Liviu Librescu. Liviu Librescu, a Romanian Jew, survived the Holocaust in a small town in Romania and then thirty-five years of communist rule before being allowed to emigrate to Israel. An internationally renowned mathematician and aeronautical engineer, Liviu Librescu became a professor at Tel Aviv University before accepting an appointment to teach at Virginia Tech. On April 16, 2007, Prof. Librescu heard gun fire in the hallway outside his classroom. Ordering his students to escape by the windows, he held the door closed as the gunman fought to get in. Thirty two people, including Liviu Librescu, were killed in the shooting rampage. Because of Prof. Librescu’s actions, all of his students, except one, survived the massacre. Prof. Librescu’s wife, Marilena, and oldest son, Joseph, will join us for the tribute.
Eugene Sayles. Eugene Sayles was a nineteen year-old Seaman First Class at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine, an enormous ammunition loading base near San Francisco. On the night of July 17, 1944, 5,000 tons of high explosives, bombs, and ammunition exploded destroying Port Chicago, killing 320 sailors and wounding close to 400 hundred. Seaman First Class Sayles survived the blast and worked through the night to save the lives of the wounded. Of the dead, 202 were African-Americans. At Port Chicago, every ammunition handler was black and every officer was white. And while their white officers lived in comfort and worked in safety, the black sailors, many just teenagers, toiled in brutal and dangerous conditions loading shells by hand into the hulls of ammunition ships. Ordered to resume work after the explosion, most of the sailors refused until working conditions were improved. In response, fifty men were charged with mutiny, convicted and sentenced to dishonorable discharges and up to fifteen years at hard labor. The Port Chicago disaster was a catalyst for President Truman’s decision to sign the order desegregating the military. Eugene Sayles, now 82, will be accompanied by his two daughters and two grandsons.
Bujar Veselaj. Bujar Veselaj’s father, Refik, was an Albanian Muslim who has been recognized as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.” In 2005, as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the fall of the Nazis, Bujar was interviewed on television about his father’s efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust. Within days, Islamic fundamentalists launched a campaign to terrorize Bujar and his family, warning him that “Muslim Albania did not have a place for the well wishers of Jews” and threatening to kill him, his family and anyone who helped them. After six months of terror, Bujar and his family flew to the United States, where they sought political asylum. Less than one month ago, Bujar and his family were granted asylum. Bujar Veselaj’s experiences at the hands of Muslim extremists have only intensified his veneration for his father’s memory and his appreciation of what he did to save Jews from the Nazis. Bujar, his wife, two children, and his mother, will be joining us for the Concert.
David Ritcheson. In April 2006, David Ritcheson, a 17 year old Hispanic high school student from Harris County, Texas, was beaten, tortured and left to die by two white supremacists. David spent three months in the hospital, and underwent close to forty surgeries to repair extensive internal injuries. In December, the two men who attacked David were convicted of aggravated sexual assault—the prosecutor declined to charge them with hate crimes—and sentenced to life in prison. Almost exactly a year after the assault, David agreed to allow his name to be made public for the first time, as he testified before Congress on the need for comprehensive hate crime laws. David became a tireless advocate on behalf of stronger hate crime laws, but the trauma of the attack never left him and in June 2007, David Ritcheson took his own life. David’s parents will join us.
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