Librescu’s Self-Sacrifice Part of Our Heritage



We recently marked the 64th anniversary of the Warsaw-ghetto uprising, which embodied Jewish resistance and self-sacrifice at a time where Jews were targeted for annihilation.

Today, those Jews who stood up and fought against the Nazi plan to eradicate the Jewish people represent actions whereby Jews decided not to be slaughtered like lambs and took charge of their own destiny.

Furthermore, they have become Jewish heroes who broke the stereotype of the helpless Jew who could not defend himself; thus, Jewish heroism was born. And, today they are taught as examples that illustrate that despite these hurdles the Jewish spirit prevailed and proved to be stronger.

This past month, Jews worldwide honored the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust as they observed Yom Hashoah.

Almost simultaneously, professor Liviu Librescu — a Holocaust survivor from Romania — honored the day by sacrificing his life. During the shootings at Virginia Tech that left 33 dead and more than two dozen wounded, he gave up his life so that others could live theirs.

As the shooter attempted to enter his classroom, he blocked the door with his body, enabling his students to escape through the classroom windows. Here again, it was the Jewish spirit of life that caused the 76-year-old to protect his students so that others could live and tell the story.

President Bush at a Holocaust memorial ceremony at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., commented on Librescu's actions, saying that the "day we saw horror … we also saw acts of quiet courage. We saw this courage in a teacher named Liviu Librescu. 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 might live."

There are many examples of similar acts of "quiet courage" in our Jewish heritage.

During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, where 11 Israelis athletes were murdered by the Black September group, Moshe Weinberg, the coach of the Israeli wrestling team, despite his wounds struck one of the terrorists, knocking him unconscious and allowing one of his wrestlers Gad Tsobari, to escape through the underground parking garage.

Consequently, the terrorists riddled Weinberg with bullets, then tossed his naked body out into the street. This is the courage that sustains our identity and motivates individuals to act in impossible situations.

Throughout Jewish history, we hear about individuals who sacrificed their lives because of their Jewish faith.

We believe that sacrifice is part of our path to salvation, something the late Jonathan "Yoni" Netanyahu wrote in one of his letters saying that "when I sail back over the seas of our history, I pass through long years of humiliation; many years that, in a historical perspective, seem devoid of any ray of light — yet it isn't so.

"For the fact that the idea of freedom remained, that the hope persisted, that the flame of liberty continued to burn through the observance of this ancient festival [Passover], is to me testimony of the eternity of the striving for freedom and the idea of freedom in Israel," continued Netanyahu.

Historically, the courage to act — whether it be silent or vocal — has become the essence of Jewish survival over the years.

And today, as Islamist leaders like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who openly deny the Holocaust and call for the annihilation of Israel and death to America, we must not forgot the lessons of the past, as well as the actions of those who helped secure our future.

Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.


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