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Elkhanan Elkes letter

Document | Digitized | Accession Number: 1999.86

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    Elkhanan Elkes letter

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    Last letter sent by Dr. Elkhanan Elkes, a physician in Kovno (Kaunas, Lithuania) who was appointed chairman of the Jewish Council in Kovno ghetto in August 1941 after it was occupied by Germany in June 1941. The letter, written between 19 October 1943 and 11 November 1943, was handwritten in Yiddish and smuggled out of the ghetto to be delivered to his children who were studying in England. In the letter, Elkhanan describes in detail atrocities committed upon the Jews of Kovno after the German occupation, including deportation to forced-labor camps in Latvia, the execution of doctors and patients in the hospital, and the massacre in Fort IX, 29 October 1941. He also discusses atrocities committed by fellow Lithuanians. Elkhanan concludes the letter with personal messages to each of his children.

    The collection also includes a typed transcription of the letter in Yiddish. An English transcription and translation provided by the donor is available as a supplementary document.
    creation:  1943 October 18-1943 November 11
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Joel Elkes
    Collection Creator
    Elkhanan Elkes
    Dr. Elkhanan Elkes (1879-1944) was a Jewish physician who, during the German occupation of Lithuania, assumed the leadership of the Jewish community in the Kovno (Kaunas) ghetto. Born in Kalvarija, Lithuania, Elkes received his medical degree in 1903 in neurology and internal medicine. In 1912, he married Miriam Albin. After serving as a physician in the Russian army, he opened a private practice and eventually became one of Kovno's leading physicians. In 1923, he was appointed head of the department of internal medicine at the Bikur Holim hospital in Kovno. His numerous private patients included the Lithuanian prime minister, the German ambassador, and other members of the diplomatic community.

    In August 1941 the SS ordered Kovno's leading Jewish citizens to select a leader to head the new Jewish Council. No one wanted to assume this role. Finally the community prevailed upon Elkes, citing his connections and moral integrity. He remained in this position for all three years of the ghetto's existence. Despite his own failing health, he provided moral leadership, helped the ghetto's medical community, and provided tacit support to the underground. Much of the day to day running of the ghetto was entrusted to his deputy, Leib Garfunkel, an attorney and former Jewish delegate to the Lithuanian parliament. Elkes acted principally as an intercessor with the German authorities to ameliorate the severity of their orders. In one famous anecdote, shortly before the ghetto's liquidation, Elkes made a personal appeal to SS Captain Wilhelm Goecke. Elkes promised to write Goecke a personal testimonial if he spared the ghetto; Goecke refused. Elkes was deported to Dachau in July 1944. There, he continued to offer medical care to fellow Jews until he succumbed to starvation brought on by a hunger strike. He died on October 17, 1944 at the age of 65. Due to his stature, he was allowed a public burial in a marked grave. Elkes was survived by his wife Miriam, who had been deported to Stutthof, and his two children Sarah and Joel, who were studying in England during the war.

    Physical Details

    1 folder
    System of Arrangement
    The collection is arranged in a single folder.

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Geographic Name
    Kaunas (Lithuania)
    Corporate Name
    Kovno ghetto (Lithuania)

    Administrative Notes

    Donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1999 by Dr. Joel Elkes.
    Record last modified:
    2023-05-31 12:35:56
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