Attorneys organize tribute to heroic professor

 Multimedia event will highlight professor’s life and courage

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

When a crazed gunman attacked classrooms at Virginia Tech in 2007, one professor put his body between the bullets and his students and paid the supreme price.

A multimedia “Community Tribute to Professor Liviu Librescu” will be presented on Sunday, March 2, at 1:30 p.m. at Temple Beth El, 7400 Telegraph Road, in Bloomfield Hills. The event is free and open to the public.

Attorneys Howard Lederman and Steve Kaplan organized the presentation and sponsors of the event include the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, BBYO, the Hillel Foundation of Metro Detroit and the Hillel Foundation of the University of Michigan. 

“I had never heard of Professor Librescu and knew very little about Virginia Tech,” says Lederman. “At the time of the massacre I had a daughter attending U of M. When I heard about the attack, I felt, like I’m sure many parents throughout the nation, that if something like that happened and I couldn’t be there for my daughter, I would hope for someone like Professor Librescu to be there for her. His courage was extraordinary.”

On April 16, 2007, a lone gunman named Seung-Hui Cho entered Norris Hall Engineering Building at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, better known as Virginia Tech, and opened fire on students and faculty. Librescu, who taught a solid mechanics class in Room 204 and, at 76, was the oldest professor at the school, held the door of his classroom shut while Cho attempted to enter. Shot multiple times through the door, Librescu managed to prevent the gunman from entering the classroom until his students had escaped through the windows.

“Librescu got a lot of attention in the 10 days after the massacre as the president and several world leaders declared him a hero, but then his name slid off the news cycle,” says Lederman. “I waited for years for some local organization to pay tribute to him. It never happened. So I decided that the only way it would happen was if I made it happen. I’ve been working on it for a year and a half. For the last six months I’ve been working with Steve Kaplan.”

After his death, Librescu was awarded the the Order of the Star of Romania by that nation’s president “as a sign of high appreciation and gratitude for the entire scientific and academic activity, as well as for the heroism shown in the course of the tragic events which took place on April 16, 2007, through which he saved the lives of his students, sacrificing his own life.” 

The street in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest was also named in his honor.

Librescu was born in 1930 to a Jewish family in the city of Ploe_ti, Romania. When Romania allied with Nazi Germany during World War II, his family was deported to a labor camp. 

After surviving the Holocaust, Librescu was repatriated to Communist Romania. He studied aerospace engineering at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest. 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 was derailed in the 1970s because he refused to swear allegiance to the Romanian Communist Party and was forced out of academia for his sympathies towards Israel. When Librescu requested permission to emigrate to Israel, he was dismissed from Academy of Science of Romania.

After years of delays, he emigrated to Israel and from 1979 to 1986 he was Professor of Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering at Tel Aviv University and taught at the Technion in Haifa.

Librescu eventually served as Professor at Virginia Tech in its Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics.

On April 18, 2007, President George W. Bush honored Librescu at a memorial service at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, attended by many Holocaust survivors.

“That day we saw horror, but we also saw quiet acts of courage,” Bush said. “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 so that others may live. And this morning we honor his memory and we take strength from his example.”

For more information, go to www.librescutribute.com.

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