Miriam Peleg (1913–1996) was a member of the Council for Aid to Jews, codenamed “Żegota.” Żegota was a clandestine rescue organization of Poles and Jews in German-occupied Poland. Supported by the Polish government-in-exile, Żegota coordinated efforts to save Jews from Nazi persecution and murder. It operated from 1942 to 1945.
Born Maria Hochberg, Miriam was from a Polish-Jewish family. She grew up in a small town about 70 miles east of Kraków. As early as the summer of 1940, Miriam obtained false identity papers. Miriam used the alias “Maria Górska.” She spent the war living outside the boundaries of the Kraków ghetto on what was referred to as the “Aryan side.” According to Miriam, she was able to pass as a non-Jew because of her fluent Polish and “Aryan” looks. Miriam’s ability to live under a false identity allowed her to be actively involved in rescue efforts. From the start of World War II, she helped other Jews evade Nazi persecution.
In 1943, Miriam joined the Kraków branch of Żegota. She worked as a liaison between Żegota and Jewish underground organizations. Miriam was in charge of Żegota’s “legalization unit.” This unit provided false identity documents and financial assistance to Jews. Miriam also directly helped Jews in hiding, including children. She assisted several people who had escaped ghettos or camps, such as the Kraków ghetto, the Janowska camp, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
In 1948, Miriam immigrated to Israel. There, she worked as the director of the Tel Aviv branch of Yad Vashem. Miriam also served as a member of the committee that awards Yad Vashem’s honor of “Righteous Among the Nations.”
In this interview, Miriam describes why she joined the Kraków branch of Żegota.
Znaczy my… Więc ja dostałam się w ten sposób do Żegoty, przez moje znajomości z kołami socjalistycznymi. Z tym, że Warszawa zażądała przedstawiciela żydowskiego społeczeństwa, a oni zwrócili się do mnie, bo znali mnie i wiedzieli, że pracuję już jakieś dwa lata pod okupacją, i że mam pewne kontakty, i mam pewne doświadczenie, przede wszystkim wielką gwarancję - mimo że to nie było takie bezpieczne dla mnie, bo w Krakowie znało mnie dużo ludzi - ale jednak mój wygląd, bardzo aryjski, i moja polszczyzna, bardzo dobra, to były te atuty, które przemawiały za tym, żebym się zaprzęgła do tej pracy. I zaprzęgłam się do tej pracy. Jak ta praca wyglądała, to trudno jest teraz opowiadać o tym, bo to wymaga bardzo, bardzo szerokiego wachlarza wspomnień […]
I mean, we… So this was how I got into Żegota, through my contacts with socialist circles. It was because [the] Warsaw [branch of Żegota] requested a representative of the Jewish community, and they asked me, because they knew me and they knew that I’d already been working during the occupation for about two years, and that I had certain connections and some experience, and above all the best guarantee–although this wasn’t really all that safe for me, because many people knew me in Kraków–but after all my appearance, it was very “Aryan,” and my Polish was very good, these were the assets that made it a good idea for me to engage in this work. So, I engaged in this work. What this work looked like, it’s hard to describe it now, because it requires a very, very wide range of memories…
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