Israel President Reuven Rivlin on Monday eulogized Samuel Willenberg, the last remaining survivor of the Treblinka death camp, who died Friday in Israel at the age of 93.
“Just over a year ago I met Samuel for the last time. On Polish soil…With a trembling voice he spoke about the day he arrived at the death camp. He spoke about the man who whispered in his ear telling him to say ‘constructor’…and thus probably saved his life. The entire transport which arrived with Samuel to Treblinka—6,000 people—were sent to the gas chambers. None survived. He told me about his two sisters who were murdered. Seventy years have passed since then, but Samuel still cried when he talked about his sister, aged six, whom he left and to whom he could never return,” Rivlin said.
Willenberg was born in Poland in 1923. He was a teenager when the country was invaded by the Nazis in 1939. At age 19, he was sent to Treblinka, where on the advice of a fellow prisoner he posed as a bricklayer in order to survive. He was the only person among the Jews who were brought to the death camp on his transport who didn’t die in the gas chambers. He participated in the Treblinka revolt of 1943, managing to escape the camp. Later, in Warsaw, he joined the underground resistance and participated in the 1944 Warsaw Ghetto uprising. In 1950, Willenberg immigrated to Israel.
“Samuel, I came here today to tell you—you are a hero. And what a hero, Samuel. You are a symbol of heroism. A symbol for an entire generation of Holocaust survivors. Heroes. Strong and courageous people. Invincible. Optimistic. Who survived the destruction and could grow once again. Who experienced the horror and choose life,” Rivlin added.
On Sunday, World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer said 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. 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. May his memory be a blessing.”