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The revolt in Treblinka in Samuel Willenberg's sculptures and memoirs

In January 2020, the IPN initiated an exhibition and educational project on the basis of sculptures by Samuel Willenberg, depicting people and situations he remembered particularly vividly from the time of his imprisonment in Treblinka. These unique sculptures, constituting the world heritage of the Holocaust, were brought by the IPN from Israel. The sculptures are displayed alongside with exerpts from Willenberg's memoirs 'Surviving Treblinka'.

The date chosen was 2 August 1943, a day I shall never forget. […] As that long-anticipated day dawned, our hearts pounded with the hope that now, maybe, our dream would at last come true. We had little thought for ourselves and our lives. Our overwhelming desire was to obliterate the death factory which had been our home. […] Utter silence reigned in the camp. The familiar sentries were positioned on the watchtowers as usual, fixing languid eyes on us. SS men hurried about the area just as they did every day. Nothing at all hinted at what was about to unfold here. The silence was meant to fool our enemy. […] the Germans, ordinarily so suspicious, were off their guard. They did not imagine that a prisoners’ insurrection was about to break out that day. The rebellion was timed to start at 4:30 p.m. […] Shortly before 4 and not as planned we heard an explosion from the direction of the Germans’ huts. The Ukrainian at the gate to the vegetable patch let loose a burst of gunfire. One of our men returned fire; the Ukrainian fell lifeless at the fence. I seized the rifle and ran to the Germans’ compound. I could see rifles protruding from the windows of the Ukrainians’ huts, firing into the forest. […] As the hail of gunfire intensified, other prisoners followed us toward the gate. We heard thunderous explosions from the garage; flames soared over the trees. A pillar of fire burst from the garage; the Germans’ huts burned […] The dry pine branches we had woven into the fence burned as well […] Treblinka had become one massive blaze. - Samuel Willenberg, Surviving Treblinka



  • 2 August 1943 - the Insurrection. Photo: Sławek Kasper (IPN)
    2 August 1943 - the Insurrection. Photo: Sławek Kasper (IPN)


 I ran with the others toward the vegetable garden. Reaching the fence, I was greeted by a horrifying sight: masses of human corpses strewn between the tank obstacles. Dead prisoners stood erect like tombstones; dozens of human bodies leaned against the obstacles and the barbed- wire fences. Machine-gun fire continued to rain down relentlessly from the watchtowers. As I skipped across the bodies of my dead comrades, I felt a sudden pain in my leg and a sharp blow. My shoe filled with blood. I had been hit in the leg. Limping, I reached the railway track. […] I was alone, desperately thirsty, and dressed only in a shirt and trousers. One of my shoes was filled with blood; my leg throbbed horribly. I removed the cap from my shaven head. […] I had no clear plan of action; I depended only on my instinct. - Samuel Willenberg, Surviving Treblinka


  • 2 August 1943 - Escape during the Insurrection. Photo: Sławek Kasper (IPN)
    2 August 1943 - Escape during the Insurrection. Photo: Sławek Kasper (IPN)


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