. It was very crowded and walked around to find an open spot. Seeing an opening we looked on with respect at the memorial. But what caught our eye was the name, Haberman…I like to think this is more than a coincidence…Robert and Connie Haberman…Please pass this on to the family of their beloved daughter, Andrea

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