Remembering Vladka Meed

By Masha Leon

Published February 21, 2013, issue of March 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“This is a celebration of a life lived,” said David Posner, senior rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, in his invocation at the February 3 “Memorial and Celebration of an Extraordinary Life — Vladka Meed, 1921–2012,” held at the synagogue’s Lowenstein Auditorium. Vladka Meed was a leader in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; she died in Phoenix on November 21, 2012, just before her 91st birthday. Meed’s son, Steven Meed welcomed the overflow crowd, and her daughter, Anna Meed Scherzersang Yiddish songs accompanied on a keyboard by Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre — Folksbiene. The grandchildren of Vladka and Ben Meed recalled moments with their beloved grandmother..

“Vladka hardly ever talked of her own family during the war,” said Sara Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in Washington, D.C., “but in a rare moment, she spoke to me about her mother in the ghetto suffering from such extreme hunger that her face was swollen under her eyes.” Meed also told her that every week, her mother saved slices of bread to give to an old man in exchange for bar mitzvah lessons for Meed’s younger brother, unfortunately, that bar mitzvah never happened. Bloomfield said that Meed told her, “During the war, my mother taught me what it means to be human.” About her own relationship with Meed, Bloomfield said, “Vladka taught me, as she did many people, what it means to be human.” Susan Myers, executive director of Holocaust Museum Houston, added: “She has changed our lives. We’ll never forget her.”

Michael Berenbaum, founding project director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, relayed Meed’s biographical details:

“Born Feyge Peltel in Praga — a district of Warsaw — she joined the youth arm of the Jewish Labor Bund at 14 and was thereafter a Bund activist through the time of the creation of the ghetto. She joined the ZOB Jewish Fighting Organization after the great deportations of the summer of 1942, when more than 265,000 Jews were shipped from Warsaw to Treblinka…. Vladka worked as a courier, smuggling arms into the ghetto and helping children escape out of it…. In her writings, she alludes to the loneliness and pressure of her double life….’You can be my friend,’ she says to Benjamin Miedzyrzecki (Meed), who later became her husband, ‘because if I don’t come back, I want someone to know that I was missing.’ Vladka was one of the first survivors to arrive in the United States in 1946…. She traveled and spoke widely as an eyewitness to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and in 1948 she published ‘On Both Sides of the Wall’ in Yiddish. The book, translated into English, remains in print 63 years later.”

Roman Kent, president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, extolled Meed’s imperative “to transmit that the “6 million were not just a number.”

Elaine Culbertson, co-director of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers Program, said of Meed: “It was her brilliant idea to educate teachers about the Holocaust… Nearly 1,000 teachers, from every state in the nation, have attended the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers Program. These teachers have, in turn, influenced many thousands of students in the past 28 years. As Vladka’s generation of eyewitnesses leaves us, those who have taken this on must work even harder to retell and emphasize the heroism of daily life.”

I was asked to speak on the topic “Vladka in her Yiddish World.” In preparing for my speech, I realized that — most likely — I would be the only one present who remembered her from prewar Warsaw; she was my babysitter when she was a teenager. We reconnected in New York in 1946, and she became a treasured friend. One time, when I visited her during her illness, she mistook me for one of her Polish caregivers. When I spoke Yiddish, she seemed to suddenly change, and she spoke passionately about the teachers program she had created and the urgency to spread the message of the Holocaust. When her aide interrupted in Polish, Meed’s memory door suddenly slammed shut.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.