- Shmuel (Samek) Willenberg is the son of Perec Willenberg and Maniefa (nee Popow). He was born in 1923 in Czestochowa, where his father worked as a painter and teacher at the Jewish high school. His mother grew up as a Russian of Orthodox faith. She came to Poland during the Russian Revolution and converted to Judaism after marrying Perec. Shmuel had an older sister Itta (b. 5/9/1919) and a younger sister Tamara (b. 5/25/1936). After the outbreak of World War II, Willenberg volunteered for the Polish army. While fighting Soviet Army forces in Chelmno, he was wounded on September 25 and hospitalized for three months. After leaving the hospital, Shmuel made his way to Opatow where his family was now living, and his father was painting synagogue murals. In 1941 the Germans established a ghetto in Opatow. Shmuel lived in the ghetto. His parents had gone to Warsaw where they lived with false papers while his sisters were in Czestochowa.
In October 1942 the Nazis deported Shmuel to Treblinka together with the rest of the ghetto. When he arrived at the camp, Samuel met a friend from Czestochowa who told him to tell the guards that he was a brick layer. This advice saved his life; Willenberg was the only person from his transport to survive. He was put to work sorting through the belongings of those who had been killed. One day he spotted his sister's coat. In this way he learned that his sisters had been denounced and sent to Treblinka. They were killed on November 1, 1942. On August 2, 1943, the Jewish prisoner underground launched a revolt and massive prison break from Treblinka. Hundreds stormed the gate under Nazi fire. Though Willenberg was shot in his leg, he was one of fewer than 70 prisoners who successfully escaped. He made his way to Warsaw where he managed to locate his father who was hiding while pretending to be deaf mute so as to conceal his accent ans supporting himself by painting portraits of Jesus. His mother was living elsewhere also under an assumed name but came to visit on occasion. Shmuel hid under the name Ignacy (Igo) Popow, adopting his mother's maiden name. Shmuel lived for a time with his father but later had to evacuate the apartment building and slept instead in a manhole housing the local telephone exchange.
The following summer, Polish resistance groups launched an uprising in Warsaw on August 1, 1944. Shmuel joined the underground Polish armies and fought in the uprising. After the surrender of Warsaw and dispersal of the population, Willenberg escaped from the prisoner train and hid until the Soviet liberation. However, after the war he served another year in the army after he was drafted as a lieutenant. Shmuel finally was discharged in 1946. He then devoted his energies to assisting Zionist youth organizations. Through the Bricha, he led other Jews across the Alps to Italy en route to Palestine. Willenberg initially also planned to go for Palestine, but after he arrived in Rome, he learned that his father had died. Shmuel returned immediately to Poland. There he continued his work with Jewish organizations helping locate Jewish children who had been in hiding. In 1948 he married Ada Lubelczyk, a survivor from Warsaw.
In 1950, Willenberg left Poland and immigrated to Israel, together with his wife and mother. He worked as the chief surveyor in a development company in Jerusalem and a sculptor. Many of his works depict life in the Treblinka death camp. The Polish government bestowed upon Willenberg many of its highest national honors including the Cross of Merit with Swords, the Cross of Valor, Warsaw Cross of the Uprising, the Polish Army Medal and the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland .