07 September 2007

Liviu Librescu

I have been meaning for sometime to put something up in honour of Prof. Librescu. The text below is from Wikipedia. It is the most concise summary of this great man's life. Rarely is it so obvious what G-d's purpose in life is for a person. Liviu Librescu was truly an agent of the Lord. G-d bless him and thanks be to G-d for him.

Liviu LibrescuLiviu Librescu (August 18, 1930 - April 16, 2007)was a Romanian born and educated Israeli-American scientist and academic whose major research fields were aeroelasticity and aerodynamics. His last academic position was Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Virginia Tech. The 76-year-old Holocaust survivor was shot and killed in the Virginia Tech massacre while holding off the gunman at the entrance to his classroom so his students could escape through the windows.

Liviu Librescu was born in 1930 to a Jewish family in the city of Ploiesti, Romania. After Romania allied with Nazi Germany in World War II, his father, Isidore Librescu, was deported to a labor camp in Transnistria (World War II region), and later his family, along with thousands of other Jews, were deported to a ghetto in the Romanian city of Focsani. Liviu as a boy was interned in a labor camp in Transnistria. Some sources report that he was taken to a Soviet labor camp. Speaking to Israeli Channel 10 TV the day after his death, his wife Marlena, who is also a Holocaust survivor, said, "We were in Romania during the Second World War, and we were Jews there among the Germans, and among the anti-Semitic Romanians." Speaking to BBC after his death, his son Joe said Liviu did not wish to talk much about that period of his life. Dorothea Weisbuch, a cousin of Librescu living in Romania, said in an interview to Romanian newspaper Cotidianul: "He was an extraordinarily gifted person and very altruist. When he was little, he was very curious and knew everything, so that I thought he would become very conceited, but it did not happen so; he was of a rare modesty."

Liviu Librescu survived the Holocaust, and was repatriated to Communist Romania and became an accomplished scientist. He studied aerospace engineering at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, graduating in 1952 and continuing with a master degree at the same university. He was awarded a Ph.D. in fluid mechanics in 1969 at the Academia de Stiinte din România. From 1953 to 1975, he worked as a researcher at the Bucharest Institute of Applied Mechanics, and later at the Institute of Fluid Mechanics and the Institute of Fluid Mechanics and Aerospace Constructions of the Academy of Science of Romania.

His career stalled in the 1970s because he refused to swear allegiance to the Communist Party of Romania and was forced out of academia there for his sympathies towards Israel. When Librescu requested permission to emigrate to Israel, he was fired from his job. In 1976, a smuggled research manuscript that he had published in the Netherlands drew him international attention in the growing field of material dynamics.

After years of government refusal, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin personally intervened to get the Librescu family an emigration permit by directly asking Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu to let them go. They moved to Israel in 1978.

From 1979 to 1986, Librescu was Professor of Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering at Tel-Aviv University and taught at the Technion in Haifa. In 1985, he left on sabbatical for the United States, where he served as Professor at Virginia Tech in its Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics from September 1, 1985 until his death. He served as a member on the editorial board of seven scientific journals and was invited as a guest editor of special issues of five other journals. Most recently, he was co-chair of the International Organizing Committee of the 7-th International Congress on Thermal Stress, Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China, June 4, 2007 to 7, and was scheduled to give the invited keynote lecture there. According to his wife, no other [Virginia Tech] professor has ever published more articles than Librescu.

Death and legacy

At age 76, Librescu was among the thirty-two people who were murdered in the Virginia Tech massacre. On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho entered Norris Hall Engineering Building and opened fire on classrooms. Librescu, who taught a solid mechanics class in Room 204 in the Norris Hall during April 2007, held the door of his classroom shut while Cho was attempting to enter it. Although he was shot through the door, Librescu prevented the gunman from entering the classroom until most of his students had escaped through the windows. He was struck by five bullets , with a shot to the head ending his life. Of the 23 registered students, one, Minal Panchal, died.
A number of Librescu's students have called him a hero because of his actions. One student, Asael Arad, said that all the professor's students "lived because of him." Caroline Merrey, a senior, said she and about 20 other students scrambled through the windows as Librescu shouted for them to hurry. Merrey, previously seated in the rear of the room while next to the windows, stated that she was the third student to leave Norris 204. Merrey said that "I don't think I would be here if it wasn't for [Librescu]." Librescu's son, Joe, said he had received e-mails from several students who said he had saved their lives and regarded him as a hero while many newspapers also reported him as the hero of the massacre.

Following the murder of Librescu, his son Arieh contacted the Chabad movement to secure that his father's body would be treated according to Jewish law and that the body was released immediately for Jewish burial in Israel. With the assistance of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the body was released on April 17 and brought to New York via police escort. On April 18, Librescu received a funeral service at a Jewish Orthodox funeral home in Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York City, New York and on April 20, he was interred in Israel. In his native Romania, his picture was placed on a table at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest, and a candle was lit. People laid flowers nearby.

Marlena Librescu stated that her husband's favorite Jewish commandment was that Jews should light Shabbat candles. On Friday eve April 20, 2007, the Chabad movement spearheaded a campaign to light Shabbat candles. Following the funeral, the Chabad on Campus Foundation announced their intention to establish a chapter in Librescu's name at Virginia Tech.

The murder took place on the day of Israel's commemoration of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day). On April 18, 2007 U.S. President George Bush honored Librescu at a memorial service held at the US Holocaust Museum to a crowd that included many Holocaust survivors:

That day we saw horror, but we also saw quiet acts of courage. We saw this courage in a teacher named Liviu Librescu. With the gunman set to enter his class, this brave professor blocked the door with his body while his students fled to safety. On the Day of Remembrance, this Holocaust survivor gave his own life.