A 76-year-old lecturer shot to death trying to save his students from the Virginia Tech assailant was a Holocaust survivor.
Relatives said Liviu Librescu, an internationally respected aeronautics engineer and a lecturer at the school for 20 years, saved the lives of several students by barricading his classroom door before he was gunned down in Monday's massacre, which coincided with Israel's Holocaust remembrance day.
Librescu' students sent e-mails recounting the last moments of their teacher's life to his wife, Marlena, his son, Joe, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Joe Librescu said in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."
The gunman, identified as 23-year-old Cho Seung-Hui, an English major and native of South Korea, killed 32 people before committing suicide, officials said, in what was the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history.
Librescu had known hardship since childhood.
When Romania joined forces with Nazi Germany in World War II, he was first interned in a labor camp in Transnistria and then deported along with his family and thousands of other Jews to a central ghetto in the city of Focsani, his son said. According to a report compiled by the Romanian government in 2004, between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were killed by Romania's Nazi-allied regime during the war.
"We were in Romania during the Second World War, and we were Jews there among the Germans, and among the anti-Semitic Romanians," Marlena Librescu told Israeli Channel 10 TV on Tuesday.
As a successful engineer under the postwar Communist government, Librescu found work at Romania's aerospace agency. But his career was stymied in the 1970s because he refused to swear allegiance to the regime, his son said, and he was later fired when he requested permission to move to Israel.
After years of government refusal, according to his son, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin personally intervened to get the family an emigration permit. They moved to Israel in 1978.
Librescu left Israel for Virginia in 1985 for a sabbatical year, but eventually made the move permanent, said Joe Librescu, who himself studied at Virginia Tech from 1989 to 1994.
In Romania, the academic community mourned Librescu's death.
"It is a great loss," said Ecaterina Andronescu, rector of the Polytechnic University in Bucharest, where Librescu graduated in 1953. "We have immense consideration for the way he reacted and defended his students with his life."
At the Polytechnic University, where Librescu received an honorary degree in 2000, his picture was placed on a table, a candle was lit, and people lay flowers nearby.
Professor Nicolae Serban Tomescu described Librescu as "strong and dignified."
"He had a huge affection for his students and he sacrificed his life for them," Tomescu told AP Television News.
Librescu published extensively and received numerous awards for his work.
"His work was his life in a sense," Joe Librescu said.
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