Israeli Professor Tried to Save Students' Lives

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Former colleagues said research and teaching were very important to Liviu Librescu, a professor from Israel who was among those murdered at Virginia Tech on Monday. He died trying save his students' lives.

Librescu, 75, immigrated to Israel from formerly communist Romania more than 25 years ago. He later moved to the U.S. and became a lecturer at Virginia Tech's Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. He had been teaching there for 20 years.

A Holocaust survivor, Librescu died on the same day that Israel was marking Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day.

A brilliant scientist, Librescu didn't even have a drivers' license because research was everything for him, said Tel Aviv University Professor Jacob Aboudi. He never paid attention to luxuries, Aboudi said in a telephone interview. "He cared about the students."

A student in Librescu's class, Alec Calhoun, told the Associated Press that Librescu's class heard a "thunderous sound" from the classroom next door as the gunfire erupted on Monday.

Calhoun was among those who jumped out of a second floor window. Before he leapt, he said, he turned around and saw Librescu attempting to block the door. He was shot and killed.

"He was an extraordinary person," said Dr. Doron Shalev. Shalev received his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. During his five years there, Shalev said he studied under Librescu and later worked with him in writing a number of academic papers.

"He was totally devoted to research and teaching. He was a person with a special [sense of] human," Shalev told Cybercast News Service.

He never spoke about the Holocaust, but in the early hours of the morning after finishing their work together, Librescu would share with Shalev details about his life in Romania. After writing a book in Romania, Librescu risked his life to smuggle it out to the West page by page, Shalev said.

When Librescu decided to leave Romania for Israel, he was fired from his job, as was customary in communist countries in the 1970s. But he left his house every day as if to go work and studied in a library so the neighbors wouldn't know that he had lost his job, said Shalev.

Some of the habits he developed in Romania stuck with him. He was always afraid his home was bugged, so if he had something important to discuss with his wife he would go outside. Even in Blacksburg, Virginia, he stuck to that habit, Shalev said.

Shalev described Blacksburg as "heaven on earth." He said he once had an office in Norris Hall, where at least 30 of the victims were killed on Monday. One of his children was born there, he said.

"We never locked our houses or cars. This is a place of no crime," he said. Now to think that worst massacre ever in the history of the U.S. happened there, he said, "it's beyond any understanding."

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