A Hero’s Funeral

April 23, 2007 | By Mario Tama | News

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Virgina Tech’s Liviu Librescu, who survived the Holocaust, sacrificed his own life to protect his students during the deadliest shooting rampage in modern American history. Librescu attempted to block the classroom door from the gunman, providing enough time for his students to escape through the windows. His heroism resonated far beyond campus and has become a source of pride for Jews around the globe. One can only imagine what passed through his mind in those final moments, but it’s possible to speculate that his experience as a Holocaust survivor enabled him to rapidly react to calamity. Perhaps he, more than anyone else, was capable of believing that the unbelievable was actually occurring.

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The professor’s body was flown to New York and he was given a ceremonial funeral in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park in Brooklyn. Although he never lived in New York and the funeral was hastily arranged, a crowd of Orthodox Jews seemed to materialize out of nowhere as the funeral began. His wife, Marlena, was swarmed by the media as she entered. She seemed amazed by the frenzy around her and was almost too shy to be interviewed.

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We were not allowed to shoot inside, but his casket was soon carried out and up the street by a group of Orthodox men. Most of these men had never met Librescu, yet they appeared to be deeply honored to perform this ritual. Their Jewish tradition places strong value in this act, with the notion that caring for those unable to return kindness is a pure form of giving. Librescu’s body was then flown to Israel where he was buried. In the Jewish faith it is said that to save one life is to save the world. Librescu saved many.

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