Remembering a Virginia Tech Hero: Liviu Librescu

Reprinted from April 18, 2007 in remembrance on the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings.

By now, you may have heard of Liviu Librescu, the Virginia Tech professor who was killed as he barricaded the door to give his students time to jump out the second story window of his classroom:

"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."

A courageous end for this Holocaust survivor who died on Holocaust Remembrance day.

But there's more to Liviu Librescu's story, one that shows his brave act to save his students' lives on Monday was as in character for the professor as the suit and tie he wore everyday to school.

From the NYT article:

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.

Librescu obtained his degree in mechanical engineering and aviation construction in 1953 from Polytechnic University in Bucharest. He went on to earn his doctorate from the Bucharest-based Academy of Sciences in 1969, and an honorary degree from the Bucharest Polytechnic University in 2000.

His wife, Marlena, at his NY memorial today:

"He was a very human person who wanted to help everybody. He was a hard man also, he wanted everybody to be 100% and he asked from himself this also. He worked very hard, from morning to midnight, he was very anxious to make new discoveries. He was not a young person, but he was so very young."

Marlena Librescu.

Librescu immigrated to Israel where he taught at Tel Aviv University and worked on aeronautical engineering innovations. He first arrived at Virginia Tech on sabbatical in 1985 and stayed on as a teacher and researcher, which included work with NASA, hundreds of published papers and numerous awards for a scientist who:

specialized in composite structures and aeroelasticity

Librescu's work led to the strengthening of the materials used in aircraft skins and frames, which may have led to the increased survival rate during crashes, as well as definitely contributing to the overall structural integrity of aircraft.

There are many people that Dr. Librescu's work may have rescued.

(Publication list for Liviu Librescu)

Dr. Librescu will be remembered as much for his patience with his students, for his commitment to teaching and for his unselfishness, as for the meticulous suit and tie he wore to all occasions.

Carefully and perfectly dressed, he held the door closed and yelled for his students to kick out the second story windows as the senseless bullets that had missed him in that Nazi labor camp, that had missed him during the Communist takeover, that had missed him while he worked in Israel, finally found their mark on Holocaust Remembrance Day when he made the conscious choice to give his own life for his students.

An average Monday in professor Liviu Librescu’s solid mechanics class that in a blink turned from reviewing homework to the unmistakable pop of gunshots outside her Norris Hall classroom. In the flurry of students dialing 911 on cell phones, taking cover on the floor and twisting open second story windows to escape, Merrey, 22, glanced over her shoulder before jumping.

"I just remember looking back and seeing him at the door," the Virginia Tech senior recalled of her professor. "I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for him"


"It wouldn’t amaze me he would do such a thing," fellow engineering professor Muhammad Hajj said. "He’s that kind of person, willing to take care of others, protect others."

And that's exactly what he did. Dr. Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, did not survive the deadly rampage at Virginia Tech on Holocaust Remembrance Day, but, per CNN, all his students did.

(List of Virginia Tech victims)

Dr. Librescu is survived by his wife, Marlena, and his two sons, Arieh and Joe. He was buried in Ra'anana, Israel, just north of Tel Aviv.