Meed, Vladka

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MEED, Vladka

Nationality: American (originally Polish: immigrated to the United States, 1946). Born: Fajga Peltel, Warsaw, 1923.Family: Married Benjamin Meed. Career: Member, Zydowska Organazcja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organization), during World War II. Director, weekly radio program, Jewish Labor Committee Yiddish Culture Department; chairman, culture committee of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors; vice president, Jewish Labor Committee. Since 1984 founder and executive director, teachers' training program on Holocaust and Jewish resistance. Contributor to Forverts magazine, ca. 1946. Awards: Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization award, 1973; Morim award of the Jewish Teachers' Association, 1989; Hadassah Henrietta Szold award and Elie Wiesel Remembrance award, both in 1993. D.H.L.: Hebrew Union College, New York, 1998.



Fun beyde zaytn geto-moyer. 1948; as On Both Sides of the Wall, 1971.

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Vladka Meed, author of On Both Sides of the Wall, was born Fajga Peltel, the oldest of three children of Hanna and Shlomo Peltel. She was the only member of the family to have survived the Holocaust. She was 17 when the German army entered Warsaw and was a member of the Jewish underground resistance from the first days of the occupation. She took the name Vladka when she was smuggled into the "Aryan" side of Warsaw under the name Wladyslawa Kowalska, a false identity obtained from an old Polish passport.

Activism was central to the girl's life from a very early age. Her father, a salesman, was a member of the Jewish Labor Bund, a mass organization in czarist Russia and interwar Poland that sought to transform the lives of the Jewish working poor through socialist organizing and secular Yiddish culture. The bund played a key role in the resistance; many members of the Zydowska Organazcja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Organization) were from its ranks. She attended the primary school of the Jewish Labor Bund starting at the age of six. Although her family spoke Yiddish in their home, the girl spoke fluent Polish, which she learned in the bundist school. Her command of Polish was a key factor in her survival and her ability to "pass" on the Aryan side.

Vladka married Benjamin Meed, born Miedzyrzecki, who was one of four children of an observant Jewish family. He had been her closest friend on the Aryan side and was also active in the resistance. They married in Warsaw after the Red Army had entered the city. The Meeds arrived in New York City in May 1946, and shortly after their arrival she conducted a speaking tour sponsored by the bund. She also began writing for the Yiddish-language publication Forverts. She published 27 articles about her experience in the ghetto at a time, according to Meed, when "people did not want to know about the Holocaust." Forverts and the Workmen's Circle, a Jewish fraternal organization that many survivors joined upon arriving in the United States, encouraged Meed to write a book based on her series of articles in Forverts.

Meed's book was published first in Yiddish in 1948 by the Workmen's Circle. In the introduction Elie Wiesel describes it as "the first authentic document to reach the free world about the uprising and the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, or about the Holocaust in general." The book was translated first into Hebrew and then into Spanish. It was published in English translation in 1971 under the title On Both Sides of the Wall. Before her arrival in the United States, Meed had never thought of herself as a writer, nor had it ever occurred to her while she was in the ghetto that she would write her memoirs. She has explained simply, "It wasn't a time for writing."

Meed and her husband have been active in Holocaust education and in advocating for survivors. She has served as vice president of the Jewish Labor Committee and has held the culture chair of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors. In 1981 the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors established a national registry to help survivors search for relatives and friends. This registry, now located in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, is named in honor of Benjamin and Vladka Meed. She has also received an honorary degree from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York for her unique contribution to human understanding and her ethical beliefs. She was the creator of and has headed the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teacher Training Program.

—Margie Newman

See the essay on On Both Sides of the Wall.