The “Struma” Tragedy
At the early age of sixteen, in September 1939, Samuel Wilenberg as a volunteer, joined the army. He took part in battles against the Germans and one with the Red Army around Chełm. In 1942, after the arrest of his sisters, who were betrayed by their neighbours, devastated, he went to the ghetto in Opatów. In October 1942 he was transported to the extermination camp in Treblinka.
Pretending to be a bricklayer, he was the only one to avoid instant death and was sent to Sonderkommando. While working in a warehouse with possessions belonging to the murdered, he recognized the clothes of his two sisters.
To his duties belonged also cutting hair of Jewish women, being taken to the gas chambers. He remembered the surname and face of one of the women — a twenty-year-old Rut Dorfman. After decades, he recreated her face in his sculptures.
On 2nd August, 1943 he took part in a revolt. Its participants set the camp on fire and ran away. From the several hundred of the fugitives only 68 survived. Willenberg managed to get to Warsaw, where as a soldier in battalion ‘Ruczaj he took part in the uprising. After years, he was awarded the War Order of Virtuti Militari.