Benjamin Meed, Holocaust survivor and leader of the survivor community, was a founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In his words: “We must tell our story to be worthy of the memory of our six million martyrs who cannot speak for themselves.”
Born in Warsaw, Poland, Ben Meed (1918-2006) was in business 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, 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, DC, 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 most comprehensive database of survivors and their families in the world. Established to assist survivors and their families in their search for relatives and friends, the Registry now contains information on approximately 195,000 survivors and their families worldwide. 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 Museum’s establishment. He also served on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the Museum’s governing body, from 1980 – 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.
Mr. Meed said at the Tribute
“We now pass our torch onto our children and to their children and beyond. The torch of memory is precious. It can illuminate the world.”