Monday, April 23, 2007

A Holocaust Double Hero: Liviu Librescu's Legacy

Liviu Librescu, Ph.D.
April 16th, both the feast day of St. Bernadette, and the birthday of Pope Benedict the 16th (as well as a day always within the octave of Easter) is a date with a history of joy. But now, April 16th also has a twin tradition of tragedy; known internationally as Holocaust Day and now, nationally, as the date of the Virginia Tech Massacre. Yet out of tragedy often comes triumph and at that point in the heavens when the two events intersect you will also find this date's twice-tested hero, Liviu Librescu.

Librescu, 76, was an Engineering professor at Virginia Tech who held his classroom door shut and kept mass-killer Seung Hui Cho outside long enough for his students to escape through the window. Cho eventually broke through and killed Librescu but his martyrdom amidst the mayhem will long be remembered by Jew and Gentile alike.

"My father was not a religious man," said Arieh, his son, "but he believed the time was short here and there was work to be done." A survivor of the Holocaust during World War II, Librescu emigrated to Romania after the war, but was fired from his state research job when he refused to swear a loyalty oath to the Communist Party. Eventually a political deal cut by then Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977 landed Liviu a job in Israel, but in 1985 he took a sabbatical year at Virginia Tech and there decided to stay. Yet ... even in this picturesque peaceful college town, he couldn't escape his fate as a fighter for freedom.

On the one hand, it is sad Livius' great mind had not yet met the light of faith. Death is always difficult, but far more so for those whose loved ones do not have the promise of heaven. "I hope very much that wherever you are, you will watch over your family," said his grieving widow Marlena, also a holocaust survivor. "I am left with the pain of losing my closest friend." But on the other, Librescu's life is a testament to the truth that, "the law of God is written on men's hearts," and even an imperfectly formed conscience could—indeed should—lead to inspiring acts of heroism. "Dad, your aerodynamics classes are over now, but on April 16th you started a new course of study, 'Introduction of Bravery,'" said Arieh, and Librescu's other son Joseph's proclamation, "I'm proud of you, Dad, and I walked down the street today with my head held high because I have such a father," while not as poetic was just as profound. As Catholics we must all strive to be saints, and it is only within the Church that heroism can be perfected by virtue. Still even if I have not lived the life of a saint, were my son to eulogize me in just this same way, I know I would die happy.

No comments :