Israeli Lecturer Died Shielding Virginia Tech Students From Gunman

Engineering Prof. Liviu Librescu among dead as gunman kills 32 in deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history.

Haaretz Service
Haaretz Service

Students of an Israeli lecturer who died in the Monday massacre at a Vriginia Tech said he saved the lives of several students by blocking the doorway of his classroom from the approaching gunman before he was fatally shot, his son said Tuesday.

The massacre, in which a gunman killed 33 people at the university before committing suicide, was the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.

Students of Liviu Librescu, 76, an engineering science and mathematics lecturer in at Virginia Tech for 20 years, sent e-mails to his wife, Marlena, telling of how he blocked the gunman's way and saved their lives, said the son, Joe.

"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."

Librescu, who also taught courses in Tel Aviv University, was respected in his field, his son said. "His work was his life in a sense," Joe Librescu said. "That was a good place for him to practice his research."

"He himself was killed but thanks to him his students stayed alive," an Israeli student who survived the massacre told Army Radio on Tuesday.

Joe Librescu told Channel 10 television that his father, who survived the Holocaust, "had tried to block the door... lock it. That's all we know at the moment."

"All his life was university study," he continued. "From this perpective I can see him doing anything."

He said that he and his brother had both studied at Virginia Tech. "This is the last place that you could imagine something like this happening."

Librescu, 76 at the time of his death, had known tragedy since childhood.

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 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, who himself studied at Virginia Tech from 1989 to 1994.

In Romania, the academic community also was mourning Librescu's death.

"It is a great loss," said Ecaterina Andronescu, rector of the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, where Librescu graduated in mechanics and aviation construction in 1953. The university declared Tuesday a day of mourning in honour of Librescu.

"We have immense consideration for the way he reacted and defended his students with his life," Andronescu said.

Librescu also received a Ph.D from the Bucharest-based Academy of Sciences in 1969, and received an honorary degree with the Polytechnic University in 2000.

At the Polytechnic University, his picture was put on a table and a candle was lit, and people lay flowers. "We remember him as a great specialist in aeronautics. He left behind hundreds of prestigious papers, said one of the professors," Nicolae Serban Tomescu.

Librescu, who specialized in composite structures and aeroelasticity, published extensively and received numerous awards for his work. He also received several NASA grants and also taught courses at the University La Sapienza of Rome, Italy.



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