Hans Elkan was born in 1900, the son of the last head of the Jewish Community of Hohenems, Theodor Elkan. He studied philosophy at the University of Freiburg, along with Heidegger and Husserl. This was an unusual choice of study given the situation in Vorarlberg at this time, but it corresponded with the enlightening tradition of the liberal Jews of Hohenems. He completed his studies with a dissertation on Plato. In 1934, he obtained the Austrian teaching qualification at the University of Innsbruck and taught for some years as a trainee teacher in Feldkirch and Dornbirn. But he was refused tenure. Elkan wrote essays on Schiller, read Humboldt and Hölderlin, Mörike and Kierkegaard, and worked on a collection of historical maps for the State Archive in Bregenz. He became forlorn in a climate more and more hostile against Jews. Even before 1939, illegal National-Socialists attacked the home of the Elkans in Hohenems.
After the seizure of power by the Nazi regime, Hans Elkan was no longer permitted to teach. Instead, he took care of the little park on the opposite side of the street belonging to his family’s home. Together with his father, he took care of the matters of the community, trying to save the torah scrolls from the synagogue without success, and looking after the aged Lev Heilbronner in the Valduna clinic, who would not live for any long. Despite increasing anti-Semitism, Hans and his parents didn’t want to leave Hohenems. They were deported to Vienna in May 1940 and to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942, where they perished in 1944.