Naples Teen Reflects on the Loss of Her Father on 9/11: Eight Months Before She Was Born
Claudia Szurkowski was born in New York. Her father, who worked for the union of painters and wallpaper hangers, was working in the North Tower on 9/11. After his death, her mother brought Claudia and her sister down to Florida, where she grew up and still lives today. Working as a secretary on a cardiac unit at the local hospital has given her a front-row view of the pandemic. She is also studying at Florida SouthWestern State College and is particularly interested in law and criminal justice.
She was recently included in the PBS special GENERATION 9/11 which focuses on the stories of seven children whose fathers died that day and reveals how an entire generation was shaped by the tragedy and its aftermath.
Mike Kiniry spoke to her about how the events of 9/11 have shaped her life.
MK: Claudio Szurkowski, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.
CS: Thank you for having me.
MK: So, what do you feel when you're reminded of September 11th?
CS: I feel great sorrow when I'm reminded of September 11th. I do constantly think about it every single day. It is on my mind for at least several minutes, and it makes me very sad and angry to an extent.
MK: You were born, if I've got this right, about eight months after September 11th, which means your mom would have just been very newly pregnant. How did you learn the story of your father and his death during the terrorist attacks? Did that come to you a little later as a kid in one big chunk, or did you learn about it sort of piecemeal as you grew up?
CS: So I kind of always knew about that disconnection that I had. There wasn't just a specific time where my mom sat me down and talked to me about it and kind of just tell me everything. It was all just there always in the back of my mind. I just always knew. We would always go to the Memorial since I was...the first time I went was when I was, I think a year old. So in 2003 was the first time that I went. I just always knew. But growing up, I would take my own time to research the day, to research what happened, to read about my father, to make sure I ask questions to my mom and things like that.
MK: Is this something that you've been open with with your friends as you grew up, to the people around you who aren't your family?
CS: So growing up, I kept it very closed. I didn't let a lot of people know because kids are kids, they're cruel, they're rude. They don't really understand the day itself. They don't understand the situation. So I really didn't open up about it until just recently. Growing up, I realized that this is a big part of my life. This is a very important part of my life, and I might as well share it, especially hitting the 20-year mark.
MK: Have you met many, or any, of your father's friends and been able to therefore, sort of, in a sense, see him through their eyes or their stories?
CS: Yes. Actually, my mom is still friends with a bunch of people that they were both friends with back when he was still here, one of which being his best friend, who I just recently saw a few months ago and I'll be seeing again when I go up to New York. And I do. Just the stories that they share when my older sister and I are around to like fill in that void is just wonderful, and it really lift a lot of weight off of my shoulders to hear those stories from his friends and from his past.
MK: Is there much in the way of photographs or video that you've been able to go back and look through?
CS: We have tons of photo albums back at the house and in my room, I actually have numerous photos of him just so that way, at every angle in my room, I can see him. I talk to him every day, to his photos, things like that. I make sure I do that every single day. And my mom always made sure that we had a photo of him in our room. So that way we can see him every day.
MK: What's his name?
CS: His name is Norbert Szurkowski.
MK: You mentioned going back to New York and going to memorials with your mom. Is that where you'll be for this 20th anniversary?
CS: That is correct. Yes. We fly out on the 9th.
MK: What does it feel like this year with all this added attention, which it's certainly getting?
CS: It's a little nerve wracking. 20 years is a big, big deal. With everything that's happening outside of the United States is a little scary to think about, because 20 years is so big and you never know what could happen. But it's humbling to know that we are able to go to New York and be there at his site, at where he was 20 years ago. It's nice to know that I'll be there and not in a different state.
MK: I see that you are attending FSW and that you work at NCH on the weekends. What is your career path? And has it been in any way informed by this part of your life's background?
CS: So my career path is criminal justice. My goal is to become a lawyer. And when I first started on this journey, I did not make the connection between my career and 9/11 until recently, being asked all these questions and actually thinking about it. And I've definitely connected to both of them. I have such passion to homeland security and to anti-terrorism and to law enforcement. And I definitely feel like it does have a connection to September 11th.
MK: Claudia Szurkowski is a 19-year-old Naples resident and one of seven young people profiled in the PBS special Generation 9/11 about kids who were born after their fathers were killed in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. Claudia, thank you so much for sharing your story and good luck with everything that you do going forward.
CS: Thank you so much.