“It Will Take Just a Couple of Minutes.” Samuel Willenberg’s Account.

Samuel Willenberg – polsko-izraelski rzeźbiarz i malarz, były więzień Treblinki, podczas spotkania.
fot. Krzysztof Bielawski/Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN

“She suddenly walked out of the room where women were taking off their clothes, where all their clothes were laying around and steaming, asit was winter. She appeared as if out of the fog; she walked in through the door and sat down on an oblong stool.

She asked me how long it takes.

So I told her that it took just a couple of minutes.

Then she told me her name.

Maria Rudorf.

I remember it to this day.

Even though I usually forget names.

They cut the hair in a usual way, piece by piece…

They took it for mattresses used at submarines.

Because hair does not absorb water… or moisture…

Everything was put to use”.



It was a Jewish prisoner appointed to guard the latrine so that people would not use it for more than a minute and a half. Prisoners were allowed to stay there for no more than a minute and a half.

He wore an attire of a chazzan from a synagogue, with this special cap.  And he had a whip.

This tragic figure, it was him.

Because he used to cry out to high heaven.

To whom?

He was screaming at the blue Polish sky .

Not at God.

In Treblinka, there was no God.”.


“I found a piece of clothing.

It belonged to my sister.

A coat.

A green one.

Vivid green.

The fabric as if chopped from a sofa, you know. Velveteen.

So I realised it was my sister’s coat.

And beneath the coat, there was my older sister’s skirt.

They brought them to Treblinka”.


“Before the war, I believed in God, although I was not very traditional. We went to the synagogue for high holidays. This God had always been  mystical, intangible.

After Treblinka, I stopped believing.


For me, religion – any religion – is absurd.

I  read all kinds of books after that the war.

They only convinced me that it indeed was absurd”.


Samuel Willenberg – a land surveyor and sculptor. Born in Częstochowa, he was a prisoner of the Treblinka death camp . During the selection he said he was a bricklayer, which saved his life. He worked at the sorting barracks, amongst other places. He fought in the prisoners’ uprising in Treblinka in 1943 and in the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. After war he emigrated to Israel.

Interview and editing: Joanna Król.

From the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews oral history collection. Interview conducted on 24 April 2014.

Witness accounts are recorded within the framework of the project Neighbors–Witnesses. Objects, People, Stories realized as part of the Jewish Cultural Heritage program.

Supported from the Norway and EEA Grants by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.


www.eeagrants.org, www.norwaygrants.org
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