The last survivor of a Nazi death camp where 875,000 people were murdered has died in Israel at the age of 93.
Samuel Willenberg was one of only 67 people believed to have survived the Treblinka camp, fleeing in a revolt shortly before it was destroyed.
He had moved to Israel to work as a surveyor for the housing ministry and making sure the world never forgets about the atrocities at the camp in Poland had been his life's work.
Samuel Willenberg was one of only 67 people believed to have survived the Treblinka camp, fleeing in a revolt shortly before it was destroyed
A group of Polish Jews from Warsaw's ghetto being interrogated by Nazi officers before departing to the death camp of Treblinka, in 1943. Treblinka was a key part of Operation Reinhard, which was the Nazi's codename for the Final Solution designed to rid Europe of the Jews
Samuel remembers the Treblinka existence, pictured above from the book 'Nazi Hunter' by Alan Levy', as a ghoulish, terrifying struggle for survival where in the incinerators the SS guards would order prisoners to pick the pockets of dead Jews and then present them as macabre gifts to their wives
Treblinka holds a notorious place in history as perhaps the most vivid example of the 'Final Solution,' the Nazi plan to exterminate Europe's Jews.
Unlike at other camps, where some Jews were assigned to forced labor before being killed, nearly all Jews brought to Treblinka were immediately gassed to death.
Only a select few - mostly young, strong men like Willenberg, who was 20 at the time - were spared from immediate death and assigned to maintenance work instead.
On August 2, 1943, a group of Jews stole some weapons, set fire to the camp and headed to the woods.
Hundreds fled, but most were shot and killed by Nazi troops in the surrounding mine fields or captured by Polish villagers who returned them to Treblinka.
'The world cannot forget Treblinka,' Willenberg said in an interview in 2010.
He described how he was shot in the leg as he climbed over bodies piled at the barbed wire fence and catapulted over.
He kept running, ignoring dead friends in his path, and said his blue eyes and 'non-Jewish' look helped him survive in the countryside before arriving in Warsaw and joining the Polish underground.
After the war Willenberg moved to Israel and became a surveyor for the Housing Ministry.
Later in life, he took up sculpting to describe his experiences, making heartbreaking bronze statues depicting what Jews went through in the Holocaust.
Samuel Willenberg speaking at a memorial in Treblinka in 2013. He says: 'Treblinka is with me always. I sculpt about it, dream about it. Normal life and life in Treblinka walk with me. I can't discard it'
They showed Jews standing on a train platform, a father removing his son's shoes before entering the gas chambers, a young girl having her head shaved, and prisoners removing bodies.
'I live two lives, one is here and now and the other is what happened there,' Willenberg said.
He added: 'It never leaves me. It stays in my head. It goes with me always.'
His two sisters were killed at Treblinka and he described his own survival as 'chance, sheer chance.'
The Nazis and their collaborators killed about 6million Jews during the Holocaust.
The death toll at Treblinka was second only to Auschwitz - a prison camp where more than a million people died in gas chambers or from starvation, disease and forced labor.
His daughter said he died on Friday. He is survived by a daughter and grandchildren.
The swashbuckling story of the brave men who ran into machine gun fire to escape the Nazi camp where they faced certain death
Treblinka, in German-occupied Poland, has become a byword for astonishing cruelty and sadism, where 900,000 Jews were murdered there in just 15 months.
Samuel Willenberg was one of only 67 people to survive the murderous camp after risking all in an audacious escape, in which many friends and comrades died trying to flee their tormentors.
Treblinka was a key part of Operation Reinhard, which was the Nazi's codename for the Final Solution designed to rid Europe of the Jews, and it started its operations in 1942.
Samuel Willenberg (right, with the chief rabi of Poland on a visit to the camp in 2013) risked it all in an audacious escape, in which many friends and comrades died trying to flee their tormentors
Growing up in the southern Polish city of Czestochwa with a Jewish artist father and Christian mother who had converted to Judaism, Willenberg had an idyllic childhood alongside his younger sisters Itta and Tamara.
But the outbreak of the Second World War saw the family flee to Jasna Gora, regarded by many as the Catholic Poland's spiritual home, where they assumed false Aryan identities.
But one day Samuel and his mother returned home to find that the two girls – aged just 6 and 14 – had been arrested. They were never seen alive again.
'When I heard, I didn't want to live anymore,' says Samuel, seated at the dining room table in the central Tel Aviv apartment he shared with his wife, shortly before he turned 92 in an interview in January 2015.
He said 'it felt like life wasn't worth living' so boarded a train to the nearby Polish town of Opatow, and he was duly rounded up with other Jews.
He said: 'It was a kind of a suicide on my part; once my sisters had been arrested, I saw no further point in lying low by means of false Aryan documents'.
But the then 19-year-old had no idea that their final destination would be an extermination camp, which, unlike Auschwitz, had no pretensions to being a labour camp. It was designed for death.
Franz Stangl, the late Nazi death camp commander who was in charge of Treblinka extermination camp. He was sentenced to life in 1967
He said: 'There were 6,000 people in 60 wagons - 100 in each wagon that was intended for cattle, surrounded by barbed wire. There was no water - and no toilets.'
The train stopped in midst of a forest clearing. All prisoners were asked to take off their shoes. As he handed his shoes to a Jewish boy collecting them, they realised they were both from Czestochowa.
Samuel recalled: 'The boy said to me "Tell them you're a brick layer."
It was advice that would save his life. For while his fellow prisoners were stripped and sent to the gas chambers, Samuel donned his father's painting smock and was told to get to work.
The Nazis relied on a workforce of Jewish builders, welders, cooks, barbers, goldsmiths and others to help run their well-oiled death machine.
When Samuel arrived he heard the Nazis talk of the 'Himmel Strasse' - 'Heaven Street' - he didn't know what it meant until he saw for himself hundreds of Jews walking naked towards the gas chambers, never to re-emerge.
'I was devastated', he said, remembering that the non-Jewish Polish children would crack jokes about such places. 'I was here, and yet I still couldn't believe it really existed.'
One day, Willenberg walked past an enclosure marked by a white flag with a red cross. Curious he peeked in. He said: 'It was called Lazarett, and they said it was the infirmary.'
Surrounded by barbed wire around tall branches of pine trees, this was the place where the Germans took all the sick and disabled.
He said: 'When I went inside, I saw a pit with a huge pile of corpses, burning. One old man was forced to sit on a ramp above the pit. A Ukrainian guard shot him from behind and he fell inside.
'Then, a fellow prisoner asked me to lift his corpse to the top, so that it would burn better,' Samuel says softly, his otherwise throaty, booming voice suddenly weak with emotion.
In a book about his experiences, Samuel described what he can no longer bring himself to repeat: 'The sizzling, half burnt cadavers emitted grinding and crackling sounds. Here and there I could make out the torsos of men, women or little children.
'The smell of burning flesh penetrated my nose and prompted a flow of tears. It was my first encounter with mass murder. I was shocked to the core'.
A tramway going around a street of the Warsaw Jewish ghetto, displaying a star of David, from where the Nazis began their massive deportations from the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp
Samuel remembers the Treblinka existence as a ghoulish, terrifying struggle for survival, a world upside down: the 'Heaven Street' the pathway to a hellish death, the 'eternal flame' the term used to describe the licking flames of fire consuming corpses in the infirmary. And in the incinerators the SS guards would order prisoners to pick the pockets of dead Jews and then present them as macabre gifts to their blonde-haired and blue-eyed wives and children.
Even Barry, the dog belonging to the notorious camp commandant Kurt Franz, had been trained to render prisoners as pieces of flesh to be disposed of piece by piece.
'He was a beautiful St Bernard dog, the kind you would see in childrens' story books - the dog who would rescue children lost in the mountains. The epitome of human virtue,' remembers Samuel, his eyes shining with fury.
'Barry had been trained to be as wild a monster as his master - [a particularly cruel SS officer Kurt Franz'] - and when Kurt would bark his orders the dog would leap upon prisoners and tear away chunks of their flesh, with a special preference for genitals.'
Samuel recalls one prisoner telling him that he had witnessed a mother and child on arrival escape their train into the nearby forest only to be tracked down by commandant's dog.
ESCAPE FROM DEATH: INCREDIBLE BRAVERY OF JEWS WHO FLED
He said: 'Franz ordered Barry to attack them. Barry sniffed them out but when ordered to attack the child, he started whining and licking the baby's face. Franz whipped the dog furiously until he started bleeding too, and started kicking the mother and baby himself. The dog was then forced to lick his master's blood-stained boots.'
But the horror was not confined to other families. Haunted by the thoughts about his sisters, one day on duty to sort out the clothes, Samuel noticed a small brown coat which looked familiar. Plucking it out of the pile, he examined the green extensions sewn on. Instantly he knew.
'It had belonged to my little sister Tamara', he says, his wiry fingers shaking as he wiped away tears, remembering that moment.
Next to the coat, he found his sister Itta's skirt, clinging to the coat 'as if in a sisters' embrace', Samuel later wrote in his book 'Revolt in Treblinka'. Decades later, the memory remains a fresh wound that won't heal.
No wonder then that in this charnel house, prisoners were beginning to hatch a plot to escape.
Samuel said: 'It was a conspiracy to escape', explains Samuel, 'but it's very difficult to come up with a secret plan in a camp like Treblinka. In the camp, we were afraid that someone will betray us.
'The plan was hatched by a very small group of people. At the beginning, I also didn't know.'
The Nazis had constructed a new weapons storage room and the prisoners had secretly obtained a copy of the key. He said: 'The plan was to break in the weapons storage, distribute all the weapons and make a run for it'.
Samuel found out at dawn on August 2 1943 that that was the big day. He said: 'I put on two pairs of trousers, and a jacket in preparation. We all felt excited, yet we were all silent, waiting.'
'It was an exceptionally hot day, and many of the Germans went to the nearby lake for a dip after lunch. That was when we attacked'.
The arms storage was opened, and the prisoners began to throw out the guns, grenades, and others arms to the others. Samuel says: 'There weren't enough arms for everyone - people fought for the guns..
'Suddenly, we heard a thunderous explosion from the garage. Tongues of fire soared over the trees coming from the gasoline drums that the prisoners had set alight'
'We all started screaming 'Hoooraaaah!' and running towards border of the camp'.
As he ran, all Samuel could here was machine gun fire from the Germans. 'It went 'Trrradadadadadam. I looked down below me for a moment, and saw dead bodies - the first group that had charged across the fence had all been gunned down'.
Treblinka was a key part of Operation Reinhard, which was the Nazi's codename for the Final Solution designed to rid Europe of the Jews, and it started its operations in 1942. This image shows deportation to Treblinka from ghetto in Siedlce, Poland, in 1942
Using a momentary pause as the Germans reloaded their guns, Samuel ran for his life, his friend, a priest, running beside him. He said: 'I felt a bullet in my leg - I looked down as my shoe filled with blood. But I carried on running.'
Suddenly, a bullet hit the priest. Samuel said: 'He could run no more. He implored me, 'finish me off, please, just kill me. I told him, 'turn your head towards the gas chambers, where your wife and daughters were killed' - and I shot him. It was the only thing to do'.
Samuel carried on running alone, through a dark forest. He thought of nothing - only to survive. 'It was pure instinct.' Passing some Polish villagers, he cried to them: 'Hell is burnt to the ground! Hell is burnt to the ground!'
Even now, Samuel doesn't know how long he ran. Changing scenery, light and darkness race through his memory. He said: 'When the pain in my leg grew too bad, I knocked on the door of a house, and asked the man inside to help me disinfect it'.
Samuel Willenberg, pictured above a year after his escape from Treblinka
The Polish man dressed the wound and even provided a refuge for Samuel for the night, on a small islet in the nearby river, covered by reeds and plants.
'I heard German voices come in the night, but they didn't find me', he said. 'Above me was the moon - just like in the song my mother used to sing me when I was a child'. And without warning, Samuel broke into a melancholy lullaby in Russian, his deep voice thick with emotion, his eyes overflowing.
'Before the war, I wasn't a typical Jewish boy who stayed home and read books, you know', Samuel says, with a spark in his eyes that, even despite his advanced age, betrays a considerable sense of mischief.
'I had a friend, and together we loved to go on adventures - that is to say, we ran away from home, because we wanted to travel the world!', he says, laughing. 'We would wait for a train to pass, then cling on to the back and climb on the roof. We wanted to go all the way to Vienna!'
'My mother would hear a knock on the door - a policeman. "Is he dead?", she would ask him, worried sick. "No, he's at the police station - come and get him".
'This all helped me when the time came to run away from Treblinka', he said. 'It all came in useful'. I had my wits about me, if nothing else. I wasn't afraid to be alone, wasn't afraid to wander through a dark forest'
Samuel made his way all the way to Warsaw by himself, where he tracked down his father, who had been posing as a mute church artist in order to not be identified as a Jew. The father's strong Russian accent when he spoke Polish, he feared, would betray him as an outsider and a Jew.
'He opened the door and just stared and stared at me, as if he couldn't believe his eyes. He couldn't speak - he would write down everything he had to tell him as he was afraid of the neighbours overhearing'.
After an emotional reunion with his mother, she asked him whether he'd found out what happened to her daughters. 'She told me she knew they had been taken to Treblinka - a neighbour told her' 'She told me that she then went all the way there by herself. She smelled the stench of the burning bodies from far away - but she couldn't approach the camp and left without knowing what happened to Tamara and Itta'.
Samuel Willenberg believes that he must now build a Treblinka educational centre to teach future generations, and laid the foundation stone (right) in 2013
'I could never bring myself to tell her that I'd found their clothes, that they had been murdered there', says Samuel, closing his eyes.
After the war, Samuel emigrated to Israel with his wife and mother. After retiring as a civil servant he turned his mind to art, like his father. He swiftly became a successful artist and sculptor, his work often depicting the horrors of what he had experienced.
He said: 'In Treblinka, someone called out to me by name. I turned and saw my former history professor, Professor Mering. I used to be so terrified of him and now he was there, a prisoner like me.'
'Here, Samek, you are a witness to the murder of the entire Jewish people. Willenberg, you've got to live!. You've got to break out of here. You look Aryan, you have a good accent. Nothing about you gives you away as a Jew - you've got to escape from here and tell the world what you've seen and what you haven't seen. That will be your duty.'
The professor was murdered by an SS guard but Willenberg has felt a responsibility to remember ever since.
But Willenberg, who lives with his wife, with their daughter and three grandchildren living close by, believes that he must now build a Treblinka educational centre to teach future generations. Together with his wife, Samuel lay the foundation stone in 2013.
He said: 'Treblinka is with me always. I sculpt about it, dream about it. Normal life and life in Treblinka walk with me. I can't discard it.'
Throwing his hands up and with a resigned smile, he says: 'There's no cure, I can't get it out of my brains. It's a double life, and it's a tragedy.'