The Last Survivor of the Escape from Death Camp Treblinka

Treblinka in north east Poland is synonymous with the Nazi concentration camp located there during World War Two.  Just under a million Jews were murdered at Nazi occupied Treblinka in under a year and a half. The camp was part of the Germany’s Third Reich’s plan to eradicate Jews from Europe – a program known as the Final Solution.

There is one story of escape from the camp which is still told by the single surviving escapee, 91 year-old Samuel Willenberg.  Samuel took part in a revolt in the Treblinka camp in August 1943.

Nazi guards were taking some time out, swimming in a nearby river. Of course imprisoned Jews were plotting possible escapes all the time, and with a good number of guards away from the camp it was the perfect opportunity.  A duplicate key to the armoury had been obtained by some prisoners, so around 700 of them raided the armoury taking guns and grenades and running amok in the camp. They set buildings on fire and exploded a petrol tank.

In all the chaos, prisoners were able to make a run for freedom. The Nazi guards who remained on duty took to their machine guns and fired at will to kill those who were escaping from the camp.  Many died in the gun fire, but around 200 made it away from the camp. About 100 were then killed in the subsequent search for them, while about 70 actually made it away to survive the war.

While running away from the camp, a priest who was with Samuel was shot but not killed. Lying injured on the ground the priest pleaded with Samuel to shoot him rather than let him be captured by the Nazis. Samuel did so. Though only twenty years old at the time, the memories of Treblinka have remained with Samuel his entire life.  Samuel continued running for his life as he heard the Nazi machine guns firing. He even felt a bullet hit his leg and his shoes fill with blood, but he just kept on running, the Mail Online reports.

At the onset of World War Two, Samuel’s family had tried to assume new identities as Aryans. But his sisters were arrested and never seen again, so he gave up his false identity and was captured along with all the other Polish Jews.

Samuel had been part of the workforce at Treblinka that was used by the Nazis to build and maintain the facilities. He remembers seeing what was known as ‘Himmel Strasse’ or Heaven Street for the first time, where hundreds of prisoners were marched naked into the gas chambers.  Samuel remembers Treblinka as terrifying, and he wants to build an education centre dedicated to ensuring that future generations will come to know and understand what happened there, in order to prevent it from ever happening again.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE