Tag Archives: Holocaust

Jew of the Week: Liviu Librescu

The Holocaust Survivor Who Saved a Classroom

Liviu Librescu (1930-2007) was born in Ploiesti, Romania. In November of 1940, the Romanian government allied with Nazi Germany, and Librescu’s family was deported to a labour camp. Eventually, they ended up in the Focsani Ghetto from which Librescu was liberated in 1945. He stayed in Romania and enrolled in aerospace engineering studies (inspired by his time watching birds fly in and out of the ghetto). A year after graduating he joined the Bucharest Institute of Applied Mechanics where he served as a researcher for 22 years. In 1969, Librescu earned his Ph.D in fluid dynamics, and wrote some very important papers that were unfortunately unknown in the West. He was also recruited by the government to work on top secret military projects. However, Librescu was soon fired for refusing to swear allegiance to the Romanian Communist Party and for requesting to emigrate to Israel. Thankfully, one of his groundbreaking research papers was smuggled out of Romania and brought him international attention. It reached the desk of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, who personally put pressure on the Romanian government to free Librescu. In 1978, the Romanians relented and Librescu made aliyah to the Holy Land. For the next seven years, Librescu taught at Tel-Aviv University and the world-famous Technion in Haifa. In 1985, he took a sabbatical year and visited Virginia Tech in the US. He decided to stay and joined their Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. Librescu went on to become one of Virginia Tech’s most famous and beloved professors. He is credited with publishing more papers (250) than any other Virginia Tech professor, and among his many awards are a Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research and a Frank J. Maher Award for Excellence in Engineering Education. He was also on the editorial boards of seven scientific journals, and a guest editor of five more. On April 16, 2007, Librescu was teaching his regular class when a gunman walked into the engineering building at Virginia Tech and opened fire. When the gunman tried to enter Librescu’s classroom, the professor blocked the door and told his students to escape through the windows. He was fatally shot five times. All but one of his students were able to escape. The remaining 22 were saved by Librescu’s heroic actions. In a horrible twist of irony, the Virginia Tech shooting took place on the 27th of Nisan – Holocaust Memorial Day. President Băsescu of Romania posthumously awarded Librescu the Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania (the country’s highest civilian honour), and renamed the street in front of the US Embassy in Bucharest after him. Virginia Tech’s Jewish Student Center is now named after him, too, as is a professorship at Columbia Law School. He was called the “Most Inspiring Person of 2007”. President George W. Bush eulogized Librescu with the following words: “With the gunman set to enter his class, this brave professor blocked the door with his body while his students fled to safety. On the Day of Remembrance, this Holocaust survivor gave his own life so that others may live.”

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Words of the Week

Few are guilty; all are responsible.
– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jews of the Week: Philips Family

Gerald and Anton Philips

Gerald Leonard Frederik Philips (1858-1942) was born in the Netherlands, the son of a wealthy Dutch-Jewish financier (who was the first cousin of Karl Marx). In 1891, inspired by the recent invention of the light bulb, he decided to open his own light bulb and electronics company. His father purchased an abandoned factory where they set up shop and started producing carbon-filament lamps under the Philips brand the following year. The company did poorly, and nearly went bankrupt before younger brother Anton Frederik Philips (1874-1951) joined the business. A great salesman, with terrific innovations of his own, Anton quickly changed the company’s fortunes. Philips got another boost during World War I, when it filled the void left by the embargo on German electronics. By the 1920s, Philips had become a large corporation, and would soon establish the model for future electronics multinationals. After making their own vacuum tubes and radios, Philips’ introduced a new type of electric razor, the wildly popular Philishave. (It was invented by lead engineer and fellow Jew Alexandre Horowitz.) During the Holocaust, the family fled to the United States and ran the business from there. One son, Frits Philips, remained behind, and spent several months in an internment camp. He would save the lives of 382 Jews that he employed in his factory, convincing the Nazis that they would assist the war effort. In 1963, Philips introduced the compact audio cassette, revolutionizing the world of music forever. They did it again less then a decade later with the first home video cassette recorder. In the 1980s, Philips developed the LaserDisc, and together with Sony, brought about the age of the CD. Similarly, in 1997 Philips and Sony developed the Blu-ray disc. Today, Philips is still the world’s largest lighting manufacturer, employing over 100,000 people, with revenues of nearly €25 billion. In 2012, Greenpeace ranked Philips first among energy companies and tenth among electronics companies for their green initiatives and commitment to sustainability. This is very much in line with Gerald and Anton Philips’ original vision. The brothers were noted philanthropists, and supported many educational and social programs in their native Netherlands.

Words of the Week

Incidentally, Europe owes the Jews no small thanks for making people think more logically and for establishing cleanlier intellectual habits – nobody more so than the Germans, who are a lamentably déraisonnable race who to this day are still in need of having their “heads washed” first. Wherever the Jews have won influence they have taught men to make finer distinctions, more rigorous inferences, and to write in a more luminous and cleanly fashion; their task was ever to bring a people “to listen to raison.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche

A 1968 Philips audio cassette recorder; a Philips Magnavox video recorder; Philishave rotary razor; and an early LaserDisc player model