UVM honors Marion Pritchard

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(Host) When the University of Vermont holds commencement ceremonies this weekend, Marion Pritchard of Vershire will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree. Pritchard is being honored for her courage more than a half century ago.

VPR’s Steve Zind has this report:

(Zind) Who among us hasn’t wondered if we would risk our own life to save a stranger in peril? For Marion Von Binsbergen Pritchard that question has been answered.

When the German Army occupied her native Holland, Pritchard was 20 years old. One day she was riding her bicycle past a Jewish children’s home.

(Pritchard) “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 two 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. 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.”

(Zind) Pritchard says what she saw convinced her she had to act. She became part of the Dutch resistance – dedicating herself to hiding Jews from the Nazis. It wasn’t easy – houses were small, with few hiding places. Rationing made it hard to feed extra mouths. Neighbor turned on neighbor as the German Army offered rewards to anyone reporting a family hiding Jews. Local police were enlisted in house to house searches. Once, while hiding a father and his three young children in a country villa, Pritchard killed a man.

(Pritchard) “And one night a Dutch Nazi policeman came with three German Nazis and they searched the whole house and then they went away. And I took the children out of the hiding place and the Dutch policeman came back and I had to shoot him.”

(Zind) One hundred thousand Dutch Jews perished in the Holocaust. Pritchard says many of those she helped ended up dying at the hands of the Nazis.

(Pritchard) “There’s this myth that I saved a hundred Jews. That isn’t true. I don’t think that in the long run I saved more than 10 or 15. In Holland, 84% of the Jews were killed.”

(Zind) David Scrase, the director of UVM Center for Holocaust Studies, says there simply weren’t enough people in Holland like Marion Pritchard. Scrase says only a few hundred were involved in the effort to rescue Jews.

(Scrase) “In a population that was probably around 60 million at that time, several hundred is a very small number.”

(Zind) Scrase says Pritchard and others who helped hide Jews from the Nazis would have been executed if they’d been caught.

Marion Pritchard is being honored this weekend because, when asked if she would risk her life to save a stranger, she responded ‘yes.’ Until that moment more than 60 years ago when she rode her bicycle past the children’s home, she hadn’t known what the answer would be.

(Pritchard) “You don’t know. You have no idea. Because if you’d asked me, I’d have said, ‘never!'”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Vershire.

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