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Profiles in Courage

Rescuer Marion Pritchard with Erica Polak during the war. (Courtesy of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous)
Rescuer Marion Pritchard with Erica Polak during the war. (Courtesy of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous)
Amsterdam, The Netherlands... 1942 - Marion Pritchard was studying to become a social worker when Germany invaded The Netherlands in May 1940. Amsterdam, the city in which Marion lived, was home to more than 75,000 Jews. The Germans began deporting Jews from Amsterdam to the Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps in February 1941. Many Dutch citizens were appalled by the German assault on their country and by the persecution of their Jewish neighbors, but they felt powerless in the face of German brutality and military might. Many reluctantly accepted the Nazi presence, and some Dutch citizens and officials collaborated with the Germans. Others, however, resolved to resist the Nazis and to help the Dutch Jews. Marion Pritchard was among them.

At the beginning of 1942, the Germans start ed concentrating Jews in Amsterdam, many of whom were forced to relocate form the countryside. The growing Jewish population was then confined to certain areas of the city. July of that year marked the beginning of mass deportations to the extermination camps in occupied Poland, mainly to Auschwitz. One day, Marion Pritchard witnessed Germans throwing young Jewish children onto a truck for deportation. It was a shocking sight, and Marion was overwhelmed with rage. The twenty-two-year-old student decided then that she would do whatever she could to rescue Jewish children.

Marion joined the Dutch underground, and began bringing food, clothing, and papers to people in hiding. She also performed more elaborate missions when called upon, often putting herself in serious danger. Once, a friend asked her to deliver a "package" to a home in the northern part of the country. Marion went to the handoff location and was given a baby girl by a stranger on the sidewalk. She traveled all day by train to the home in the north only to find that the people she was supposed to meet up with had been arrested. Another man took Marion and the baby into his home, and with his wife, decided to keep and care for the child, even though they were not initially involved in this operation.

In addition to doing short-term projects like this one, Marion also hid three Jewish children and their father from the fall of 1942 until liberation in 1945. Marion's friend, Miek, asked Marion to find a hiding place for his friend, Freddie Polak, and his children, aged four, two, and newborn. When Marion could not find a place, Miek persuaded his mother-in-law to let Freddie and his children, Lex, Tom, and Erica, stay in the servants' quarters of her country house. For the first year in hiding, Marion visited the family every weekend. When she finished school in November 1943, Marion moved into the home and took over the fulltime care of the children.

Miek had built a hiding place under the floor in case the Germans came looking for Jews. All four of them could fit in the space. One night, three Germans and a Dutch Nazi came to the house to do a search. Marion had put the Polaks under the floor, but had not had time to give Erica, the baby, her sleeping powder. The Nazis left after failing to find any Jews. The baby started to cry, so Marion allowed the children to leave their hiding space. The Dutch Nazi returned half an hour later and saw the children sleeping and the hiding place uncovered. Marion knew she needed to act immediately. She went to the bookshelf, reached for the gun that Miek had given her, and shot the Dutchman.

The Polaks stayed with Marion until the end of the war. Through her work with the Dutch underground, Marion Pritchard helped save approximately 150 Jewish children during the German occupation of The Netherlands, which ended in the spring of 1945.

Marion, who is in her 80s and lives in Vermont, is part of the JFR Speakers Bureau.