Liviu Librescu

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



“He who saves one life saves the entire world” (The Talmud-Sanhedrin 4:1 22a)


Liviu Librescu will always be remembered as a Tzadik in Israel. On Monday, April 16, 2007, Professor Librescu taught his last lesson . For twenty years, Dr, Librescu, a Romanian Jew who had survived the Holocaust, taught “solid mechanics”. On April 16 he taught heroism “beyond the call of duty”. In the face of a raving gunman and mass killer, Liviu Librescu headed for the door of his classroom as students escaped the room by jumping out of the windows while others hid under the desks. As shots rang out he stood there and held the door long enough to allow his students to escape until he was gunned down, dying for the sake of saving others. That was an act of such bravery and courage that no one would have expected it of  a 76-year-old scholar who had devoted his life to research and teaching. Indeed, heroes don’t look like John Wayne.

Liviu Librescu was born in Ploseti, where he shared the fate of the European Jews under Nazi rule. He survived by luck but did not disclose his experiences to anyone, not even his two children who now live in Israel.

After the Second World War, Romania was ruled by communists. Librescu earned three degrees at Romanian universities, including his doctorate from the Institute of Fluid Mechanics. He was then employed by an aerospace manufacturer.

Nevertheless, Librescu was regarded with suspicion by the Romanian Communist party because he was Jewish and refused to join the communist party. When he asked for permission to emigrate to Israel, he was fired from his job and the family was reduced to selling furniture. Secretly he wrote a book in his field and sent it to the Netherlands for publication. As a result he came to the attention of the Israeli aerospace industry, who pressed Prime Minister Menachem Begin to interfere on his behalf. Begin was successful and the Romanian dictator Ceaucescu allowed Librescu to move to Israel in 1978. He joined the faculty at Tel Aviv University. While on a sabbatical leave in Virginia he was recruited by Virginia Tech University. There he received a good salary and adequate funding for his research.

We now need to explain why this professor gave his life so that others should live. The great Jew Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), without doubt one of the “fathers of sociology”, published his third major study “Suicide” in French, his native tongue, in 1897. In this classic study Durkheim distinguished between several kinds of suicide, including “altruistic” suicide, which Durkheim describes. Durkheim wrote: “…self sacrifice is the defining trait. Here an individual is so integrated into a social group that he has lost sight of his individuality and becomes willing to sacrifice himself to the group’s interest even if that sacrifice is his own life...”

Durkheim lists three other kinds of suicide as well. Included are “anomic suicide”, “fatalistic suicide” and “egoistic suicide”. The killer Cho fits into the last category as do all the other mass murderers who then kill themselves. Durkheim describes “egoistic suicides” as “those individuals who are not sufficiently bound to social groups and are left with little support or guidance.” These are often people who feel that they have been bullied and persecuted and that they are losers who want to recover their losses by making themselves important at least once.

In a book I wrote in 1990 called Murder:  An Analysis of Its Forms, Conditions, & Causes, I cite the case, among others, of James Oliver Huberty, who killed 21 people in a restaurant in San Ysidro, California in 1984. Huberty was distraught over the loss of several jobs and his loss of support from his family. A college graduate, he had to work in factories and as a night watchman only to lose even that work. It was the “last straw”. Huberty, like so many others, hated the whole world and decided to make sure that before he died he would do something so spectacular that he would not be forgotten. He succeeded. Every book on crime and mass murder lists him among others who either killed themselves or committed “suicide by cop”. All have the same characteristic. All feel left out, unimportant, defeated and useless.

Since our competitive society produces many “winners” it must of course also produce people who feel deprived. Those who can find solace for their feeling of defeat by gaining recognition in an alternative status system can go on living anyway. Yet there will always be those who think of themselves as outsiders, unwanted and living a useless life. They may become dangerous.

The answer to this danger is evident. Judaism teaches that no human being is useless and that no one is unwanted. That is the reason why not a single Jew has ever been a  mass murderer. May it always be so.

Once more we remember Liviu Librescu. He exemplifies the greatness of Israel. A man of intellect and kindness, a committed Jew and a lion of courage.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The Restoration of Israel (2006).

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