Israeli prof. among dead

Israeli prof. among dead

Among the things said to have inspired Liviu Librescu to leave his home in Israel and resettle in southwest Virginia was the area’s pastoral surroundings.

A professor of engineering at Tel Aviv University, Librescu came to Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1985 for a one-year sabbatical, but stayed more than two decades.

Virginia Polytechnic Institute Prof. Liviu Librescu was reportedly killed while protecting his students. Virginia Polytechnic Institute

"It was the right place for him," Librescu’s son Arie told JTA from his home in Israel. "It was the right school in terms of what he was working on. He liked the quiet and the peace of that area."

That peace was broken April 16 when a gunman, a ‘3-year-old senior from South Korea, stormed Norris Hall, where Librescu was teaching. Librescu was killed, along with 3’ others, in the worst shooting rampage in American history.

Born in Romania, Librescu survived the Holocaust and the brutal regime of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, arriving in Israel in 1978. He died on the day that his adopted country, and Jews worldwide, marked Yom HaShoah, the international day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust.

Students in Librescu’s class say he barricaded the classroom door as the gunman advanced, providing time for students to escape through the windows. Asael Arad, an Israeli freshman at the Blacksburg campus, told JTA he had heard from Librescu’s wife that the professor died trying to prevent the gunman from entering his classroom.

"He blocked the door with his body so the killer wouldn’t be able to get into the class," Arad said. "He got shot through the door."

A professor in the Engineering Science and Mechanics Department, Librescu was educated at the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest and the Institute of Fluid Mechanics, where he received his doctorate in 1969. He specialized in research of high-strength, lightweight materials used in airplanes and boats.

A source at the Israeli Embassy in Washington confirmed that Librescu had been prevented from emigrating by Romania’s Communist government. An appeal from Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to Romania’s president paved the way for Librescu and his wife, Marlena, to move to Israel.

As of Tuesday, Librescu was believed to be the only Jew killed in the massacre. One Jewish student broke his ankle leaping from a second-story window and was recovering in the hospital Monday evening.

Virginia Tech has a relatively small Jewish population — 1,400 out of a total student body of ‘9,000, according to Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life — though it’s said to be growing.

Campus Hillel director Sue Kurtz held a meeting with Jewish students Monday night and was planning a second for Tuesday. Kurtz was scheduled to deliver a reading at a university-wide convocation Tuesday afternoon.

"The only possible response to a horror of this scale," Hillel President Wayne Firestone said, "is to remember the victims of this tragedy with love, to use their lives as an example for our own, and to continue to pursue a better world in their memory."

Librescu is survived by his wife, sons Joe and Arie, and one grandchild. The family is planning a burial in Israel later this week.

"He thought and he acted as he thought was right," Arie Librescu said. "Science and lecturing — that was really his life. And he protected it with his life."

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