The INDIVIDUAL Right to Keep and Bear Arms - IT'S YOUR DUTY!
By Samantha Levine
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 22.
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 a rescuer."
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. 8-18-2001