Samuel Willenberg, 93, the last survivor of the 1943 revolt at the Treblinka death camp, died Friday, Feb. 19, at his home in Tel Aviv.
Willenberg was born in 1923 in Częstochowa, Poland. He was taken to Treblinka in 1942 at age 19 and, at the advice of a man who whispered in his ear, claimed to be a bricklayer, which saved his life. All 6,000 people who arrived with him were killed.
He was one of the leading members of the prisoner revolt in August 1943. According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, about 300 prisoners escaped, and 100 survived the resulting Nazi SS manhunt.
Willenberg joined the Polish resistance and took part in the Warsaw uprising in 1944. He joined the Polish army after World War II and reached the rank of lieutenant, then made aliyah in 1950.
“Samuel Willenberg was a hero who defied the odds and risked his life during the darkest time in modern history. He dedicated his life’s work to the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust and to honoring the Jewish people,” World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer said. “As the number of living Holocaust survivors dwindles, it is our duty to continue their legacy and ensure that future generations remember their sacrifices and never forget the horrors that the Jewish people were forced to endure.”
He dedicated most of his life to teaching about the Holocaust. He became an artist whose work focused on the Holocaust, and he led frequent trips to Poland to teach children about the horrors of the war.
His memoir, “Revolt in Treblinka,” was published in Hebrew in 1986 and was translated into English and seven other languages. Willenberg was involved in a project to establish a museum at Treblinka until his death.
He is survived by his wife, Ada, a Holocaust survivor from Warsaw, and a daughter, Orit Willenberg-Giladi, an architect working on the new Israeli Embassy in Berlin.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Monday afternoon, Feb. 22, delivered the eulogy at the funeral in Moshav Udim.
“The life story of Samuel Willenberg is the eternal story of the Jewish people. It is a story of hope and faith, of destruction and rebirth, of strength and pride,” Rivlin said.
He said 850,000 Jews were killed at Treblinka; 67 survived. “You were among them, the last witness.”
Rivlin said 1,000 survivors die each month. “The number of firsthand witnesses is dwindling. Time is running out.”
One of Willenberg’s sculptures is at the President’s Residence, and Rivlin said that every time he walks past the statue, he remembers what the artist told him: “I will not live forever. But my sculptures will speak for me.”