by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa

June, 2007

On April 16, 2007, 23-year-old gunman Cho Seung-Hui began a shooting spree on the campus of Virginia Tech during which he would shoot 40 people and kill 32 plus himself. As the shooting began in Room 206 of Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall, Professor Liviu Librescu was teaching his Solid Mechanics class in room 204 next door. Librescu’s students began hiding behind desks but he blocked the door with his body and told them to jump out the window. At least eight students reached safety while he faced the gunman alone. Ironically, Librescu, a Holocaust survivor, was killed on Yom Hashoa, the international day of remembrance for Holocaust victims.

Librescu was born in Ploiesti, Romania, just north of Bucharest, in August, 1930. After his father, a lawyer, was imprisoned in a labor camp, Librescu was forced to work to support his mother, starting at the age of 10 or 12. He and his mother were later sent to a labor camp in Transnistria and then deported to a ghetto in the Romanian city of Focsani. After WWII, he worked as an engineer for Romania’s aerospace agency. In 1953, he graduated from the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, where he also received an honorary degree in 2000. He married his wife, Marilena, in 1966. In 1978, he and his wife emigrated to Israel, where he taught Engineering at Tel Aviv University. In 1986, he and Marilena left Israel for a 1-year sabbatical at Virginia Tech. He remained in the U.S., teaching at Virginia Tech, until his death.

Librescu left behind his widow, Marilena, and two sons, Joseph and Arieh, sometimes called Lionel, both of whom live in Israel. But he also left behind a legacy of courage and self-sacrifice. His older son, Joseph, said, “He was able to teach his last lesson of bravery in the face of hatred.” Ecaterina Andronescu, rector of the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, said, “We have immense consideration for the way he reacted and defended his students with his life.” Israeli student Asael Arad simply said, “Students lived—because of him.” Professor Nicolae Serban Tomescu said, “He had a huge affection for his students and he sacrificed his life for them.” “We should be in such great debt to his family for the rest of our lives,”said Virginia Tech graduate student Philip Huffstetler. At the Polytechnic University in Bucharest where Librescu had graduated, a makeshift shrine was set up, a table with his picture and a candle; people lay flowers nearby.

Librescu’s sacrifice, placing himself between his students and death, is similar to a story in the Old Testament. There was a revolt against Moses, led by a man named Korah (Num. 16:1-30). God caused the ground to open up and swallow Korah and the other leaders of the revolt, and the people who remained were consumed by fire (16:31-35). The next day, the people grumbled against Moses and his brother Aaron the priest, blaming him for the deaths of Korah and the others (16:41). God sent a plague upon the people but Moses told Aaron to take a censer, fill it with incense, and make atonement for the people (16:46). Aaron took the censer and ran through the crowd (16:47). Aaron “. . . stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.” (16:48 ESV). 16,700 people died of the plague, in addition to the more than 250 people who had died the day before (16:35; 49) but, thanks to Aaron, the others lived.

Long after the time of Moses, and long before the time of Liviu Librescu, another man stood between the people and death. His name was Jesus. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Tim. 2:5-6 ESV). Jesus stood between us and death, between us and God’s wrath, by allowing himself to die on a cross. As noble as Librescu’s sacrifice was, he could only save his students from physical death. Christ has saved us from spiritual, eternal death (Eph. 2:1-8; Col. 2:13-14). We have a wonderful savior who stood between us and the death and punishment we deserve. And that’s good news that’s worth sharing.

“And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the LORD; the plague has begun.’ So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. And behold, the plague had already begun among the people. And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.” (Num. 16:46-48 ESV.)

Copyright © 2007 by David Phelps