Vladka Meed: Activist for the Polish Resistance

 

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The Independent Online

Vladka Meed was a courier and weapons smuggler for the Jewish resistance in Poland during the Second World War who published a harrowing chronicle of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, After Germany invaded Poland in 1939, she and hundreds of thousands of other Jews were systematically rounded up and forced into a squalid Warsaw ghetto of one-square mile.

"To remain a human being in the ghetto one had to live in constant defiance, to act illegally," Meed said 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 any gas chambers. Jewish resistance took different forms and shapes under Nazi occupation. Our defiance of the Germans, who wanted to dehumanise us, expressed itself in varied ways."

Meed was largely on her own after 1942. Her father, a garment worker, died of pneumonia in the ghetto, and her mother and two siblings perished at the Treblinka death camp after mass deportations from the ghetto. She Meed joined the Jewish Fighting Organization, known by its Polish initials ZOB. With her Aryan looks and fluency in Polish, she passed as a Gentile, using forged papers, and lived amid the ethnic Polish population. Her code name was Vladka, a name she kept for the rest of her life.

She worked on both sides of the ghetto walls to obtain weapons and ammunition on the black market and find hiding places. She also acted as a courier for the Jewish underground, hiding documents in her shoe. Once she was nearly found out by a guard who ordered her to remove her shoes. She was saved only after another guard shouted that a Jew had escaped.

A resistance force of several hundred grew, armed with home-made bombs and other weapons. Meed smuggled weapons and ammunition in preparation for the uprising that launched in April 1943. After 27 days the ghetto was annihilated.

Afterward, she helped arrange for hiding places for the survivors and remained in Poland until the Russians liberated the country. In 1945 she married Benjamin Miedzyrzeck, another resistance member, and they made their way to American lines.

The next year, they sailed to the US with the aid of the Jewish Labour Committee, and changed their names to Benjamin and Vladka Meed in the 1950s. He started an import-export business and served on a board that helped establish the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Meed achieved a strong legacy through the force of her writing and lecturing for six decades. She wrote for Forward, became a vice- president of the Jewish Labor Committee and in 1984 started a national teacher-training programme on the Holocaust that highlighted the role of the Warsaw resistance. In 1948 she wrote one of the first book-length eyewitness accounts of the ghetto and the uprising.

Adam Bernstein, Washington Post

Feigel Peltel (Vladka Meed), resistance activist: born Warsaw 29 December 1921; married Benjamin Miedzyrzeck (died 2006; one son, one daughter); died Paradise Valley, Arizona 21 November 2012.

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