On Monday, at 9:05 am, screams and gunfire were heard reverberating down the hall from Professor Liviu Librescu's class. Some hid behind tables, recalls Alec Calhoun, a student in the class, while others leapt from the windows. Prof. Librescu went to the door, placed himself before it, and ordered his students to flee. "Before I jumped from the window," says Calhoun, "I turned around and looked at the professor, who stayed behind, maybe to block the door. He had been killed." The professor was shot through the door, but he held it long enough. "All the students lived—because of him," said Asael Arad, another student.
Prof. Librescu was 76 years old, which means that he was fourteen when the Second World War ended. Sixty-two years later, the day after Holocaust Remembrance Day, he died defending the lives of young men and women not much older than he was when he became a survivor. Some see in this a tragic irony. They should. But I wonder if it was precisely his exposure to murder, as a teenager, that prepared him to act as he did. It seems natural for it to be beyond the imaginings of his students that someone could enter their classroom to destroy them. But not to a man who survived the Holocaust. He would have heard of similar atrocities in wartime Romania; he may have seen one himself. Couldn't witnessing the greatest cruelty have primed him to act with the greatest heroism? Couldn't his escape from death have taught him to act instinctively to preserve the lives of others? And shouldn't his bravery do more to steady our faith in the possibility of human goodness than the crimes of death-dealers like Cho Seung-hui do to destroy it?
To answer Yes is to see in Librescu a kindred spirit with the most famous Romanian-Jewish survivor, Elie Wiesel. In his 1986 Nobel lecture, Wiesel said, "A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent." Wiesel, as a defender of human rights, has dedicated his life to this proposition. Librescu gave his life for it. I believe we can justly presume that their common experience led them to this common wisdom. Each year, 15% of the Holocaust survivors still living pass away. Their sensitivity to the suffering of others, their perseverance, and, as with Prof. Librescu, their heroism, is a tribute to the triumph of light.