Marion Pritchard, the Dutch Holocaust rescuer who saved the lives of 150 Jewish children during World War II, passed away last month at the age of 96. Pritchard, then Marion van Binsbergen, was a 19-year-old social work student when the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940. Over three years, she risked her life numerous times by hiding Jewish refugees, arranging falsified identification papers, finding non-Jewish homes to take in Jewish children, and performing what was known as the "mission of disgrace" by falsely registering herself as the unwed mother of newborn babies to conceal their Jewish identity. In speaking about her wartime experience during a 1996 lecture, Pritchard said, "Most of us were brought up to tell [the] truth, to obey the secular law and the Ten Commandments. By 1945, I had lied, stolen, cheated, deceived and even killed."
The daughter of a judge who abhorred the Nazi ideology and instilled in his daughter a strong sense of justice and moral resolve, Pritchard opposed the regime from the onset but it was a chance encounter in 1942 that transformed the young woman into an active resister. While riding her bicycle to class in Amsterdam, she came across a group of Nazi soldiers liquidating a Jewish children's home, filled with children from ages 2 to 8. "It was a beautiful spring morning, and it was a street I had known since I had been born," she recalled, "and all of a sudden you see little kids picked up by their pigtails or by a leg and thrown over the side of a truck... You stop but you can't believe it." It was then, she said, "I knew my rescue work was more important than anything else I might be doing."
Working with friends in the Dutch Resistance, she began to hide, feed, and otherwise aid Jewish refugees, most of them children. She used her social work training to help find and prepare families for harboring Jewish children illegally. She also took up residence in the country home of an acquaintance to help care for a Jewish man in hiding with his three young children for nearly three years. Fearful of the Nazis' nighttime raids, the Polak family would hide in a hidden pit whenever a vehicle approached. After one such raid, the Nazis left after failing to find the hiding place but a Dutch collaborator returned to surprise them a half hour later after the children had already left the pit. Convinced he would turn the family over to the Nazis, Pritchard shot and killed the intruder; "I would do it again, under the same circumstances," she told an interviewer years later, "but it still bothers me." The family survived the war thanks to her care and protection.
After the war, Pritchard worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in displaced-persons camps in Germany. There, she met Anton Pritchard, a United States Army officer who was running a camp in Bavaria. They were married and moved to the U.S. in 1947, eventually settling in Vermont. For many years, she helped refugee families settle in the U.S. and worked as a psychoanalyst. In 1981, Pritchard was named one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. She also passed on her spirit of compassion in action to the students she taught at an annual seminar at Clark University in Massachusetts. "Some of our students chose their professions referencing Marion," says Deborah Dwork, a professor of Holocaust history. "One of them just finished her dissertation on women rescuers and perpetrators in Rwanda. She wrote to me and said, 'This is all about Marion.'... Not only did she save lives during the 1940s, but she continues to save lives today through her influence."
You can read more about Marion Pritchard's extraordinary life in a recent New York Times tribute at http://nyti.ms/2hD8OOc
Pritchard's story is among several told of rescuers in the fascinating book, "Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust," which examines why certain individuals were moved to resist during the Holocaust while so many others stood by - learn more at http://amzn.to/2immF8t
For an excellent book about more courageous women who stood up to the Nazi regime, we highly recommend "Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue" for teens and adults like, ages 13 and up, at http://www.amightygirl.com/women-heroes-of-world-war-ii
For books for children and teens about girls and women who lived during the Holocaust period, including stories of other heroic resisters and rescuers, check out our blog post, "Yom HaShoah / Days of Remembrance: 30 Mighty Girl Books About The Holocaust" at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=11586
For books and films about another famous WWII rescuer whose heroic efforts saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children, visit our "Irena Sendler Collection" at http://amgrl.co/2iNay4B
And, to inspire your children with hundreds of real-life and fictional stories starring courageous girls and women, visit our "Courage & Bravery" book section at http://amgrl.co/1mb6dZq