May 3, 2007
The tragic irony of a hero in Virginia
When irony happens in real life it is usually so imaginative, not even the greatest of writers could have come up with it. It is an event that comes as such a shock, it nearly knocks the wind out of you.
Irony can be cruel, sadistic, amazing or even beautiful. However, irony very rarely can be all of these things at once.
On April 16, 2007, 32 people were murdered and more than 20 others were left wounded in a shooting at a college in Virginia. Among the deceased was a 76-year-old professor named Liviu Librescu, who had survived both the Holocaust and the Romanian dictatorship that followed.
When the shooting broke out, professor Librescu barricaded the door in order to give his students a quick escape out a nearby window, away from the gunman. All of his students survived the attack, although he did not. Librescu died on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
When I first heard this man's heroic story, I was instantly reminded of another. During Hebrew school in the seventh grade, I read a book called, "The Sunflower," by Simon Wiesenthal. In his book, Wiesenthal talks to a former Nazi, who on his deathbed confessed countless atrocities against Jews during the war, seeking forgiveness.
One of the events the man told of was about a group of about 300 Jews who were forced into a building, which was then set on fire. When people attempted to jump out the windows, the Nazi soldiers were instructed to shoot.
The difference between these two events was that one of them had a hero. One of them had a single person who stepped up to save the lives of others. In one of these stories, the victims lived.
A hero died in one of these stories, and he died while a candle burned in the houses of millions of Jews all around the world, not yet knowing that it burned for him. A professor died protecting his students, never knowing that he would save their lives by sacrificing his own.
More than 12 million people died in the Holocaust, but Liviu Librescu lived. Why? Did he have some kind of skill that others did not? Did he possess the willpower when others gave up?
Or maybe there was something more planned for him. Maybe, instead of losing his life in a way that was out of his control, he lost his with heroic dignity.
What Liviu Librescu did made him a hero to more than just the students whose lives he saved. His death was cruel, sadistic and completely unfair, but it had a purpose. I never knew that tragic irony could be so beautiful.
Samantha Simons is a junior at El Camino Real High School and Los Angeles Hebrew High School.
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the June issue is May 15; deadline for the July issue is June 15. Send submissions to email@example.com.