Samuel Willenberg, the last survivor of the Treblinka revolt, who managed to escape the Nazi death camp in 1943, has died at the age of 93.
Willenberg was born in 1923 in Częstochowa, in southern Poland, where his father Perec taught at a local Jewish school. His mother Maniefa converted from Christianity to Judaism following her marriage. He was 16 when World War II broke out with the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939.
In 1941, Willenberg’s two sisters were arrested in Czestochowa, while his parents used false documents to escape the Nazi purge. At the age of 19, he was rounded up with the Jews during the liquidation of the ghetto in Opatow in southern Poland, and sent to Treblinka.
Acting on the advice of another Jewish prisoner, Willenberg posed as a bricklayer upon his arrival at the extermination camp. He was the only person from his transport not to perish in the gas chambers.
Willenberg took part in the 1943 revolt at Treblinka, becoming one of the few hundred who managed to escape the camp.
“Our goal was to destroy the factory of death,” Willenberg later recalled. “This whole revolt lasted maybe 20 or 30 minutes. We wanted this camp to stop working. In the forest I started to shout ‘hell is burnt.’”
After his escape from Treblinka, Willenberg returned to Warsaw, found his father, and joined the underground resistance, using his mother’s unmarried name of Popow. He recalled in his 1986 autobiography, “Revolt in Treblinka,” that he also took part in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis.
After the war, Willenberg helped a Jewish organization in Poland track down Jewish children who had been saved from the Nazis by Polish non-Jews. He moved to Israel in 1950 with his wife and his mother, where he joined the civil service. After retirement, he found success as a sculptor and held several international exhibits of his work, which focused on the Holocaust and his own experiences in Treblinka.
Willenberg was among those in attendance in August 2015 for a commemoration of the uprising at Treblinka.
“We burned in hell,” he said at the ceremony, which marked the 72nd anniversary of the outbreak of the rebellion.
His daughter, Orit Willenberg-Giladi, was in 2013 named as the architect to design a Holocaust education center on the site of the Nazi death camp.
Willenberg is survived by his wife, Ada, their daughter and three grandchildren. He will be laid to rest on Monday at 3 p.m., at the cemetery on Moshav Udim, near Netanya.
(The headline and first paragraph of this story were updated on February 21 to clarify that Willenberg was the last survivor of the Treblinka revolt, not the last Treblinka survivor.)
JTA contributed to this report