February 10, 1908 – January 23, 1945
Bezalel Elpern, Lithuania 1929 (private collection)
Bezalel Elpern was the son of a Jewish master mason in Alytus, Lithuania. In the 1920s, the family moved to Kaunas, the capital of Lithuania at the time, to give the children the chance to pursue higher education. Bezalel was a strong student. After completing high school, he began medical studies but soon realized he could not stomach the sight of blood, and decided to switch to engineering.
Class photo of Bezalel Elpern as a student at the Jewish high school in Kaunas, 1924 (private collection)
Bezalel Elpern (second from left) with his family, Kaunas 1935 (private collection)
None of the family survived the Holocaust. Bezalel’s father, Shalom Zalman Elpern (left), was killed during the unrest shortly before the German occupation of Lithuania. His mother Slava was killed in the Stutthof concentration camp. His sister Chava died while attempting to flee to Russia in 1941.
After completing his degree, Bezalel Elpern emigrated to Palestine in 1935, where he met Hadassa Pilitowski, also a Lithuanian émigrée. They married and had a daughter in 1936. Because of the tense political situation in Palestine and because he was unable to find work, the young family returned to Lithuania in 1938. Bezalel and Hadassa Elpern intended to return to Palestine as soon as their financial circumstances improved, but the outbreak of war made this impossible. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed Lithuania and all borders were closed. The Germans conquered Lithuania in July 1941 and incorporated it into the Reich Commissariat Ostland. Soon thereafter, Bezalel Elpern and his mother, wife and daughter were deported to the Kaunas ghetto.
Bezalel Elpern (front, first from left) with his wife Hadassa, who was pregnant with their daughter (top right), and friends, Tel Aviv 1936 (private collection)
Bezalel Elpern with his wife Hadassa (right), daughter Ruth, and Hadassa’s family, Palestine ca. 1937 (private collection)
The ghetto was dissolved in July 1944. Hadassa and Bezalel Elpern managed to smuggle their daughter Ruth, who had just turned 8, to safety by hiding her with a Lithuanian family. Bezalel Elpern was deported to the Dachau concentration camp. He was later moved from the Kaufering subcamp of Dachau to Leitmeritz, one of the largest and most brutal of the Flossenbürg subcamps. Bezalel Elpern was 36 years old when he died at Leitmeritz in January 1945. His wife and his mother were killed at the Stutthof concentration camp. His daughter Ruth, the only member of the family to survive the Holocaust, left for Israel. In 2004, she finally discovered the place and date of her father’s death. She is still searching for the Lithuanian family who saved her life.