ROANOKE — President Bush is being asked to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to a Holocaust survivor who died trying to save his students during the mass killings in April at Virginia Tech.
Gov. Tim Kaine made the request in a letter to the president on behalf of Liviu Librescu, one of five faculty members slain as a student gunman killed 32 persons and then himself April 16 on the Blacksburg campus.
“Liviu Librescu gravitated toward freedom: freedom from persecution, intolerance and, finally, from oppression,” Mr. Kaine said in the letter, dated Tuesday and released yesterday. “His courage through adversity speaks volumes.”
Mr. Librescu, a 76-year-old aeronautics engineer and lecturer at Virginia Tech for 20 years, died trying to barricade the door of his classroom to keep gunman Seung-hui Cho away from his students.
“His willingness to sacrifice himself for his students is such a powerful story,” said Mr. Kaine, a Democrat. “And I know how deeply the Virginia Tech community loved Professor Librescu and how much they miss him serving. I just thought who he was made him an excellent person to be nominated.”
University spokesman Larry Hincker praised the professor’s bravery.
“I believe and everyone I have spoken with here would consider Dr. Librescu a genuine hero,” he said.
When his native Romania joined forces with Nazi Germany in World War II, Mr. Librescu was imprisoned in a labor camp, then sent along with his family and thousands of other Jews to a ghetto in the city of Focsani. Hundreds of thousands of Romanian Jews were killed during the war.
“Mr. Librescu was a survivor that sought liberty and truth during his lifetime,” Mr. Kaine said in the letter.
Mr. Kaine said Mr. Librescu was a “highly respected and promising researcher” in aeronautical engineering under Romania’s postwar communist government, but when he requested permission to emigrate to Israel he was denied the opportunity and was fired from his job.
The Romanian government posthumously awarded Mr. Librescu the country’s highest medal for his scientific accomplishments and heroism.
He continued studying until he was granted entry to Israel in 1979, where he taught at a university, Mr. Kaine said. In 1985, he took a position teaching at Virginia Tech.
His students were able to jump out second-story windows to safety as Mr. Librescu delayed Cho’s entry to his classroom.
“Liviu Librescu’s sacrifice of his own life allowed his students the freedom to live theirs,” Mr. Kaine said in the letter.
n AP writer Kristen Gelineau in Richmond contributed to this report.