Liviu Librescu survived a Nazi labor camp and a Communist dictatorship in Romania, but sacrificed his life for the lives of his students three years ago in Blacksburg, Virginia. Using his body, Librescu
kept the door to his classroom closed as the "crazed gunman" Seung-Hui Cho tried to get in. Librescu's students were able to escape the killer by climbing out the window. Cho shot Professor Librescu through the door.
At the end of Seung-Hui Cho's rampage, 32 people, including Professor Librescu, were dead. Cho then committed suicide.
On April 27, 2010, the street in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest was named Librescu Street in honor of the Romanian-born professor. I asked Mihaela Raileanu, a resident of Bucharest, Romania who is enrolled in a Ph.D. program in journalism, about the tribute to Librescu. She replied:
I have known that the street in front of the new U.S. Embassy compound in Bucharest will be named after Virginia Tech Professor Liviu Librescu. This was a rumour I heard, I think, last Spring, in 2009. If this ceremony took place already…I cannot tell you, I haven’t found in Romanian press such an information.
Raileanu said that she did, however, find an undated quote from U.S. Ambassador to Romania, Mark Gitenstein, who said that, "Professor Librescu will live on in our memory every day as we pass by this street named in his honor."
That quote from Gitenstein, along with one from the previous U.S. Ambassador to Romania, were featured in the Washington Times
, which discussed the dedication ceremony. According to the WT
, former U.S. Ambassaor to Romania Nicholas Taubman was the person "who proposed the street be named for the slain engineering professor." Taubman
, who is from Roanoke, Virginia near the Virginia Tech campus, was quoted as saying that Mr. Librescu "was first and foremost a humanitarian who put the lives of his students above his own."
According to Raileanu, "Romanians didn’t know Liviu Librescu before Aprilie 2007" but "probably when Romanians found out about Librescu's sacrifice, in 2007, they felt proud." Yet, she says, most "do not remember him now. He was one of many Romanians who chose to live elsewhere." As Virginia Tech News
reports, Librescu and his family left Romania in 1978 after Librescu was fired from his position as a researcher for the Academy of Sciences of Romania. Librescu was terminated because he would not "swear allegiance to the Romanian Communist Party."
With undergraduate and graduate degrees in aerospace engineering and a Ph.D. in fluid mechanics in hand, Librescu and his family moved to Israel in 1978. Prime Minister Menachem Begin personally intervened on behalf of Librescu, a Romanian Jew, and convinced Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu to allow them to immigrate.
Beginning Sept. 1, 1985 and continuing until his death in 2007, Librescu was a professor at Virginia Tech's College of Engineering in its Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. Librescu taught in Norris Hall where most of the shootings took place.
Librescu was honored by then-President George W. Bush at an April 18, 2007 memorial service held at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Bush said:
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. This Holocaust survivor gave his own life so that others may live.
On the same day, according to Virginia Tech News
, Romanian President Traian Basescu awarded Librescu posthumously "the National Order Star of Romania in rank of Grand Cross, the highest Romanian honor, in recognition of the heroic sacrifice of his life to save his students at the Virginia Tech campus."
Librescu survived the Holocaust, refused to swear allegiance to the Communist Party, taught engineering students for 28 years, and then at age 76 "sacrificed his own life to save his students on April 16, 2007."
Raileanu said that, in her opinion, “Americans love Prof. Librescu more.” And, she noted, “It’s sad. For him, and for us. For him, because he didn’t feel when he was alive our respect and love…The good news is that his name will always be similar with heroism.”
Should you be in Bucharest, Romania, walking near the U.S. Embassy, and see Librescu Street, you will now be familiar with the hero behind the name.