Like the angel of death, the Dutch police officer stood
at the door. It was 2 o'clock in the morning, and he was
hunting for Jews. Someone must have tipped him off to the
three Jewish children sheltered in the home of Marion
Pritchard. He entered the living room, his back to the
bedroom where the youngsters were sleeping. Pritchard's gut
told her he would send them to a concentration camp. Within
two minutes, she'd decided what to do. She reached up to a
shelf and felt for the revolver given to her for
emergencies. "It was him or the kids, so I shot
him," she says, unflinching. "It was a moment of
excitement. I did it! I did it! The kids are safe! Then it
was, what do I do with the body?"
During World War II, the Nazis murdered millions of Jews,
Gypsies, homosexuals, and others. But thousands of ordinary
folks risked their own lives to help the intended victims.
Marion Pritchard was one of the rescuers, concealing a
Jewish family for nearly three years.
"It was never a question," says Pritchard, now
80 and a practicing psychoanalyst who lives in Vershire, Vt.
"For somebody's life, how could you not?"
The straightforward woman with the clipped Dutch accent
is puzzled by those who don't understand her conviction that
hesitating in the face of evil is equal to siding with the
enemy. Her brows knit together, she crosses her arms and
asks, "What if nobody had done anything?"
"To my father, justice was everything,"
Pritchard says of her dad, a judge. "Not law and order,
but justice." His philosophy shaped her idyllic
girlhood in Amsterdam."I was never spanked, never
hit," Pritchard says. "I got all my questions
answered. When you are brought up that way, with complete
love, respect, and understanding, that is how you try to
treat people when you grow up."
When the Dutch government shocked its people by
capitulating to the Nazis five days after the Germans
invaded in May 1940, Pritchard remained true to her family's
values. She aimed to "do whatever I could to get in the
way of the Nazis." So when her supervisor asked her and
her classmates at social work school to temporarily shelter
Jewish children targeted for concentration camps Pritchard
agreed. Despite the possibility of prison, or worse, she
took a boy into her parents' home.
One morning in the spring of 1942, Pritchard watched
Nazis load sobbing Jewish children into trucks. When they
didn't move fast enough, the Nazis grabbed an arm or leg and
threw them in. "I was so shocked I found myself in
tears," Pritchard says. "Then I saw two women
coming down the street to try to stop them, and the Germans
threw them into the trucks, too. I stood frozen on my
bicycle. When I saw that, I knew my rescue work was more
important than anything else I might be doing." She was
That summer, a friend in the Dutch resistance movement
secured empty servants' quarters in a rural village as a
refuge for a Jewish family. Pritchard volunteered to live
with and care for them.
"Jews in hiding couldn't be visible," she
explains with a hint of annoyance when asked her rationale.
"They couldn't just go to the store. So I stayed with
them. It was the right thing to do." The Polak
family–Fred and his children, 4-year-old Lex, 2-year-old
Tom, and newborn Erica–stayed with her until the war ended
in 1945. (The mother was separated from the family but
reunited with them after the war.) There was nowhere to hide
other than a tiny compartment under the living room, so Fred
spent each day upstairs in a nurse's house across the street
and worked on his doctoral dissertation. The children, who
passed for gentiles, could play in the yard. Though many of
the neighbors knew what she was doing, they were "good
Dutchmen, anti-Nazi, and rescuers in their own way,"
Pritchard says. They sneaked her milk and vegetables to
supplement her meager rations. Pritchard struggled to keep
house while finding havens for other Jews.
By the time the war ended, the Nazis had murdered
approximately 110,000 of the Netherlands' 140,000 Jews.
Pritchard had helped find hiding places or transport to safe
houses for more than 150. "I tried," she says,
"but many were only saved temporarily."
Pritchard was an exemplary rescuer because she chose to
risk her life when she saw Jewish children being hauled
away, says Malka Drucker, who coauthored Rescuers:
Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust. "She
was frozen in fear and indecision, so she decided to become
For all her bravery, Pritchard is haunted by that night
she shot the policeman. She was fortunate local authorities
did not pursue the missing man–hatred for Nazis and Dutch
turncoats seethed in the village. And she was extremely
lucky that friends and supporters disposed of the body.
Karel Poons, a gay Jew who was her former ballet teacher,
risked his life to sneak out after curfew and persuade the
baker to take the body in his horse-drawn cart to the
undertaker, who stashed it in an occupied coffin slated for
burial. Still, Pritchard feared being found out. "I had
to go on, to stay strong for the family," she says.
"I wish it hadn't been necessary. But it was the better
of two evils."
© 2001 U.S.News
& World Report Inc. All rights reserved.