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Benjamin Meed (1918-2006), a Polish Jew, fought in the Warsaw ghetto underground, planned the 1981 World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and served on the Advisory Board of the President's Commission on the Holocaust.
Born Benyomin Miedzyrzecki in Warsaw, Poland, Meed was in a business high school when World War II erupted. Within a short time he was living in the Warsaw ghetto and working as a slave laborer. Recruited into the underground by his future wife Vladka (born Fayge Peltel), whom he met in the midst of the war, he was responsible for rescuing ghetto fighters and finding and building hiding places for them. Ben and Vladka were among those Jews on the "Aryan" side of the ghetto wall who distributed the April 23, 1943, appeal from the Jewish Fighting Organization.
The couple married shortly after the war, and in 1946 they immigrated to the United States to rebuild their lives. Mr. Meed eventually opened a successful import-export business and they raised two children. Ben and Vladka formed an extraordinary, lifelong partnership that would endure for decades.
The Meeds helped plan the 1981 World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors held in Israel, the first event of its kind. That same year, the organizers established the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors to prepare for a 1983 gathering in Washington, D.C., which attracted 20,000 survivors and their families. Mr. Meed served as president of the American Gathering from its inception until his death.
Soon after its founding, the American Gathering established a Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, the a database of survivors and their families. The Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors is housed at the Museum and has become an important tool for families and researchers.
He was also deeply committed to teacher training, as he and Mrs. Meed, through the American Gathering and the Jewish Labor Committee, created the "Summer Seminar Program on Holocaust and Jewish Resistance."
Mr. Meed served on the Advisory Board of the President's Commission on the Holocaust, which recommended the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's establishment. He also served on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the Museum's governing body, from 1980 to 2004, where he chaired several crucial committees: the Days of Remembrance Committee and the Museum Content Committee, which oversaw the creation of the Museum's Permanent Exhibition. He was responsible for institutionalizing Holocaust commemorations in the nation's capital, at state houses and cities across the country, and at military installations worldwide.
In November 2003, in honor of the Museum's 10th anniversary, Mr. Meed conceived "A Tribute to Holocaust Survivors: A Reunion of a Special Family," which honored survivors, liberators and rescuers as well as their families. More than 7,000 people, four generations strong, traveled to Washington from 38 states and around the world to take part in the largest Museum event since its opening.
"We now pass our torch onto our children and to their children and beyond," Mr. Meed said at the Tribute. "The torch of memory is precious. It can illuminate the world."
* United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - Benjamin Meed
Ben Meed, 88, a resistance figure in Poland during World War II who became a leading force in creating a reunion of other Jewish Holocaust survivors, died Oct. 24 at his home in Manhattan. He had pneumonia.
Mr. Meed, a leather and textile businessman after the war, helped start the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in 1981 and was its longtime president. Every few years, he organized gatherings that attracted thousands of people to discuss their shared experiences. At its peak, in 1983, more than 20,000 survivors and their descendants attended a reunion in Washington.
Mr. Meed also compiled a national registry of Jewish Holocaust survivors who settled in the United States. He contacted rabbis and scholars who would put him in touch with survivors and later worked with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which he helped establish, to maintain the registry.
More than 195,000 people have contributed to the registry, from brief biographies to vivid accounts of the war. To find relatives, visitors can organize database searches by prewar communities and other methods.
Museum director Sara J. Bloomfield said that Mr. Meed's chief legacy was creating a movement of Holocaust survivors at a time when many Jews desired to forget the experience.
To a point, Mr. Meed was sympathetic. "Our vengeance was rebuilding life," he once said, meaning, like himself, many other Jews placed a priority on having children and moving on.
As he gained recognition as a movement leader, he spoke out on issues of importance to the dwindling number of survivors.
He denounced President Ronald Reagan's 1985 visit to Bitburg, the German cemetery where Nazi SS are buried. At a congressional hearing in 1998 into the loss of Jewish property during the war, Mr. Meed said the war was not only a genocide, but also "the greatest human robbery."
He wrote of the $5.2 billion compensation package from the German government to Nazi-era slave and forced laborers: "There is a measure of justice -- whatever we are getting is a measure of justice. . . . It's too little too late."
Benjamin Miedzyrzecki was born Feb. 19, 1918, in Warsaw, where his father worked in a tannery, sold lottery tickets and was an informal arbitrator of conflicts within the Jewish community. Benjamin and his three siblings were raised in Orthodox Jewish tradition but grew fluent in Polish culture and language at public school.
At the start of the German occupation, he was detailed to a work crew near the Jewish ghetto. He later described his work as "cleaning up the old burned-out buildings and sending the bricks back to be reused by the Germans."
A compact and vigorous man, he was selected as a leader in the underground, smuggling food, munitions and information into the ghetto and taking out items that could be sold on the black market. Sometimes working with his future wife, Vladka Peltel, he became a specialist in finding places to hide Jews outside the crowded ghetto.
Mr. Meed, using a pseudonym, found he could pass as a non-Jewish Pole. Still, he lived in constant suspicion, saying that informers would turn him in for peanuts, vodka and butter. Two of Mr. Meed's siblings were killed during the Nazi occupation of Poland.
Although he developed a strong facade, he later told an interviewer he felt great anguish during Palm Sunday in 1943, which coincided with the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
"Not a word was mentioned that across the street people are fighting, dying by the hundreds, and fire," he said. "I was just like a good Christian listening to the whole sermon. . . . Across the street was a carousel with a playground and the music was playing and . . . the people took the children on the carousel, beautifully dressed.
"From time to time we heard screaming, 'Look! Look! People are jumping from the roofs!' Others will make remarks, 'Jews are frying.' . . . And it was very heartbreaking for me that here I am, helpless, I can do nothing, and I gotta see and watch, and I cannot even protest, I cannot even show my anger."
His parents and a surviving sister left for the British mandate of Palestine, and Mr. Meed and his wife came to the United States through the aid of the Jewish Labor Committee. In 1946, they arrived in New York with $8.
He started off as the night cleaner at a leather and fur factory and negotiated with a boss to keep the leather scraps. He would then sell the scraps to small businesses that manufactured pocketbooks and wallets. Within a few years, he started an import-export concern specializing in leather and textile goods