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Hero at Virginia Tech

Hero at Virginia Tech

Professor Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, was shot as he shielded the classroom door so his students could safely escape.


When Professor Liviu Librescu set off to work at Virginia Polytechnic Institute on Monday morning, did it ever occur to him that he would die while saving his students' lives that day?

The 76-year-old aeronautics professor, a Holocaust survivor, was shot by a crazed killer as he shielded the classroom door so his students could safely escape.

While the massacre at Virginia Tech generates shock waves worldwide, the death of Professor Librescu stands out. He is hailed across the media as a hero -- and even that title seems meager compared to his self-sacrifice.

The published facts are somber and stark: Librescu survived the Holocaust, then trained and began his career in communist Romania until he was hunted down for the "crime" of lack of allegiance to the regime. He eventually escaped to Israel in 1978 and then relocated to Blacksburg, Virginia in 1986 where he was highly regarded in Virginia Tech's engineering science and mechanics department. Students and friends describe him as kind, generous, hard-working, and good-hearted, but they never could have imagined the depth of his fortitude until that fateful Monday.

"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu, one of Professor Librescu's two sons, told the Associated Press from his home near Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."

A local Virginia newspaper, The Daily Progress, interviewed Josh Wargo, one of the last students to jump out the window to safety. In the moment before he jumped, Wargo looked back to see his professor determinedly barricading the door shut.

"I was in the back of the classroom when this happened. Immediately after I saw students jumping out of the window and almost instinctually I followed them," said Wargo. "I have recently learned from another classmate going out the window that [he and I] were two of the last students to make it out safely. If Dr. Librescu was not at the door, I don't know what would have happened to me."

Caroline Merrey, another student saved by Librescu's bravery, recounted her experience to the Roanoke Times. "I just remember looking back and seeing him at the door," the Virginia Tech senior recalled of her professor before she escaped out the window. "I don't think I would be here if it wasn't for him."

This is a man who risked his own life in the spur of the moment to save his students; who suppressed his own self-preservation instinct so that others could live on. A man who survived the horror of the Holocaust, then went on to be persecuted by the oppressive communist regime in Romania. If human accounting governed the theatre of life, this is a man whose many years of suffering would surely seem entitled to live out his life in comfort and die peacefully, surrounded by family and friends.

There are those who can transform an instant into a lifetime achievement.

But it was not so. Instead, Liviu Librescu was killed by Seung-Hui Cho, who shot the professor and left him to die alone. Librescu perished in the classroom, the place where his son testified that his father "felt most at home." Is there a more immortal way for mortal man to die than by enabling countless others to live?

He received a proper Jewish burial in Israel, thanks to strenuous efforts on behalf of Chabad and the Jewish community members in Virginia and in accordance with the wishes of his wife, Marlena.

How ironic it is that Librescu survived the hazards of the labor camps and ghetto during World War II and escaped the iron rod of tyrannical oppression in Romania, only to perish inside the serene, insular walls of a university campus. Even more incongruous is the fact that he was murdered on Holocaust Memorial Day -- Yom HaShoah.

President Bush paid tribute to Librescu's outstanding heroism during an address at the United States National Holocaust Museum. "With the gunman set to enter his class, this brave professor blocked the door with his body while his students fled to safety," Bush said on Wednesday.

In an about-face, the Romanian government conferred upon him a post-mortem honor in the form of The National Order -- a medal featuring two crosses. Dubious tribute for the Jewish hero, but his selfless actions will long be remembered not only by the students he saved, but by all who hear of his bravery.

The widely circulated photograph of the slain professor shows him with an almost ethereal quality -- his eyes lifted upward slightly, as though deep in thought, his mouth turned up in a tiny smile. Doubtless, his thoughts were complex; he was renowned internationally for his academia and expertise. But his countenance is devoid of bitterness or enmity despite the hardships he underwent.

As they recall the nightmarish events of that terrible Monday in April, the students who escaped from Dr. Librescu's classroom will doubtless remember forever this gentle man whose mild demeanor clearly belied the core of steel that prompted his final sacrifice.

There are those who can transform an instant into a lifetime achievement. Liviu Librescu exalted his final moments by saving countless young lives. His legacy of heroism and sterling character burns bright as we mourn his passing.

April 21, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 46

(46) augustine johnson, December 16, 2012 3:22 AM

yes a hero--and yesterday more heros in newtown conn--usa

yes the professor was definitely a hero===augustine johnson---usa

(45) John Van Slyke, January 12, 2010 3:57 AM

Prof. Librescu is the quintessential hero.

Everyone is a "hero" lately. We see that label bestowed so liberally that it has lost its true meaning. George Bush actually said in the days after 9/11, "I believe that everyone who died on that day is a hero." What? Someone just sitting at his desk on the 93rd floor when a jetliner happens to vaporize his cubicle is a "hero"? In my opinion, one only deserves recognition as a hero if he knowingly sacrifices his life to save the life of another. Even the men who attempted to overtake the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, although they acted bravely, were acting as much to save their own lives as anyone else's. And while their actions deserve our praise and respect because they doubtless saved the lives of countless people in Washington, I do not believe they rise to the level of Librescu's. Nor did the actions of Captain Sullenberger. He demonstrated extraordinary skill and professionalism, but heroism? I think not. Or perhaps there are different levels of heroism. Either way, the visage of Professor Librescu, fully aware but terrified in the knowledge that he was living the last moments of his remarkable life, watching with some sense of joy as his students, one by one, escaped to safety and holding on with his last ounce of strength, that as many as possible would live, is the epitome of heroism. I wish I had known this man. I hope those who did know him appreciate how much their lives must have been enriched by him. He is the quintessential hero.

(44) Dan, January 18, 2009 7:51 AM

The teacher of heroism

What a great man,what sacrifice, what example to emulate.I am not jewish but I have the utmost respect for the jewish people and for their legacy to the world. This man is yet another part of that tremedous legacy and contribution.I only wish there were more people like him here in Romania.People that care,that are sensitive to the suffering of others ,that give something back to the world.The current generation in Romania is morally bankrupt and valueless.I feel we should more often to people like this brave man. Thank you Mr.Librescu for your dedication and service to humanity.

(43) Yisroel Yitzchak Martin, November 3, 2007 6:37 PM

He live's...

I know as a person who has gone through self trails* that after something that harsh happens your self preservation instinct becomes many times as strong. For this man, who deserves my name more than I do,To sacrafise what life he had left was a heroism no-one but he and those who have been personally tortured can understand. I wont claim to have been tortured as harshly as him but I had it bad enough to help me understand his love for life. My name means "I wrestled with an angel and won" this man however deserves more than some little medal from a country. He does'nt deserves my name, My name means I fought with an angel and I have, this man however didnt wrestle he just did, he acted with no interest in self to save those that had become a part of his life. He deserves more than sorrow and morning by people everywhere he desrves the best. He deserves for His memory to become something someone conjures with love not sorrow. Many people no dought ask, "Why did he go?" or "Why this man?" The answer : Because he was a man of greater stature than any of us has met. He, I have absolutly no doabt felt only love of life when he died.

(42) Michael Grabowski, May 4, 2007 12:10 AM

Heros aren't born they live & learn that life is to be cherished !!!

Life teaches you that one day there are only two choices, and you have only seconds to take action !!

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