Thursday, April 19, 2007

N.Y. community honors Holocaust survivor

Liviu Librescu blocked the door to his classroom so students could escape by jumping out windows.

The Jewish community in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., volunteered to conduct a service Wednesday for Liviu Librescu before his remains were flown to Israel for burial.

AP photo

The Jewish community in a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., volunteered to conduct a service Wednesday for Liviu Librescu, below, before his remains were flown to Israel for burial.

Liviu Librescu

NEW YORK -- A Holocaust survivor who escaped the Nazi killings to become a world-class scientist was remembered Wednesday as a hero for saving his Virginia Tech students from a rampaging gunman.

Witnesses said Liviu Librescu blocked the door to his classroom with his body so students could escape the assailant by jumping out windows. The 76-year-old professor was shot to death, one of 32 victims of Cho Seung-Hui.

"He gave his life for his students," Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind told mourners at a Brooklyn funeral home. "It is the ultimate sacrifice, and the ultimate goodness, after all that he went through in his life."

The neighborhood's Jewish community volunteered to hold the service before Librescu's remains were flown to Israel for burial.

The professor's wife, Marlena Librescu, arrived with Israeli consular officials. She was greeted with bear hugs from strangers who praised her husband's bravery.

Although she was initially composed, she broke down as someone handed her her husband's golden wedding band -- 42 years after their marriage.

"He saved them. He saved them," she said quietly of her husband's students as she slipped the band on her finger, next to her own.

Librescu had been an internationally respected aeronautics engineer and lecturer for 20 years. After Monday's shooting, his students sent e-mails to his family recounting his actions in the classroom.

"He was a very human person," his wife said. "He wanted to help everybody," his wife said after the service.

When his native Romania joined forces with Nazi Germany in World War II, Librescu was imprisoned in a labor camp, and then sent along with his family and thousands of other Jews to a ghetto in the city of Focsani. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews were killed during the war.

After the war, Librescu 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. He was later fired when he requested permission to move to Israel, according to his son, Joe Librescu, who spoke by telephone from his home near Tel Aviv.

In 1977, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin intervened to get the family an emigration permit, the son said.

Librescu left Israel for Virginia in 1985 for a sabbatical year, but eventually made the move permanent, said his son, who himself studied at Virginia Tech from 1989 to 1994.

At the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, a picture of the elder Librescu was placed on a table with a candle and flowers. "It is a great loss," said Ecaterina Andronescu, rector of the university. "We have immense consideration for the way he reacted and defended his students with his life."

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