Vladka Meed, a courier and weapons smuggler for the Jewish resistance in Poland during World War II, died Nov. 21 at her daughter’s home in Paradise Valley, Arizona She was 90. She died after a steady decline from Alzheimer’s disease, said her son, Dr. Steven Meed.
Born Feigele Peltel in Warsaw on Dec. 29, 1921, she took the Polish nickname Vladka. 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 told The 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,” she said. “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.”
She 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.
The ghetto uprising, in which lightly armed young fighters took on the Nazis by firing from hide-outs in buildings and sewers, began in January 1943 and continued for four months, though. Meed did not take part in the final battle in April. She had been ordered to remain outside the walls for future missions, and as the rebellion ended she saw the smoke billowing from the ghetto while pretending to enjoy a carousel ride.
Meed and her husband Benjamin, who died in 2006, were on one of the first boats carrying survivors to reach New York, and she was invited to lecture about her experience and about the Eastern European Yiddish culture that the Nazis virtually destroyed.
Meed’s book On Both Sides of the Wall was originally published in Yiddish in 1948 with a firsthand account of her wartime experiences. The book was translated into English in 1972 (with a foreword by Elie Wiesel), and later into German, Polish and Japanese. It is still in print and was the inspiration for the 2001 TV-movie Uprising.
For nearly 20 years she organized a number of summer trips for teachers, educating them on the Holocaust and Jewish history of Warsaw.
Meed received a 1973 award from the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization, the 1989 Morim Award of the Jewish Teachers’ Association, the 1993 Hadassah Henrietta Szold Award, and the 1995 Elie Wiesel Remembrance Award. She received an honorary degree from Hebrew Union College and Bar Ilan University.