Top 50 Hokie Spotlight: Liviu Librescu
Liviu Librescu is not a famous athlete, CEO, or media personality. There are no pictures of him on the soda cups in Lane Stadium or Cassell Coliseum. There are no shirts in the bookstore sold with his name on them. However, after learning about his heroic sacrifice, perhaps there should be.
Librescu was born on August 18, 1930 in Ploiesti, Romania to a Jewish family. After World War II broke out, Romania aligned itself with Nazi Germany, and Librescu and the rest of his family were sent to a labor camp in Transnistria, a Romanian-controlled territory. Him and thousands of other Jews were later deported to a ghetto in Focșani, Romania.
After surviving the Holocaust Librescu studied aerospace engineering at the Polytechnic University of Bucharest in Communist Romania. He then went on to get his Ph.D. in fluid mechanics at the Academia de Științe din România.
During this time, Librescu refused to swear his allegiance to the Communist Party in Romania, and was thus forced out of Romanian academia because of his sympathies towards Israel. Librescu was even forced to work in secret and smuggle research he wanted to have published to other countries because his government wouldn’t let his work see the light of day. In 1976, Librescu published a smuggled research manuscript in the Netherlands, which brought him international praise in the field of material dynamics.
After years of attempting to emigrate to Israel, he was finally granted permission in 1978, after the Prime Minister of Israel had to personally intervene.
It was in Israel where Librescu’s new life really took off. He served as a Professor of Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering at Tel Aviv University for seven years. During that time, in 1985, Librescu took a sabbatical to the United States, where he served as a Professor at Virginia Tech in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. After this brief 1-year role, him and his family decided to stay in Blacksburg, where he became one of the most respected professors and researchers in the field of aeronautical engineering and received hundreds of honors and rewards for his research.
On April 16, 2007, at age 76, Librescu was teaching a solid mechanics class in Norris Hall when a gunman entered the building and tried to get into Librescu’s classroom. Librescu instructed all the students to open the windows to escape while he held the door closed. Librescu was shot five times while barricading the door so his students could escape. Of the 23 students in his class, all but one escaped to safety due to Librescu’s heroic actions. He died while holding the door closed in what became one of the worst mass shootings in history, but not before saving 22 souls.
Librescu’s sacrifice was honored around the world. A memorial was constructed for mourning in his native Romania at his alma mater the Polytechnic University of Bucharest and, less than 2 weeks after the shooting, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, President George W. Bush honored Librescu at a memorial service held at the US Holocaust Museum. A street in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest was named in his honor and at his funeral his wife, Marlena, was presented with the Grand Cross of Romania, which is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
His name can be found on one of the stones, with the other April 16 victims, at the memorial on Virginia Tech’s drillfield in front of Burruss Hall, as well as the “Dr. Liviu Librescu Student Engagement Center” inside Norris Hall.
Liviu Librescu is survived by his wife, Marlena, and two sons, Joseph and Arieh.