Advanced Search

Learn About The Holocaust

Special Collections

My Saved Research




Skip to main content

SS Totenkopf (Death’s head) ring taken from an SS officer by a liberator and later given to a Holocaust survivor

Object | Accession Number: 1992.206.1

Search this record's additional resources, such as finding aids, documents, or transcripts.

No results match this search term.
Check spelling and try again.

results are loading

0 results found for “keyward

    SS Totenkopf (Death’s head) ring taken from an SS officer by a liberator and later given to a Holocaust survivor

    Please select from the following options:


    Brief Narrative
    SS Ehrenring [honor ring] given to Benjamin Meed on October 24, 1992, by a liberator, who removed it from the finger of an SS officer in Germany in 1945. The rings, also called Totenkopfrings [Death’s head rings], were engraved with Himmler's name and were a highly prized award for SS officers. The SS (Schutztaffel; Protection Squadron) controlled the police forces and the concentration camp system for the Nazi Reich. In 1939, they created the Final Solution to eliminate the Jewish problem. Benjamin and his wife Vladka were Jewish resistance members in Warsaw, where they lived in the Ghetto and in hiding during the German occupation of Poland. They emigrated to the US in 1946. The couple were leaders in the survivor community and in promoting education about the Holocaust. In 1963, they founded the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization, having helped commemorate the event since 1945. In 1981, Ben and Vladka worked to establish the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem and, in 1983, organized the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. Benjamin served as president of the American Gathering until his death in 2006. A Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors was created during his leadership. In 1978, Benjamin served on the Advisory Board of the President’s Commission on the Holocaust which recommended the establishment of a national museum. He was a founder of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and served on the Memorial Council from 1980-2004.
    issue:  1939 June 21
    found:  approximately 1945 April
    received:  1992 October 24
    found: Germany
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Benjamin Meed
    Subject: Benjamin Meed
    Benjamin Miedzyrzecki was born on February 19, 1918, in Warsaw, Poland, to Israel and Rivka Rybak Miedzyrzecki. He had three siblings: Stela, born 1916; Mordecai, born 1922; and Genia, born May 21, 1934. Israel was born on February 13, 1892, and was a tanner. Rivka was born on May 30, 1896. They spoke Yiddish and Polish. Benjamin attended an Orthodox Hebrew school until fifth grade, then went to a public school, where he immersed himself in Polish culture and learned to speak flawless Polish. In 1939, Benjamin’s brother Mordecai planned to emigrate to the United States. Their parents were ashamed that Mordecai would leave and asked him to stay, so he did.

    On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Warsaw resisted occupation and Benjamin made barricades in the streets. On September 29, German troops entered Warsaw. The German soldiers gave bread to Polish people, but pushed Jews away. They gave Benjamin bread because with his light hair and blue eyes, he did not appear Jewish. Around October, Benjamin and a friend fled to Bialystok, then Brest-Litovsk (Brest, Belarus). His friend wanted to go home, so they returned to Warsaw in December. In early 1940, Benjamin joined the underground resistance. He was in a group of six that operated an illegal library. The ghetto was established on October 12, 1940, and sealed in November. Benjamin’s apartment was already located in the ghetto and several people moved in with them. The ghetto was overcrowded and they had very little food. Benjamin arranged a school for the children in his building and taught at night. In late 1940, Benjamin became a forced laborer. He left the ghetto every day to pick up bricks from destroyed buildings. Benjamin took clothing out of the ghetto and traded it for food to bring back to his family. The resistance asked him to smuggle people in and out of the ghetto with the labor brigade. From July 22 to September 12, 1942, the Germans took thousands of Jews out of the ghetto. In September, Benjamin’s father Israel was arrested and taken to Umschlagplatz. Benjamin’s sister Stela, who worked as a secretary for a leader in the Judenrat (Jewish Council), tried to help him but was arrested with her husband Yitzhak Blachowicz and sent to Treblinka. Israel bribed a policeman and was let go. Following the mass deportations, the resistance asked Benjamin to build hiding places in the ghetto.

    Later that fall, Benjamin met Feigele (Fajga) Peltel, called Vladka by the resistance. Feigele’s father died of pneumonia in the ghetto in 1941 and her mother, brother, and sister were deported in August 1942. She was a courier for the resistance and asked Benjamin to smuggle her out of the ghetto. He agreed, not knowing she was carrying a diagram of Treblinka. She was stopped and searched but was let go when someone else tried to run. In late 1942, Benjamin left the ghetto and stayed with a Polish woman named Juliana Larisz. He assumed the name Czeslaw Pankiewicz. He arranged to meet Feigele. The couple began dating, but had to keep their relationship a secret from the resistance. In late 1942, Benjamin convinced Israel, Rivka, and Genia to leave the ghetto with him and go into hiding. His brother Mordecai stayed, working for the Tobbens factory in the ghetto. In approximately January 1943, Mordecai was taken to Poniatowa, when the Tobbens factory was moved. A Polish woman helped Mordecai escape and join his family. Juliana helped Benjamin find a new hiding place for his family, in a goat shack in a cemetery in Praga, across the Vistula River.

    After the mass deportations in summer 1942, people in the ghetto prepared to resist further deportations. Feigele purchased weapons and smuggled them into the ghetto. On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began. Armed Jews in the ghetto resisted deportations, but the Germans crushed the resistance and killed and deported thousands of Jews. Benjamin and other resistance members posted signs proclaiming solidarity with the fighters throughout Warsaw. Benjamin and his family witnessed the ghetto burning. The uprising ended on May 16 and the ghetto was left in ruins. In summer 1943, Benjamin acquired a false Latin American visa with the help of Israel and a family friend. Mordecai asked Benjamin to give him the document and he agreed. Mordecai disappeared and they learned he was shot. Benjamin continued to work for the resistance, building hiding places and waiting for Feigele to return from her daily courier missions.

    On August 1, 1944, the Warsaw Uprising began. The Polish Home Army saw Soviet troops across the Vistula and rose against the Germans. Benjamin was afraid that his family would be killed if they remained in Praga, because the cemetery was located between 2 factories that he believed would be bombed. He moved them across the river to a new hiding place in Warsaw and left to be with Feigele. The Soviets advanced to the Vistula and liberated Praga, but did not cross the river into Warsaw, so the Uprising was crushed and Israel and his family were not liberated. Benjamin lost contact with his family. The wounded were being evacuated, so Benjamin bandaged his head and a Polish peasant took him and Feigele out of the city. They went to Pruszkow for a short time, then left to find a Jewish friend hiding on a farm near Kurczowa Wies. The estate had been taken over the German army, but they had false papers. In mid-January 1945, a member of the resistance told Benjamin that his family was in Opoczno and looking for him. On January 16, Benjamin and Feigele were liberated by Soviet troops in Kurczowa Wies.

    Benjamin went to Opoczno and found his family. They returned to Warsaw, where Benjamin and Feigele were married. The family moved to Łódź and opened a leather store. The war ended when Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. After hearing of renewed pogroms on Jews, Benjamin and Feigele decided to leave Poland, first to Belgium, then the US. In summer 1945, the couple was caught on the Belgian border by the British and imprisoned in Aachen. After a month, they were released by a British rabbi. They were very malnourished and were sent to recuperate in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. In August 1945, they moved to Munich and were joined by Benjamin’s family. On May 13, 1946, Benjamin and Feigele boarded the SS Marine Perch in Bremerhaven, arriving in New York on May 23. They settled in New York. Israel, Rivka, and Genia emigrated to Palestine in 1946. Feigele, who was famous for her activity in the resistance, wrote for a Jewish newspaper, The Forward. Benjamin opened an import-export business. They had two children. When they became naturalized American citizens in 1952, they changed their names to Benjamin and Vladka Meed. They were leaders in the survivor community and helped found the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization, the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in Jerusalem, the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors in DC, and the Registry of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. Benjamin helped found the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Benjamin, age 88, died on October 24, 2006, in New York. Vladka, age 90, died on November 21, 2010.

    Physical Details

    Object Type
    Signet rings (lcsh)
    Physical Description
    Silver finger ring with a molded skull and crossbones attached to the band, flanked by a triangle and diamond design. Text is engraved on the band interior. The engraving is very worn and there are remnants of gold finish where there is less wear on the interior.
    overall: Height: 1.000 inches (2.54 cm) | Width: 1.000 inches (2.54 cm) | Depth: 0.250 inches (0.635 cm)
    overall : silver
    interior, engraved : 21.6.39 H Himmler (?)

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The ring was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1992 by Benjamin Meed.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-31 10:36:42
    This page:

    Download & Licensing

    In-Person Research

    Contact Us