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Samuel Willenberg
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Artist
    (February 16, 1923-February 19, 2016)
    Born in Czestochowa, Poland
    Volunteered for the Polish army at the start of World War II
    Captured by the Soviets
    Escaped from a military hospital
    Forced into the ghetto at Opatow, Poland
    Sent to the extermination camp at Treblinka (October 20, 1942)
    Participated in a prisoner revolt and escaped (August 2, 1943)
    Joined the Polish underground
    Participated in the Warsaw Uprising (August 1-October 2, 1944)
    Emigrated to Israel (1950)
    Became a surveyor and sculptor
    Sculpted the Holocaust memorial for Czestochowa
    Wrote the memoir ‘Revolt in Treblinka’ (1986)
    Subject of the documentary ‘The Last Witness’ (2002)
    Last survivor of Treblinka
    At Treblinka, he was assigned to the Sonderkommando squad, where his duties included fooling arrivals into not realizing that they were at an extermination camp.
    He also sorted the belongings of people sent to the gas chambers.
    He said one of the reasons he was not recaptured after escaping from Treblinka was his ‘non-Jewish’ appearance, such as his blue eyes.
    Upon arriving at Treblinka, an inmate told him to claim he was a bricklayer; as a result, he was the only one of the 6,000 Jews from the liquidated Opataw ghetto not to be sent to the gas chambers.
    While sorting clothing from the victims of the gas chambers, he discovered a coat belonging to his younger sister.
    He was shot in the leg while escaping from Treblinka.
    After his escape, he reunited with his parents in Warsaw: ‘You can't imagine what it means to return from hell and see your mother and your father.’
    After the fall of Communism, he returned frequently to Poland to lead youth groups on tours of the site where Treblinka had stood.
    He and his wife Ada were married for over 65 years.

Credit: C. Fishel


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