Last survivor of Treblinka death camp revolt dead at 93

Polish-born Israeli artist Samuel Willenberg (right), the last surviving member of the Treblinka prison revolt, died in Israel aged 93.
Polish-born Israeli artist Samuel Willenberg (right), the last surviving member of the Treblinka prison revolt, died in Israel aged 93.PHOTO: EPA

JERUSALEM (AFP) - The last survivor of a prisoners' revolt at the Treblinka Nazi death camp has died aged 93, the Yad Vashem Holocaust institute said on Sunday.

Born in Poland, Samuel Willenberg was 19 years old and living in the town of Opatow when its Jewish inhabitants were sent to Treblinka.

Approximately 870,000 Jews were murdered during the 13 months that the camp was in operation, from July 1942 through August 1943, Yad Vashem says.

The Jerusalem Post reported that he escaped death by telling his Nazi captors that he was a painter and builder and was assigned to camp maintenance work rather than going straight to the gas chambers like most new arrivals.

On Aug 2, 1943, he joined another 200 inmates who broke into the armoury of the camp's SS detachment, opened fire on their captors and set fire to camp buildings.

"Masses of prisoners now tried to storm the fence and escape from the camp; they were fired at from all the watchtowers and most of them were hit, falling in or near the fence area. Those who succeeded in getting out of the camp were apprehended and shot," Yad Vashem's website says.

"Of the approximately 750 prisoners who had tried to make their escape, 70 survived to see liberation." Shot in the foot, Willenberg nevertheless escaped and joined the Polish underground.

In 1944, he fought in the Warsaw Uprising by Polish partisans against the Nazis, surviving yet again to serve in the post-war Polish army and immigrating to Israel in 1950.

He became a noted sculptor, creating 15 scenes from Treblinka which have been exhibited in Israel, Poland and Germany.

"When you see my sculptures - you see Treblinka," he told researchers in a 2011 interview.

In his book Revolt In Treblinka, he said of the uprising: "We harboured no thoughts of ourselves and our lives. Our only desire was to obliterate the death factory which had become our home."

Willenberg, who died on Friday, is to be buried in central Israel on Monday.

His fellow survivor from the Treblinka revolt, Kalman Taigman, died in Israel in 2012.