Marion Pritchard, One-Time Vershire Resident Who Hid Jews During World War II, Dies

Dec 21, 2016

A one-time Vermont resident who was honored for her work saving the lives of Jews during World War II has died. 

Marion Van Binsbergen Pritchard lived in Vershire for many years.

In 1940, when Pritchard was 19, Nazi Germany occupied her native Holland. One day, on what she described as a beautiful spring morning, she was riding her bicycle past a Jewish children’s home. Pritchard witnessed a scene that would transform her life.  

"There were two trucks in front and the Nazis were making the children get in the truck. And the kids ranged in age from about 2 to 10, and they weren't hurrying up. And they picked them up by an arm and a leg and one little girl by her pigtails and they threw them in the truck," she told VPR in a 2003 interview. "Two women came from the other side and tried to stop the men and they got thrown on top of the children and the truck drove off."

Pritchard joined the Dutch resistance. And in the face of food rationing and a brutal effort by the Nazis to find Jews and punish those who were helping them, she offered Dutch Jews — many of them children — a hiding place.  

There came a moment one evening while she was hiding a father and his three children in a house in the countryside when she faced a life-or-death choice.     

"A Dutch Nazi policeman came with three German Nazis and they searched the whole house and then they went away,” Pritchard said. “I took the children out of the hiding place, and the Dutch policeman came back. And I had to shoot him."

"I took the children out of the hiding place, and the Dutch policeman came back. And I had to shoot him." — Marion Pritchard

Years later, Pritchard said killing the policeman still bothered her, but faced with the same choice, she said she would do it again.

One hundred thousand Dutch Jews perished in the Holocaust. Pritchard said many of those she helped still ended up dying at the hands of the Nazis.

During the 2003 interview at her Vershire home, Pritchard fetched a photo of a young Jewish child who was among those she hid from the Nazis in the 1940s.

“I put bleach on her hair and brushed it straight. She doesn’t look very Jewish, does she?” she asked.

Dutch rescuer Marion Pritchard poses with the Jewish infant, Erica Polak, whom she is hiding.
Credit United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Marion Pritchard

The child survived, and eventually visited Pritchard in Vermont.

Immediately after the war, Pritchard worked for the United Nations in refugee camps, where she met her American husband, who also worked for the U.N. They moved to Vermont in 1976, where she pursued a career in psychoanalysis.

She was also on the advisory board of the University of Vermont Carolyn and Leonard Miller Center for Holocaust Studies.

Jonathan Huener, an associate professor of history at UVM and interim director of the center, says it’s difficult to overstate the danger involved in what Pritchard did.

“She represented an assembly of courage and ingenuity and selflessness that led her to take this work at great risk,” Huener says. “A higher percentage of Jews were killed than from other western European countries. That’s something that’s overlooked, the tremendous peril that rescuers and those who advocated for Jews and aided them faced.”

As the Center for Holocaust Studies’ original director, David Scrase talked with Pritchard on many occasions.

"She pointed out that there was a moment when she should have stood up and done something and she didn't, and she said, 'That gets in your way for the rest of your life.'" — David Scrase

Scrase says it wasn’t only what Pritchard saw the day she rode her bicycle past the children’s home that motivated her, it was a nagging regret that she didn’t do anything at that moment and that she needed to act.  

“She pointed out that there was a moment when she should have stood up and done something and she didn’t, and she said, ‘That gets in your way for the rest of your life,’” he says.

Pritchard has been cited many times for her work during the war and received an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from UVM. The Holocaust Center has also published a book in her honor, Making a Difference: Rescue and Assistance During the Holocaust. Essays in Honor of Marion Pritchard.

Pritchard moved to Washington, D.C., in 2006. She died there earlier this month at the age of 96.