21 Feb 2016

Last Treblinka death camp survivor dies

6:27 pm on 21 February 2016

Samuel Willenberg, the last survivor of Nazi Germany's Treblinka death camp in Poland, has died in Israel aged 93.

Samuel Willenburg (centre) lighting a candle in front of the monument of Treblinka on 2 October 2013.

Samuel Willenburg (centre) lighting a candle in front of the monument of Treblinka on 2 October 2013. Photo: AFP

Only one of 67 people known to have survived the camp, he escaped by clambering over bodies piled up by a fence as the Nazis shot prisoners during a mass break-out.

In 2013, he returned to the site to mark 70 years since his escape.

About 870,000 people died in the gas chambers at Treblinka - more than anywhere else except Auschwitz.

Mr Willenberg urged the world never to forget Treblinka.

In October 1942, aged 19, he was among 6000 Jews from the Opatow ghetto who arrived by train at the camp.

They were told they were at a transit camp and had to undress and shower before being sent onward. In reality, the shower rooms were gas chambers.

But because he was a bricklayer he was assigned to manual labour duties and escaped an early death. His job was to sort through the belongings of the people sent to the gas chambers.

After the war Mr Willenberg - whose two sisters were killed at the camp - moved to Israel and became a surveyor.

"I live two lives, one is here and now and the other is what happened there,'' he said.

"It never leaves me. It stays in my head. It goes with me always."

Most of Treblinka's guards were never prosecuted for their part in the crimes there.

Treblinka's commandant, Franz Stangl, was sentenced to life imprisonment in October 1970 following his trial in the west German city of Duesseldorf.

Today nothing remains of the extermination camp apart from the ashes of the mostly Jewish men, women and children murdered there.

- BBC