Bush honors Israeli professor who died saving lives in Virginia Tech massacre

Liviu Librescu – According to his daugher, ‘had our father chosen a way to die, he would certainly have chosen to die in a classroom.’An elderly Israeli professor at Virginia Tech has emerged as an unlikely hero in this week’s …

Liviu Librescu – According to his daugher, ‘had our father chosen a way to die, he would certainly have chosen to die in a classroom.’An elderly Israeli professor at Virginia Tech has emerged as an unlikely hero in this week’s tragic shooting massacre on the campus which left 32 dead.

According to media reports, 75-year old Liviu Librescu, from the school’s Engineering Science and Mechanics department, blocked the door his classroom to protect his students and was killed by gunshots fired by 23-year old Cho Seung-Hui.

“He was my best friend,” his widow Marlena told Ma’ariv. “I dropped him off at the university in the morning, and then a woman came and told me that there was a shooting and he was wounded. I looked for him all day, in the hospitals, on the campus, but I couldn’t find him.”

Librescu died on the same day that Israel marked its remembrance of the Holocaust, a synchronicity not lost on the American media. US television stations reported extensively on the symbolism of Librescu’s death precisely on Holocaust Memorial Day.

United States President George W. Bush on Wednesday paid tribute to Librescu during a speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial 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 the day of remembrance, this Holocaust survivor gave his own life so others may live. We honor his memory, we take strength from his example.”

Librescu was born in Romania, and survived both the Holocaust and Romania dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu’s Communist regime. A teenager during WWII in fascist Romania, he hid from the Gestapo in Russia. After the war, Librescu became an accomplished scientist in Romania.

The Communist regime tried to prevent him from making aliyah to Israel, but he was able to leave in 1978 when then-prime minister Menachem Begin appealed the matter.

Librescu taught aeronautics and engineering at Tel Aviv University for eight years. In 1986 he left for a sabbatical to Virginia, and since then remained at Virginia Tech.

“He was a modest man. He didn’t care about clothes or material things. He didn’t even drive,” said Librescu’s longtime friend and colleague Prof. Jacob Aboudi from Tel Aviv University (TAU). The two worked together at TAU and and Virginia Tech when Aboudi was on a Sabbatical, and they published a book together in the early 90s.

“We shared several publications on the stability of composite structures,” Aboudi told ISRAEl21c. “He came to Israel with a published book in his hand and was an established scientist already in Romania.”

A scientist, researcher, mechanical engineer, and senior lecturer at Virginia Tech where he had been teaching for more than 20 years, Librescu had highest number of publications in the history of Virginia Tech.

“He saw himself as the ambassador of Israel to that part of the world, to an American university that had few Israelis but many representatives from the Arab world,” his son Joe told The Jerusalem Post.

Daughter-in-law Ayala said the classroom was a place he loved most, a sentiment backed up by his son Aryeh: “Had our father chosen a way to die, he would certainly have chosen to die in a classroom.”

Added his colleague Aboudi: “He blocked the door for them. And I have been there and know that the doors are not so thick. They are made from wood. It is typical of him to sacrifice himself. He was a professor in the old classical style.”

Librescu is due to be buried in Israel on Thursday.

(Karin Kloosterman contributed to this report)