Last year I was invited to speak at a local Holocaust Museum in Rockland
County on Tisha B’Av. I was reminded that Tisha B’Av is the Holocaust Museum
of the Jewish People in time. Remembering not just what happened but what we
must yet do remains our holy mission as survivors. The following letter,
from the darkest archives, I believe blazes a path through the ashes and
resonates with those of us who are parents of children and children of parents.
Dr. Elchanan Elkes was chairman of the Jewish Council in the Kovno Ghetto in
Lithuania. A man of unique moral stature and courage, he was a Zionist, and
encouraged resistance activities in defiance of Nazi orders. Prior to the
liquidation of the ghetto, he was sent to Kaufering concentration camp,
where he died of typhus.
Though Dr. Elkes perished, his ethical will, written in Hebrew on October
19, 1943 reproduced here and translated on the back of this page, was
smuggled out of the ghetto and ultimately reached his son, Joel, in England.
Kovno Ghetto, October 19, 1943
My beloved son and daughter!
I am writing these lines to you, my beloved children, after we have been
here, in the Valley of Tears [Psalms, 84:7], the Kovno Ghetto, for more than
two years. We have learned that in the very near future our fate will be
decided: the Ghetto in which we find ourselves will be crushed and torn
asunder. We fear that only those capable of slave labor will live; the rest
are probably sentenced to death. With my own ears I have heard the awful
symphony of weeping, wailing and screaming of tens of thousands of men,
women and children, which have rent the heavens.
No one throughout the ages has heard such a sound. Along with many of these
martyrs I have quarreled with my Creator, and with them I cried out from a
broken heart, ‘Who is as silent as you, O Lord!’ In the most excruciating
moments of our life you, my beloved, have always been food for our thoughts
and nourishment for our hearts.
During the long black nights, your beloved mother would sit beside me and we
would both dream of your life and future. Our most fervent desire is to see
you again, to embrace you and tell you over and over how closely we are tied
to you and how our hearts throb whenever we remember you.
I doubt very much, my most beloved children, that I shall ever see you
again, or clasp you again to my heart, and before I depart this world and
from you, my most precious, I’d like to tell you for the nth time how much
we cherish you and how much our souls yearn for you.
My beloved Yoel! Be a loyal son to your people. Try with all your might to
settle in the Land of Israel. Tie your destiny and future up with the land
of our future. As to you, my beloved daughter Sarah, I trust, my precious,
your clear common sense and sound judgment. Take the road of life together,
hand in hand. Let no distance part separate you, let no event of life tear
Remember, both of you, what Amalek has done to us. Remember that and don’t
forget it for the rest of your lives and pass this memory as a sacred
testimony to future generations.
For a fleeting moment I close my eyes and behold you two standing before me.
I embrace and kiss you and say to you that I am your loving father-- to
my very last breath.