Holocaust Survivor Saved Students' Lives
Tuesday, April 17, 2007; 12:59 PM
JERUSALEM -- The e-mails from grateful students arrived soon after Liviu Librescu was shot to death, telling how the Holocaust survivor barricaded the doorway of his Virginia Tech classroom and saved their lives at the cost of his own.
Librescu, an Israeli engineering and math lecturer who survived the Nazi killings and later escaped from Communist Romania, was one of several foreign victims of Monday's shootings, which coincided with Israel's Holocaust remembrance day.
"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Librescu's son, Joe Librescu, said Tuesday in a telephone interview from his home outside Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."
Joe Librescu, who studied at Virginia Tech from 1989 to 1994, said his mother received e-mails from students shortly after learning of her husband's death.
The gunman, identified as Cho Seung-Hui _ a 23-year-old English major and native of South Korea _ killed 32 people, then committed suicide.
Also among the victims was G.V. Loganathan, a 51-year-old engineering professor from India, his brother G.V. Palanivel said from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Peruvian student Daniel Perez Cueva, 21, was also killed while in his French class, said his mother, Betty Cueva.
Loganathan, who was born in the southern Indian city of Chennai, had been a professor at Virginia Tech since 1982.
"For us it was like an electric shock. We've totally collapsed today," his brother said. "Our parents are elderly and have broken down completely."
When Romania joined forces with Nazi Germany in World War II, the young Librescu was interned in a labor camp, and then sent along with his family and thousands of other Jews to a central ghetto in the city of Focsani, his son said. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews were killed by the collaborationist regime during the war.
Librescu, who was 76 when he died, later found work at a government aerospace company. But his career was stymied in the 1970s because he refused to swear allegiance to the Communist regime, his son said, and he was later fired when he requested permission to move to Israel.
In 1977, according to his son, Israel's then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin personally intervened to get the family an emigration permit, and they left for Israel in 1978.
Librescu left Israel for Virginia in 1985 for a sabbatical year, but eventually made the move permanent, said Joe Librescu: "His work was his life in a sense."
The academic community in Romania also was mourning Librescu's death.
"It is a great loss," said Ecaterina Andronescu, rector of the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, where Librescu graduated with a degree in mechanics and aviation construction in 1953. "We have immense consideration for the way he reacted and defended his students with his life."
At the university, people placed flowers on a table holding his picture and a lit candle. "We remember him as a great specialist in aeronautics. He left behind hundreds of prestigious papers," said professor Nicolae Serban Tomescu.
Librescu, who specialized in composite structures and aeroelasticity, published extensively and received numerous awards for his work. He received a doctorate from the Bucharest-based Academy of Sciences in 1969, and an honorary degree from the Bucharest Polytechnic University in 2000.
He also received several NASA grants and taught courses at the University "La Sapienza" in Rome and at the Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Associated Press writers Gavin Rabinowitz and Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi, Alexandru Alexe in Bucharest, Romania, and Leslie Josephs in Lima, Peru, contributed to this article.