From Auschwitz, a Torah as Strong as Its Spirit
Excerpted from The New York Times, Published: April 30, 2008
The back story of how a Torah got from the fetid barracks of Auschwitz to the ark of the Central Synagogue at Lexington Avenue and 55th Street is one the pastor of the Lutheran church down the street sums up as simply “miraculous.”
It is the story of a sexton in the synagogue in the Polish city of Oswiecim who buried most of the sacred scroll before the Germans stormed in and later renamed the city Auschwitz. It is the story of Jewish prisoners who sneaked the rest of it — four carefully chosen panels — into the concentration camp.
It is the story of a Polish Catholic priest to whom they entrusted the four panels before their deaths. It is the story of a Maryland rabbi who went looking for it with a metal detector. And it is the story of how a hunch by the rabbi’s 13-year-old son helped lead him to it.
This Torah, more than most, “is such an extraordinary symbol of rebirth,” said Peter J. Rubinstein, the rabbi of Central Synagogue. “As one who has gone to the camps and assimilates into my being the horror of the Holocaust, this gives meaning to Jewish survival.”
On Wednesday, the restored Torah will be rededicated in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which for more than 20 years the congregation of Central Synagogue has observed in conjunction with its neighbor, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, at Lexington Avenue and 54th Street. The senior pastor, the Rev. Amandus J. Derr, said that next to Easter, the Holocaust memorial is “the most important service I attend every year.”
The Torah from Auschwitz “is a very concrete, tactile piece of that remembrance — of what people, some of whom did it in the name of Christ, did to people who were Jewish,” Pastor Derr said, “and the remembrance itself enables us to be prepared to prevent that from happening again.”
A Torah scroll contains the five books of Moses, and observant Jews read a portion from it at services. Its ornate Hebrew must be hand-lettered by specially trained scribes, and it is considered unacceptable if any part is marred or incomplete. For years, Jews around the world have worked to recover and rehabilitate Torahs that disappeared or were destroyed during the Holocaust, returning them to use in synagogues.
This Torah remained hidden for more than 60 years, buried where the sexton had put it, until Rabbi Menachem Youlus, who lives in Wheaton, Md., and runs the nonprofit Save a Torah foundation, began looking for it about eight years ago. Over two decades, Rabbi Youlus said, the foundation has found more than 1,000 desecrated Torahs and restored them, a painstaking and expensive process. This one was elusive. But Rabbi Youlus was determined.
He had heard a story told by Auschwitz survivors: Three nights before the Germans arrived, the synagogue sexton put the Torah scrolls in a metal box and buried them. The sexton knew that the Nazis were bent on destroying Judaism as well as killing Jews.
But the survivors did not know where the sexton had buried the Torah. Others interested in rescuing the Torah after the war had not found it.
As for what happened during the war, “I personally felt the last place the Nazis would look would be in the cemetery,” Rabbi Youlus said in a telephone interview Tuesday, recalling his pilgrimage to Auschwitz, in late 2000 or early 2001, in search of the missing Torah. “So that was the first place I looked.”
With a metal detector, because, if the story was correct, he was hunting for a metal box in a cemetery in which all the caskets were made of wood, according to Jewish laws of burial. The metal detector did not beep. “Nothing,” the rabbi said. “I was discouraged.”
He went home to Maryland. One of his sons, Yitzchok, then 13, wondered if the cemetery was the same size as in 1939. They went online and found land records that showed that the present-day cemetery was far smaller than the original one.
Rabbi Youlus went back in 2004 with his metal detector, aiming it at the spot where the g’neeza — a burial plot for damaged Torahs, prayer books or other papers containing God’s name — had been. It beeped as he passed a house that had been built after World War II.
He dug near the house and found the metal box. But when he opened it, he discovered the Torah was incomplete. “It was missing four panels,” he said. “The obvious question was, why would the sexton bury a scroll that’s missing four panels? I was convinced those four panels had a story themselves.”
They did, as he learned when he placed an ad in a Polish newspaper in the area “asking if anyone had parchment with Hebrew letters.”
“I said I would pay top dollar,” Rabbi Youlus said. “The response came the next day from a priest. He said, ‘I know exactly what you’re looking for, four panels of a Torah.’ I couldn’t believe it.”
He compared the lettering and the pagination, and paid the priest. (How much, he would not say. The project was underwritten by David M. Rubenstein, a co-founder of the Carlyle Group. Mr. Rubenstein was tied at No. 165 on the Forbes 400 last year with a reported fortune of $2.5 billion; in December, he paid $21.3 million for a 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta, a British declaration of human rights that served as the foundation for the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.)
The priest “told me the panels were taken into Auschwitz by four different people,” Rabbi Youlus said. “I believe they were folded and hidden.” One of the panels contained the Ten Commandments from Exodus, a portion that, when chanted aloud each year, the congregation stands to hear. Another contained a similar passage from Deuteronomy.
The priest, who was born Jewish, was himself an Auschwitz survivor. He told Rabbi Youlus that the people with the four sections of the Torah gave them to him before they were put to death.
“He kept all four pieces until I put that ad in the paper,” Rabbi Youlus said. “As soon as I put that ad in the paper, he knew I must be the one with the rest of the Torah scroll.” (Rabbi Youlus said that the priest has since died.)
Rabbi Youlus said that nearly half the Torah’s lettering needed repair, work that the foundation has done over the past few years. Thirty-seven letters were left unfinished: 36, or twice the number that symbolizes “life” in Hebrew, will be filled in by members of the congregation before the service on Wednesday, the 37th at the ceremony.
Rabbi Youlus called it “a good sturdy Torah, even if it hasn’t been used in 65 years.” The plan is to make it available every other year to the March of the Living, an international educational program that arranges for Jewish teenagers to go to Poland on Holocaust Remembrance Day, to march from Auschwitz to its companion death camp, Birkenau.
“This really is an opportunity to look up to the heavens and say, he who laughs last, laughs best,” Rabbi Youlus said. “The Nazis really thought they had wiped Jews off the face of the earth, and Judaism. Here we are taking the ultimate symbol of hope and of Judaism and rededicating it and using it in a synagogue. And we’ll take it to Auschwitz. You can’t beat that.”
Representative Tom Lantos Dies at 80
excerpted from THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: February 11, 2008
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rep. Tom Lantos, who as a teenager twice escaped from a Nazi-run forced labor camp in Hungary and became the only Holocaust survivor to win a seat in Congress, has died. He was 80.
Lantos, died early Monday at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in suburban Maryland. He was surrounded by his wife, Annette, two daughters, and many of his 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Annette Lantos said in a statement that her husband's life was ''defined by courage, optimism, and unwavering dedication to his principles and to his family.''
Lantos, a Democrat who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee, disclosed last month that he had been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. He said at the time that he would serve out his 14th term but would not seek re-election in his Northern California district.
President Bush praised Lantos in a statement as ''a man of character and a champion of human rights.''
''After immigrating to America more than six decades ago, he worked to help oppressed people around the world have the opportunity to live in freedom,'' Bush said. ''As the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress, Tom was a living reminder that we must never turn a blind eye to the suffering of the innocent at the hands of evil men.''
Flags were lowered to half-staff at the White House and U.S. Capitol.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, ''Tom Lantos was a true American hero. He was the embodiment of what it meant to have one's freedom denied and then to find it and to insist that America stand for spreading freedom and prosperity to others.''
Speaking to reporters at the State Department, she said, ''He was also a dear, dear friend and I am personally quite devastated by his loss.''
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that Lantos ''used his chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee to empower the powerless and give voice to the voiceless throughout the world.''
The timing of Lantos' diagnosis was a particular blow because he had assumed his committee chairmanship just a year earlier, when Democrats retook control of Congress. He said then that in a sense his whole life had been a preparation for the job -- and it was.
Lantos, who referred to himself as ''an American by choice,'' was born to Jewish parents in Budapest, Hungary, and was 16 when Hitler occupied Hungary in 1944. He survived by escaping from the labor camp and coming under the protection of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who used his official status and visa-issuing powers to save thousands of Hungarian Jews.
Lantos' mother and much of his family perished in the Holocaust.
That background gave Lantos a moral authority unique in Congress and he used it repeatedly to speak out on foreign policy issues, sometimes courting controversy. Lantos was outspoken on human rights and in 2006 was one of five members of Congress arrested in a protest outside the Sudanese Embassy over the genocide in Darfur.
He joined the Bush administration in strong support of Israel and was a lead advocate for the 2002 congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq invasion, though he would become a strong critic of President Bush's handling of the war.
Lantos was a frequent visitor to Hungary, meeting with political leaders and holding recurrent news conferences which were widely covered in the Hungarian press. He was widely recognized there for his calls for the respect of the human rights of the millions of ethnic Hungarians living in neighboring countries, especially Romania and Slovakia, whose cultural identity was a common target of those countries' communist regimes.
''Tom Lantos deserves that the millions of people in Central-Eastern Europe think about him for a moment and guard his memory,'' Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany said in parliament.
Lantos, who was elected to the House in 1980, founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1983. In early 2004 he led the first congressional delegation to Libya in more than 30 years, meeting personally with Moammar Gadhafi and urging the Bush administration to show ''good faith'' to the North African leader in his pledge to abandon his nuclear weapons programs. Later that year, President Bush lifted sanctions against Libya.
In October 2007, as Foreign Affairs chairman, Lantos defied administration opposition by moving through his committee a measure that would have recognized the World War I-era killings of Armenians as a genocide, something strongly opposed by Turkey. The bill has not passed the House.
Tall and dignified, Lantos never lost the accent of his native Hungary, but his courtly demeanor belied the cutting comments he would make in committee if the testimony he heard was not to his liking.
''Morally, you are pygmies,'' he berated top executives of Yahoo Inc. at a hearing he called in November 2007 as they defended their company's involvement in the jailing of a Chinese journalist.
''This is about as believable as Elvis being seen in a Kmart,'' was his retort to a witness testifying before a subcommittee he headed in 1989 that led a congressional investigation of Reagan-era scandals at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Lantos was elected to Congress after spending three decades teaching economics at San Francisco State University, working as a business consultant and serving as a foreign policy commentator on television. He challenged GOP incumbent Rep. Bill Royer in 1980 and won narrowly, subsequently winning re-election by comfortable margins.
''It is only in the United States that a penniless survivor of the Holocaust and a fighter in the anti-Nazi underground could have received an education, raised a family and had the privilege of serving the last three decades of his life as a member of Congress,'' Lantos said upon announcing his retirement last month. ''I will never be able to express fully my profoundly felt gratitude to this great country.''
Lantos came to the United States in 1947 after being awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 1950 he married Annette, his childhood sweetheart, with whom he'd managed to reunite after the war. The couple moved to the San Francisco Bay area so Lantos could pursue a doctorate in economics at the University of California, Berkeley.
The first major bill Lantos passed in Congress was to give honorary American citizenship to Wallenberg, whom he called ''the central figure in my life.'' But Lantos sometimes shied away from talking about his experiences in the war. When he joined a lawsuit in 1984 to seek Wallenberg's release from the Soviet Union -- Wallenberg was captured and imprisoned by Soviet troops after World War II -- Lantos told The Associated Press that he ''didn't want to dwell on the details'' of the dangers he faced from the Nazis.
Lantos joined the Hungarian Underground after the Nazi occupation but was captured and sent to a forced labor camp 40 miles north of Budapest, according to the biography on his congressional Web site. He was beaten severely when he tried to escape, but feeling he had nothing to lose he made another attempt. This time he made it back to Budapest and to one of the safehouses that Wallenberg had established.
Lantos credited Wallenberg's protection, his own Aryan appearance -- blond hair, blue eyes -- and a good measure of luck with helping him survive the war. But he said that at the time he didn't think he had much of a chance of staying alive.
''I was sixteen, but I was very old,'' he said in an interview for ''The Last Days,'' the 1999 book accompanying the Steven Spielberg documentary of the same name that focused on the experience of Hungarian-American survivors.
''The bloodbath, the cruelty, the death that I saw, so many times around me during those few months between March of 1944 and January of 1945 made me a very old young man.''
Lantos and his wife had two daughters, Annette and Katrina, who between them produced 18 grandchildren, one of whom died young. According to Lantos, his daughters were following through on a promise to produce a very large family because his and his wife's families had perished in the Holocaust.
In Memory of Johje Vos - A Righteous Woman (excerpted from The New York Times)
Johtje Vos, a Dutch woman who with her husband hid three dozen Jews in their home during World War II, shepherding them through a tunnel under the backyard and into the woods whenever the Gestapo pounded on the door, died on Oct. 10 in Saugerties, N.Y. She was 97, and had lived in Woodstock from 1951 until a year ago.
During the war years, Mrs. Vos and her husband, Aart, lived in a three-bedroom house in the town of Laren in the Netherlands, with acres of forest behind it. Mr. Vos, who died in 1990, grew up in Laren and knew every stream and field in the area. That allowed him to lead Jews through the woods to the house at night and back into the woods when the Nazis were coming. Each time a German raid was imminent, a sympathetic Dutch police chief in Laren, a friend of the Voses, would dial their phone, let it ring twice, hang up, then repeat the code.
In all, 36 people were saved by the Voses, with as many as 14 hiding in their home at any one time after the German invasion of the Netherlands in May 1940.
Evelyn Loeb Garfinkel and her mother, Ilse Loeb, were among the three dozen.
“If Johtje hadn’t done what she did, my mother wouldn’t have survived and I wouldn’t be alive,” Mrs. Garfinkel, of Delmar, N.Y., told The Times Union of Albany after attending Mrs. Vos’s funeral on Oct. 16.
Mr. and Mrs. Vos resisted the notion that they had done something out of the ordinary. Interviewed for the 1992 book “Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust,” by Gay Block and Malka Drucker (Holmes & Meier), Mrs. Vos said, “I want to say right away that the words ‘hero’ and ‘righteous gentile’ are terribly misplaced.”
“I don’t feel righteous,” said Mrs. Vos, who, like her husband, was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, “and we are certainly not heroes, because we didn’t sit at the table when the misery started and say, ‘O.K., now we are going to risk our lives to save some people.’ ”
It started one night in 1942 when a Jewish couple asked to be sheltered for just that night as they ran from the Germans. Soon after, another friend asked them to keep a suitcase containing valuables before he was sent to a ghetto.
The Voses were surprised to discover that their friend was Jewish. “We never talked about Jews,” Mrs. Vos recalled. “They were all just Dutch, that’s all.”
A 3-year-old boy, Mark de Klijn, was later taken in by Mr. and Mrs. Vos as his parents faced deportation. Word filtered through the Jewish community, and other escapees began seeking shelter. Soon, mattresses covered the floor. Unless they were trying to flee even farther, the guests would never leave the house.
Except when the phone rang twice, then twice again. Then Mr. Vos would lead them into a shed attached to the back of the house, down through a camouflaged trapdoor under a coal bin and into a 150-foot tunnel through which they would crawl before slipping into the woods.
Every time the Gestapo came, Mrs. Vos said, “I would take questions from them and lie and lie and lie.”
Johanna Kuyper was born on Dec. 29, 1909, in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, the second of three daughters of Guillaume and Henrietta Storm van Leeuwen Kuyper. Her father, a retired army officer, was the mayor of Amersfoort. Her grandfather Abraham Kuyper had been prime minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905.
As a young woman, Johanna Kuyper went to Paris to work as a freelance journalist, “which was a scandalous thing at the time,” she said. There, she married a young German artist, Heinrich Molenaar, who hated Hitler, she said. The couple left France and moved into the family-owned house in Laren, where their two children were born: Mrs. Moorman, of Glenford, N.Y., and Hetty Crews, who died in 2001. The marriage ended in divorce.
In 1942, Johanna Kuyper and Aart Vos were married. They had four sons, three of whom survive: Dominique, of Woodstock; John, of Saugerties; and Sebastian, of the Netherlands. Their son Peter died in 1973. Mrs. Vos is also survived by 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
As far as Mrs. Vos’s children are concerned, they have another sibling: Moana Hilfman Brinkman, of Amsterdam.
When Mr. and Mrs. Vos were living in the house in Laren, they regularly beseeched Moana Hilfman’s parents to take refuge with them. The Hilfmans refused.
“They said: ‘We are Jews. This is our fate,’ ” Mrs. Vos once recalled. “I begged them to at least let me take their 3-year-old daughter, Moana.”
Only on the night that the Gestapo came did the Hilfmans hand over their daughter to a friend, who spirited her to the Vos home.
“She lived with us for years after the war,” Mrs. Moorman said on Friday. “We consider her our sister.”
The Power of the Internet
I recently received a telephone call. Like most people these days, I instinctively checked the Caller ID and saw that it was not a telephone number that I had recognized.
On any other day, I would have ignores the call, assuming that it was a telemarketer, but this time I picked up the telephone.
As with so many unsolicited calls, the caller stumbled over the pronunciation of my name. For me, and for many others, that’s the sign to hang up. I’d already had 3 of those this morning. So much for the Do Not Call Registry. But this time, a name and real phone number showed up on the Caller ID. Not one of those 866 numbers.
But this call was different. He started the conversation with, “I don’t know where to begin”. That’s not the typical salutation from someone who’s trying to sell you something.
No, he wasn’t trying to sell anything. He was an example of just how powerful and wide reaching the internet is.
He asked if I had a relative named George Katz.
I was speechless for a moment. That was my mother’s brother. As far as anyone knew, he had never returned from Auschwitz. As a 15 year old, he, his parents and sister were deported. Only his sister, my mother Veruci, returned.
The caller, Gabe, found a posting that I had made, to the best of my recollection, probably a couple of years ago, searching for any information about my uncle, George Katz. I had long ago forgotten about that posting. Never expecting to hear anything.
A call that I never in my wildest dreams would have expected came today. The caller, too, was a survivor. He was a classmate of my uncle. He remembered him and my mother.
Of the group of 53 that he was deported with, along with countless others from our small town in a corner of Hungary, Nyiregyhaza, only 3 survived.
As I tried to recall the names of other family friends or relatives, as I mentioned the few names that I could recall, his voice immediately changed and I could envision his face being lit up in a smile when I mentioned one of them. My job, this weekend, is to see if I can find her married name, as my mother always referred to her with her maiden name.
If anyone knows of the whereabouts of Judit Schwartz, last known address in Toronto, please contact me.
This man’s story was similar to so many others and just incredible in the strength of human character that was exhibited by survivors.
His process of deportation had not just Auschwitz on the roadmap, but also Dachau and intermediate stops. On several occasions, he was shipped from one site to another literally hours before the Russian army broke through the German defenses. “Liberation” by the Red Army was by no means a guaranteed good thing.
Like many others, not only did he survive, but he went on to have a family and a productive life. The true essence of defeating the Nazi dream.
After this, following today’s market seemed trivial. There are so few of these brave souls left. He doesn’t think of himself as having done anything special.
At www.veruci.org, I am in the early stages of developing a site to memorialize Hungarian Holocaust Survivors. It is in honor of my mother. She was the real strength behind Szelhamos. They were very different, but somehow it worked, despite the odds they faced.
Right now, I have a homework assignment.
In honor of Robert Rosenthal (excerpted from The New York Times)
Robert Rosenthal, a highly decorated pilot in World War II who helped usher in a new kind of warfare, the strategic bombing of Germany, in which huge bombers scraped the ice-cold stratosphere while serving as easy targets for enemy fighters and ground guns, died on April 20, 2007. He was 89 years of age.
Although, not himself a holocaust survivor, Mr. Rosenthal, through his bravery and heroism helped to speed up the end of the war, as well as to contribute to bringing war criminals to justice.
He flew 52 missions over Germany as a bomber pilot, twice survived being shot down and won 16 decorations, including the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism.
On Feb. 3, 1945, Rosie, as he was known, led the entire Third Division, an armada of 1,000 B-17s, on a raid on Berlin. He was later an assistant to the United States prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials.
Mr. Rosenthal served in the Eighth Air Force, the bomber command created a month after Pearl Harbor to bring Germany’s war machine to a halt through high altitude strategic bombing. However, the bombers proved to be an easy target for more numerous German fighters and antiaircraft guns. Casualties were enormous.
Mr. Rosenthal, a 25-year-old newly minted lawyer, had sought out the challenge. He enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor, and, when offered noncombat duties, insisted that he be sent to fight.
“I couldn’t wait to get over there” he said in an interview for the book “Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany” (2006).
“When I finally arrived, I thought I was at the center of the world, the place where the democracies were gathering to defeat the Nazis” he continued. “I was right where I wanted to be”.
Robert Rosenthal was born in Brooklyn on June 11, 1917, and went to school in the Flatbush neighborhood. He was captain of the football and baseball teams at Brooklyn College, from which he graduated in 1938. He graduated summa cum laude from Brooklyn Law School. He had a job at a law firm in Manhattan when World War II started.
Mr. Rosenthal never talked about his passion to risk everything to fight Nazis. A rumor arose that he had relatives in German concentration camps.
He said: “Everything I’ve done or hope to do is because I hate persecution. A human being has to look out for other human beings or there’s no civilization”.
His third mission was to bomb Munster on Oct. 10, 1943. After the American support fighters reached their range and returned home, the 13 bombers in the group were attacked by some 200 German fighters. The skies were filled with flak and flames, creating “an aerial junkyard” according to a gunner.
Mr. Rosenthal always wondered about the unexploded cannon shell found rolling around in one of his plane’s tanks after the Munster raid. Had a slave laborer in a Nazi munitions factory sabotaged the shell?
Mr. Rosenthal’s plane dropped its bombs, but had two engines out, a gaping hole in one wing and three injured gunners. He put the 30-ton bomber through a harrowing series of evasive maneuvers and somehow made it back to England. None of the other 12 planes did.
In September 1944, Mr. Rosenthal’s plane was hit by flak over France and he made a forced landing, dulling his consciousness as well as breaking his arm and nose. He did not remember how, but the French resistance got him back to England.
On a February 1945 mission to bomb Berlin, he was shot down and rescued by Russians on the outskirts of the city. He was sent back to England on a circuitous route that wound through Poland, Moscow, Kiev, Tehran, Cairo, Greece and Naples.
That turned out to be his last mission, as the European war soon ended. He volunteered to fight in the Pacific, and was training to fly B-29s in Florida when Japan capitulated.
Mr. Rosenthal returned to his law firm, but seized the chance to join the team prosecuting Nazis in Nuremburg. On the ocean voyage to Germany, he met another lawyer on the prosecutorial staff, Phillis Heller, whom he married in Nuremberg.
As part of his duties during the trials, Mr. Rosenthal interviewed Hermann Goering, commander of the German air force and the second-highest-ranked Nazi during most of the war, and Wilhelm Keitel, the top German general.
“Seeing these strutting conquerors after they were sentenced, powerless, pathetic and preparing for the hangman was the closure I needed”, he said. “Justice had overtaken evil. My war was over”.
In addition to her, he is survived by his sons Steven and Dan, his daughter, Peggy, four grandchildren and two great-granddaughters.
In honor of Professor Liviu Librescu
Liviu Librescu, 75, was a Holocaust survivor, senior researcher and lecturer in engineering. He had immigrated to Israel from Romania with his wife Marlina, also a survivor, in 1978. He was an expert in aeronautics at Tel Aviv University and the Haifa Technion before moving to the United States in 1984.
A child in Nazi-allied Romania during World War II, Librescu was deported along with his family to a labor camp in Transnistria and then 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 the Romanian regime during the war.
Librescu worked as an engineer at Romania's aerospace agency under the postwar Communist government, his son recounted, but his career was stymied in the 1970s because he refused to swear allegiance to the regime. 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 emigration permits. They moved to Israel in 1978.
Shmulik Moyal, 60, a friend and former neighbor of Librescu, described Librescu as a serious, scholarly man.
Professor Librescu was gunned down trying to save his students from the Virginia Tech shooting rampage was buried in Israel Friday to the sobs of his grieving family.
According to media accounts quoting students, Mr. Librescu and the class heard shooting in a nearby room. The students said their professor blocked the door to prevent the gunman from entering while some students took cover underneath desks and others leaped out from windows.
Librescu, a 76-year-old aeronautics engineer and lecturer at the school for 20 years, died trying to barricade the door of his Virginia Tech classroom to keep the gunman, away from his students.
Earlier, Professor Librescu’s son, Joe Librescu, told the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot: "I understand from friends that my father was a hero. By blocking the door with his body he saved all the students who were in the classroom."
Family members completed plans to fly to America Tuesday night to return Professor Librescu back to Israel for burial. Professor Librescu's was wrapped in a prayer shawl according to Jewish tradition, and his two sons intoned the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer for the dead.
A representative of the Romanian government posthumously awarded the Romanian-born Librescu the country's highest medal for his scientific accomplishments and heroism. Romanian officials laid a wreath at the grave.
''I walked through the streets today with my head held high because I have such a father,'' his elder son, Joe, said.
''It's so painful for me to think of your last moments, in which you suffered. I'll never know what went through your mind, but I hope very much that wherever you are, you will watch over your family,'' Librescu's weeping wife, Marlena, said.
Librescu's family said his last moments were recounted in numerous e-mails from students after the attack.
''My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee,'' Joe Librescu told The Associated Press after the massacre. ''Students started opening windows and jumping out.''
As the students jumped, Librescu was shot dead.