Reb Elchonon Wasserman was one of the great pre-war Roshei Yeshiva in Europe. He learned in Telz Yeshiva and joined the Chofetz Chaim's Kodshim Kollel later on, where he learned B'Chavrusa with Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman the Ponevezher Rov. During this period he became very close with the Chofetz Chaim whom he considered his Rebbi. Reb Elchonon was the Chofetz Chaim's spiritual heir, becoming the ultimate arbiter of Daas Torah for the pre-Holocaust generation fighting haskala, zionism, communism, and the other ills of the generation.
Reb Elchonon was in his mid-60s when the war broke out. He had spent a great deal of time in America collecting for his Yeshiva in Baranovich. Although he was quite fond of the few Bnei Torah he met in America and held our great hope and promise for their future, nevertheless he resisted their pleas to remain in America and chose to return to a Europe that was about to engulfed in flames. As Rosh Yeshiva and the conscience of the Lithuanian Yeshiva world, he felt personal and public responsibility to be with his flock in their time of need, come what may.
Tragically Reb Elchonon fell victim to the Nazi collaborators on 11 Tammuz 5701/1941 when he was murdered AL Kiddush Hashem along with his son and a handful of talmidim and other Rabbonim. Sadly his death did not come together with the Talmidim he chose to return to from the safe shores of America. He was taken in Kovno while on a short trip to take care of some documents in order to secure visas for escape.
Reb Ephraim Oshry who was 27 years old at that time, was one of the few that managed to escape. He related the following about the last thing Reb Elchonon told them.
When they saw the end was near Reb Elchonon got up and spoke to them. He spoke the same way he always did, he was calm and there was no indication of panic. He said the following.
"In Shamayim it seems that they consider us to be tzadikim, because we have been chosen to be Korbanos for Klal Yisroel. Therefore, we must do Tshuvah now. We don't have much time. We must keep in mind that we will be better korbonos if we do tshuvah. In this way we will save the Yidden in America. Let no foreign thought enter our minds, Chas V'Shalom, as that will make us pigul, an unfit korban. We are now fulfilling the greatest mitzvah. Yerushalayim was destroyed with fire and will be rebuilt with fire. The same fire that will consume our bodies will one day rebuild Klal Yisroel."