Paradise Valley, AZ – Holocaust scholars and educators are mourning the passing of Vladka Meed, a Jewish resistance fighter in Poland’s Warsaw Ghetto during World War II and a fierce advocate for national Holocaust education following the war.
Meed died on November 21 at the age of 90 in Paradise Valley, Arizona after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Born Feigele Peltel in Warsaw on December 29, 1921, she and hundreds of thousands of other Jews were systematically rounded up by the Nazis in 1939 and forced into what would become known as the Warsaw Ghetto.
Meed was just a teenager when a portion of Warsaw was walled off to create the ghetto. She was put to work sewing Nazi uniforms. Thousands of Jews starved to death in the Ghetto or were beaten and killed by the Germans in group executions.
“To remain a human being in the Ghetto, one had to live in constant defiance, to act illegally,” Meed told the Jewish Forward in 1995. “We had illegal synagogues, illegal classes, illegal meetings and illegal publications. We were trying to live through the war, the hard times, in the ways which were known to us before the war. Nobody imagined gas chambers. Jewish resistance took different forms and shapes under Nazi occupation. Our defiance of the Germans who wanted to dehumanize us, expressed itself in varied ways.”
In 1942, Meed found herself largely on her own. Pneumonia had claimed her father in the Ghetto, and her mother and two siblings were murdered at the Treblinka death camp following a mass deportation of Jews from the Ghetto. Meed then joined the Jewish Fighting Organization. With her Aryan looks and her fluency in Polish, Meed was able to deceive the Nazis into believing she was a Polish gentile, enabling her to move freely as a courier on both sides of the Ghetto wall.
According to the New York Times (http://nyti.ms/10CxKUi), Meed was able to smuggle money, weapons, gasoline for firebombs, and other ammunition in preparation for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which started on April 19, 1943 and lasted 27 days. She was also able to obtain critical information and hide documents in her bra and her shoes.
On several occasions, Meed was able to smuggle Jewish children out of the Ghetto and bring them for sake-keeping to sympathetic Christian families. Women were preferred as couriers, Meed said in a 1983 interview, because it was not easy to detect if they were Jewish. “If a man in the underground went on a mission, he could be recognized as a Jew by his circumcision,” she said. “A woman’s body might be searched, but it could not give that information.”
The Washington Post writes (http://wapo.st/10CxFjB) that Meed remained in Poland until the Russians liberated the country near the end of the war. In 1945, she married Benjamin Miedzyrzecki, another resistance fighter and courier, and with the help of the Jewish Labor Committee, the couple made their way to New York in 1946 on a boat of displaced persons, with just $8 between them.
They officially changed their last name to Meed in the 1950s. In 1948, Meed wrote one of the first books containing an eyewitness account of the Warsaw Ghetto and the courageous resistance of its Jewish prisoners. Entitled “On Both Sides of the Wall,” the book was originally written in Yiddish, but was later published in English, Polish, German, and Japanese.
“I watched a small group of captured Jews, utterly crushed, drag themselves slowly through the streets of the ghetto, prodded and pushed by an angry group of Ukrainian guards,” Meed wrote in her book. “At the ghetto wall stood a bearded, caftaned Hassid and his small son. The guards separated the two, but the boy ran back and clung fiercely to the father. A German raised his carbine, then smiling, separated the two once more. Again the child darted back, and the German burst into laughter. The father embraced his child in sheer despair. Several shots rang out – and the two remained together, even in death. The ghetto fought on…”
Mr. Meed, an importer-exporter, went on to co-found the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in 1981 with his wife, and helped establish a national registry of Jewish Holocaust survivors that is now maintained by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In the mid-1980s, as the Holocaust was becoming a part of the American educational curriculum, Mrs. Meed approached the American Federation of Teachers to arrange to train teachers in Holocaust education. Some 750 teachers have been to Poland to visit the death camps and Warsaw and to Israel, thanks to the teacher-training program designed by Mrs. Meed.
Meed is survived by her two children, Dr. Anna Scherzer of Paradise Valley and Dr. Steven Meed of Manhattan, as well as five grandchildren. Her husband died in 2006 at the age of 88.