Vladka Meed, who smuggled weapons into the Warsaw Ghetto and, after improbably surviving the Shoah, made sure we remembered what had happened, has died. It was my great honor to have met her on a number of occasions. She was the definition of heroism.
We have entered a period, sadly, in which the last Holocaust survivors, and the last veterans of World War II, are dying. I'm trying to make it a priority to meet more of them -- and introduce them to my children -- before they're all gone.
Here's The Times on Meed:
Mrs. Meed's resistance work started with the deportation of 265,000 Jews from Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp and continued after the uprising by the ghetto's besieged remnants. She told her story in Yiddish in her 1948 book, "On Both Sides of the Wall," one of the first published eyewitness accounts. It was translated into English, German and at least three other languages, is still in print, and was a central source of the 2001 television movie "Uprising."
When the Germans walled off a portion of Warsaw, she was still a teenager. Working as a machine operator sewing Nazi uniforms, she grew increasingly dejected watching the deportations in 1942 that included her mother, a 13-year-old brother and a married sister. But she responded resourcefully to a call for armed resistance.
With her brownish hair and prominent cheekbones, she could pose as a gentile, so the Jewish underground asked her to live on the Christian side of the wall and become a courier. Born Feigele Peltel on Dec. 29, 1921, she took the Polish nickname Vladka.
Women were often preferred as couriers, she said in a 1983 interview. "If a man in the underground went on a mission, he could be recognized as a Jew by his circumcision," she said. "A woman's body might be searched, but it could not give that information."
She was soon buying bullets, pistols, even dynamite, and carrying them, as well as money and essential information, to the Jewish side of the wall. Sometimes she became part of a Polish ghetto work detail, sometimes she bribed her way across and sometimes she clambered over the wall. With death all but certain, she once recalled, "there was very little left to fear."
Several times, she smuggled Jewish children out of the ghetto and into the homes of sympathetic Christian families. According to Michael Berenbaum, a leading Holocaust scholar, she helped pass on to the Polish underground the startling news about Treblinka -- that trains filled with Jews were returning empty, that no food was being shipped and that there was an omnipresent stench of corpses.