Survivor of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Dead at 90
Vladka Meed, one of the last remaining leaders of the World War II Warsaw ghetto uprising and a lifelong champion of Holocaust education, died in Arizona on November 21. She would have turned 91 in December.
Meed was born Feyge Peltel in Warsaw, Poland. She joined the youth arm of the Jewish Labor Bund at age 14. After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, she and hundreds of thousands of other Jews were systematically rounded up and forced into the Warsaw ghetto - a squalid, one square mile section of the city. In 1942, Meed joined the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) following the mass deportation of more than 265,000 Jews to the Treblinka death camp.
“Though I read and re-read the new posters, I still could not believe that the deportation had really started,” Meed recalled, in her 1948 memoir On Both Sides of the Wall, one of the earliest accounts of the uprising. Portions of this account are included in the Facing History and Ourselves resource The Jews of Poland. “People exchanged reassuring words, perhaps seeking to delude themselves as much as to console one another. The clouds would yet disperse,” Meed wrote. “At most, some sixty thousand would be deported. Certainly no more than that. This was the accepted opinion among the community leaders.”
But the trains that left the ghetto filled with Jews – including members of Meed’s own family – returned empty. Meed’s mother and two siblings died at Treblinka. Her father passed away in the ghetto from pneumonia.
Having witnessed the atrocities unfolding each day, Meed began work as a courier. She smuggled arms into the ghetto and helped children escape out of it. With her flawless Polish and red hair, she cautiously passed as a non-Jew. “One had to be wary of each movement, each word, to avoid giving oneself away,” she wrote in a passage included in the Jews of Poland. “If we were discovered, it would mean death.”
To conceal her identity, Meed adopted the name Vladka, which she kept even after she escaped to the United States with her husband, a fellow courier, in 1946 aboard the Marine Flasher, a transport ship for survivors. In America, Mr. Meed became a businessman and served on a board that helped establish the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Mrs. Meed contributed articles to the Jewish newspaper the Forward, became a vice president of the Jewish Labor Committee, and in 1984 started a national teacher-training program on the Holocaust that focused on the experiences of Jews in Warsaw.
“They made a difference and the world is a better place because they walked this earth,” the Meeds’ son Steven told the Forward. “Each made a unique individual contribution to Holocaust remembrance and to survivors and their joint contribution was unequalled.”
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This article was written by Facing History’s Julia Rappaport. For questions or tips on what Facing History is doing in your community, email her at Julia_Rappaport@facing.org.