Last survivor of Treblinka revolt dies
Samuel Willenberg, the last surviving participant in the Treblinka death camp revolt during World War II, died on February 19 in Tel Aviv, Israel, aged 93. His death is significant not only because of his role in that difficult and heroic episode of anti-Nazi resistance, but because with his passing goes the last living eyewitness to the event. In different circumstances, this might not be tremendously important, given that the Treblinka revolt is fairly well documented in World War II history, though perhaps not as well as other significant events. However, with rising international anti-Semitism, and increasing acceptance of Holocaust denial, the loss of living witnesses means a bit more.
Treblinka, like its sister camps of Sobibor and Belzec, was intentionally kept secret by the Nazis in order to hide the scale of the genocide they were perpetrating and also the evidence of it should things go badly for the regime in the end – which, of course, was the case. The revolt occurred in August 1943, and the Nazis dismantled the camp shortly thereafter. Today it is little more than an archeological site, like Belzec and Sobibor. All were razed before the arrival of Soviet forces in Eastern Poland in 1944.
Perhaps 300 prisoners escaped during the uprising, but most either were hunted down by the Nazis or died while on the run before the end of the war in spring 1945. In the end, fewer than 100 survived the war.
A Google search will reveal many online accounts of the revolt and also the one at Sobibor, which occurred a couple months later and was modestly more successful. An article I wrote for World War II History magazine several years ago is worth perusing if you can get it as a back issue (not available online). My fanciful novel Upfall has a historically accurate description of the camp before the revolt, and an alternative history – and more successful version – of its overthrow.