The Dutch government surrendered to the Nazis 5 days after the Germans invaded in May, 1940. Millions of Jews, Gypsies, and others were slaughtered, while some Dutch people risked their lives to help the victims.
Marion Pritchard was one of the rescuers. She concealed a Jewish family for nearly 3 years and killed a Dutch Nazi policeman to save the children.
Born in Amsterdam in 1920, Pritchard learned from her parents to treat people with respect and understanding. Her father was a liberal judge and her mother was tiny, tough, cheerful and confident.
At 19 she enrolled in the school of social studies in Amsterdam. While studying in a friend’s apartment, she was arrested by the Nazis along with the other students, most of whom were part of the Dutch Resistance. ”I always thought I had my mother’s ability to ignore fear, until I spent seven months in jail.”
In the spring of 1942 Pritchard saw Nazis loading children, ages 2 to 8, onto trucks. ”I was shocked and in tears,” Pritchard said, ”and after that I knew my rescue work was more important than anything else I might be doing.”
While working in a rehab center in 1942, her supervisor asked Marion to shelter a 2-year-old Jewish boy who was in danger of being sent to a concentration camp. Despite the possibility of prison, or worse, she took the boy into her parents’ home, where he stayed until she found a safer place.
Pritchard volunteered to live with and care for a Jewish family, Fred Polak and his 3 children. They were 150 miles outside of Amsterdam, in a house secured by the Dutch resistance movement.
”Jews in hiding couldn’t be visible,” Pritchard explained, ”so I stayed with them, it was the right thing to do.” Fred spent his days working on his Doctoral Dissertation, while the children played in the yard, passing for gentiles.
Her neighbors knew what she was doing. ”They were ‘good Dutchmen’, anti-Nazi, and rescuers in their own way,” Pritchard said. They provided her with food to supplement her meager rations.
In the middle of the night, a Dutch police officer entered the house looking for Jews betrayed by a neighbor. Knowing they would be sent to a concentration camp, she instinctively reached for a revolver hidden on a shelf for emergencies, and shot him. For all of her bravery, Pritchard is still haunted by the night she killed the policeman.
The Polak family stayed with her until the war ended in 1945. The mother was separated from the family, but was reunited with them after the war.
One day Marion was given a little girl to place with a family. ”I fell asleep and when I woke up the woman was changing and feeding the baby.” she said. ”We talk about moral decisions, but these people just knew this was the thing God would have wanted them to do.”
By the end of the war the Nazis had murdered approximately 110,000 of the 140,000 Dutch Jews. Pritchard had saved 125 Jewish families.
Hoping to learn the whereabouts of Jewish friends who had survived the war, Pritchard went to work for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration’s Displaced Persons camps in 1945.
In one of the refugee camps she met and married Tony Pritchard, a former U.S. Army Lieutenant. At an age when many migrate south, Marion Pritchard lives in a curtain-less farmhouse with her husband Tony on 125 snow-covered acres deep in the woods of Vermont.
Marion, a practicing psychoanalyst, now in her eighties and recently retired from the University of Vermont’s Center for Holocaust Studies’ Advisory Board, participates in the University’s summer seminar on Holocaust education, but the terror and misery of war remain close to Marion. She only regrets not having done more.
”The university is indebted to Marion Pritchard for her help in reaching out to students and others with information on the Holocaust,” said Professor David Scrase, Director of UVM’s Center for Holocaust Studies. ”Her heroic actions in the 1940’s were morally driven and her current activities are equally selfless.”
As a reward for her actions during the Holocaust, Pritchard was awarded the Wallenberg Medal in 1992.
In a lecture titled, ‘The Active Role of Jews in Rescue and Resistance During the Holocaust,’ Pritchard discussed her experiences as a rescuer, and how Jews themselves were active participants in rescue activities, ”Jews did not go willingly to their deaths–that Jews did not resist nor defend themselves is a universal misconception.”