Vladka Meed posed as gentile during World War II, smuggling weapons and documents into ghetto and finding hiding places for children outside. 'To remain a human being in the ghetto, one had to live in constant defiance, to act illegally,' she said in 1995
VIDEO - Vladka Meed, a weapons smuggler and courier in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, who published a book about the struggle, died last week at the age of 90 at her daughter's home in Arizona, the Washington Post reports.
According to her son, the cause of death was Alzheimer’s disease.
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Meed posed as a Polish gentile woman during World War II, smuggling weapons and documents into the ghetto and finding hiding places for children from the ghetto outside.
“To remain a human being in the ghetto, one had to live in constant defiance, to act illegally,” Meed told Jewish newspaper Forward in 1995. “We had illegal synagogues, illegal classes, illegal meetings and illegal publications."
Watch Meed's testimony:
Meed was born Feigel Peltel in Warsaw in December 1921. Her father died of pneumonia in the ghetto, and her mother and two siblings perished at the Treblinka death camp.
She joined the Jewish Fighting Organization, using the code name Vladka – a name she kept for the rest of her life.
As the war continued, she immediately chose armed resistance. Using forged identification papers and with her Aryan looks and fluency in Polish, she lived for extended periods amid the ethnic Polish population and worked on both sides of the ghetto walls to obtain weapons and ammunition on the black market and find hiding places for children and adults.
She also acted as a courier for the Jewish underground, hiding documents in her shoe.
'Most Poles were indifferent'
In an interview to the Washington Post in 1973, Meed said it was horrifying to discover the apathy of most Poles to the fate of the Jews. “I lived among them for a quite a while as a Pole. Most of them were indifferent. Quite a large number of them were openly anti-Semitic and even, in a way, having satisfaction” with the ghetto extermination.
German soldiers arrest Jewish man at Warsaw Ghetto (Photo: AP)
The uprising was launched on April 19, 1943. It lasted 27 days until the ghetto was completely annihilated.
In 1993, Meed told a Knight-Ridder reporter, "We didn’t have any possibility the outside world is going to come and liberate us. So it was doomed from the beginning. . . . We didn’t want to die. No. But we said, ‘This is the way to act. This we have to do.'"
Her son, Steven Meed said “quiet resistance” was what his mother most profoundly taught him, namely how to “maintain your dignity, educate your children and contribute to society — doing all those things that made you a person in the face of hell.”
“We were trying to live through the war, the hard times, in the ways which were known to us before the war,” she told Froward. “Nobody imagined any 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.”
Meed survived and remained in Poland until it was liberated by the Russians. In 1945, she married Benjamin Miedzyrzeck, another resistance member. A year later, they immigrated to the United States with $8 between them. They officially changed their names to Benjamin and Vladka Meed in the 1950s.
According to the Washington Post, Meed's husband started an import-export business and served on a board that helped establish the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
They had two children and five grandchildren. Benjamin Meed died in 2006 at the age 88.
While her husband often played a more public role in Holocaust remembrance, Vladka Meed achieved a strong legacy through the force of her writing and lecturing for six decades.
She became a vice president of the Jewish Labor Committee and in 1984 started a national teacher-training program on the Holocaust that highlighted the role of the Warsaw resistance.
In a book she wrote in 1948, "On Both Sides of the Wall," she provided an eyewitness account of the Warsaw ghetto and uprising.