Between 1942 and 1943, the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland was where the Nazis murdered nearly one million Jews. While so many died at Treblinka, less than 70 survived. Now Samuel Willenberg, the last survivor of this death camp has passed away in Israel, with President Reuven Rivlin remembering him:
I stand here today awestruck. Before your freshly dug grave, Samuel. Before your courage and spirit. In the face of such heroism, and Jewish courage. I stand here as President of the State of Israel, beside the grave of the last witness of Treblinka, and before me are -together with you – 850,000 Jews.
Children, women and men. More than 850,000 Jews were murdered at Treblinka death camp during the course of 13 months. Jews were executed by shooting, suffocated in gas chambers, and killed in a variety of horrific ways. Only 67 people survived Treblinka. You were among them, the last witness. Those who arrived at Treblinka did not survive more than a few hours. You were there from October 1942 until August 1943, till you escaped toward the forests, during the uprising.
Just over a year ago I met Samuel for the last time. On Polish soil. We travelled to Poland for the inauguration ceremony of the Jewish Museum in Warsaw. Samuel described courageously and with boundless compassion what had happened to him. 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', 'Maurer', 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 - when he spoke of finding her coat that their mother had sewed, among the belongings of Jews sent to their deaths at Treblinka. He never stopped missing them. There, on Polish soil he said, "I'm not a hero of Israel. Israel has other heroes..."