Chaim Engel, participant in mass-escape from Sobibor

When a fellow prisoner decided at the last minute that he was too scared to kill one of the Nazi guards, Engel did it instead, according to his wife, Selma, who at the time was his girlfriend.

As SS guards opened fire on the fleeing Jews, she and Engel escaped to nearby woods. They were two of just 30 prisoners who made it to freedom; the rest died in the attempt or were subsequently murdered by the Nazis.

Sobibor was shut down after the revolt.

Engel's actions were recounted in greatest detail in Richard Rashke's 1982 book "Escape from Sobibor," which was made into a movie in 1987. Engel himself often downplayed his role.

He "was modest to the point of being embarrassed when people would describe his actions as heroic," said his son-in-law, Gene Burger. "He felt he was driven to take part in the revolt by the desperate situation in which inmates found themselves."

Born in Brudzew, Poland, Engel met Selma Wynberg at the camp when they were forced to dance to entertain Nazi guards, according to Burger.

After their escape from Sobibor, the couple were hidden by a Polish peasant until Russian troops defeated the Nazis.

They married after the war and lived in Holland, Israel and finally the United States, eventually settling in Branford, Conn.

After trying his hand at various jobs, Engel became a jeweler.

"He was a hard-working businessman," Selma Engel said. "We started all over again many times, but we always made it. He was always determined to get what he wanted."

The Engels spoke about their Holocaust experience in classrooms and at memorial programs. Aside from such venues, however, Engel rarely talked about his role in the uprising, said his wife.

Engel's testimony on the Web site of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum recalls the incident in vivid detail.

"I stabbed our overseer to death," Engel said. "With each jab I cried, 'This is for my father, for my mother, for all the Jews you killed.' "

He "had no choice," his wife said. "This man had to be killed. He had to do what he did."

Asked if she considered her husband a hero, Selma Engel said yes — not only for killing the guard, but for taking her with him. He was the only man who took his girlfriend, she said. "I was proud that he was a hero to me, and also because of all of the things he did in life.''

Engel is also survived by a son and daughter and four grandchildren.