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Last Treblinka death camp survivor dead

February 21, 2016

Samuel Willenberg, who was one of only 67 people known to have survived the camp in occupied Poland, has died in Israel. He was part of a group who fled the prison in a revolt in 1943.

Samuel Willenberg
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/O. Balilty

Willenberg's daughter said her father died on Friday at his home in Tel Aviv. He was 93.

Born in Czestochowa, Poland, he was arrested at age 20 and taken to the Treblinka extermination camp, located northeast of Warsaw.

Treblinka holds a notorious place in history as perhaps the most vivid example of the "Final Solution," the Nazi plan to exterminate Europe's Jews.

Around 875,000 people were murdered, most of them gassed to death immediately upon arrival.

Only a select few - mostly young, strong men like Willenberg - were spared from immediate death and assigned to maintenance work instead.

Run for your life

According to the Jerusalem Post, Willenberg was one of the instigators of the Treblinka Revolt, which saw a group of Jews steal weapons and set fire to the camp, before heading to the nearby woods.

Around 200 people escaped but only 67 survived. Most were shot and killed in the surrounding mine fields by Nazi troops or captured by Polish villagers who returned them to Treblinka.

Willenberg described how he was shot in the leg as he catapulted over the barbed wire fence, climbing over bodies of his dead friends in the process.

He said his blue eyes and "non-Jewish" look allowed him to survive in the countryside before arriving in Warsaw and joining the Polish underground.

Trauma remains

Willenberg moved to Israel after the war, becoming a surveyor for the Housing Ministry and later a sculptor.

His bronze statues depicted Jews standing on a train platform, a father removing his son's shoes before entering the gas chambers, a young girl having her head shaved, and prisoners removing bodies.

His story has been told in several documentaries and he gave a number of interviews about his time at Treblinka.

"I live two lives, one is here and now and the other is what happened there," Willenberg said. "It never leaves me. It stays in my head. It goes with me always."

Willenberg is survived by a daughter and grandchildren.

mm/bw (AP, Jerusalem Post)