After witnessing the violent round-up of Jewish children by the Nazis, Marion Pritchard became an active resister who helped save the lives of 150 Dutch Jews.
While riding her bicycle to class at her university in Amsterdam in 1942, Marion Pritchard chanced upon a group of Nazi soldiers liquidating a Jewish children's home and watched helplessly as they violently threw young children into a truck. This encounter transformed the life of the young Dutch woman forever, leading her to become an active resister to the Nazi regime and ultimately save the lives of 150 Jewish children during World War II. Over three years, she risked her life numerous times by hiding Jewish refugees, arranging falsified identification papers, finding non-Jewish homes to take in Jewish children, and performing what was known as the "mission of disgrace" by falsely registering herself as the unwed mother of newborn babies to conceal their Jewish identity. "Most of us were brought up to tell [the] truth, to obey the secular law and the Ten Commandments," Pritchard reflected in 1996 during a lecture about her wartime experience. "By 1945, I had lied, stolen, cheated, deceived and even killed."
Born in Amsterdam 1920, Pritchard was the daughter of a judge who abhorred the Nazi ideology and instilled in his daughter a strong sense of justice and moral resolve. When the Nazis invaded Holland in 1940, Pritchard, then Marion van Binsbergen, was a 19-year-old social work student. She opposed the regime from the onset, but it was this chance encounter, during which she witnessed the the violent round-up of children who ranged in age from 2 to 8, that moved her to action.
“It was a beautiful spring morning, and it was a street I had known since I had been born," she recalled, "and all of a sudden you see little kids picked up by their pigtails or by a leg and thrown over the side of a truck... You stop but you can’t believe it.” It was then, she said, "I knew my rescue work was more important than anything else I might be doing." By the war's end, the German occupiers and their Dutch collaborators had deported 107,000 Dutch Jews to concentration camps, of which only 5,200 survived; in total, between 75 to 80 percent of the Netherlands' Jews were murdered during the war, the highest rate in Western Europe.
Working with friends in the Dutch Resistance, Pritchard began to hide, feed, and otherwise aid Jewish refugees, helping save the lives of approximately 150 people, most of them children. She used her social work training to help find and prepare families for harboring Jewish children illegally. She also took up residence in the country home of an acquaintance to help care for a Jewish man in hiding with his three young children for nearly three years. Fearful of the Nazis' nighttime raids, the Polak family would hide in a hidden pit whenever a vehicle approached. After one such raid, the Nazis left after failing to find the hiding place but a Dutch collaborator returned to surprise them a half hour later after the children had already left the pit. Convinced he would turn the family over to the Nazis, Pritchard shot and killed the intruder; “I would do it again, under the same circumstances,” she told an interviewer years later, “but it still bothers me.” The family survived the war thanks to her care and protection.
After the war, Pritchard worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in displaced-persons camps in Germany. There, she met Anton Pritchard, a United States Army officer who was running a camp in Bavaria. They were married and moved to the U.S. in 1947, eventually settling in Vermont. For many years, she helped refugee families settle in the U.S. and worked as a psychoanalyst. In 1981, she was named one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Pritchard, who died in 2016, also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Vermont.
Her spirit of compassion in action lives on today thanks to the students she taught at an annual seminar at Clark University in Massachusetts. "Some of our students chose their professions referencing Marion," says Deborah Dwork, a professor of Holocaust history. "One of them just finished her dissertation on women rescuers and perpetrators in Rwanda. She wrote to me and said, 'This is all about Marion'.... Not only did she save lives during the 1940s, but she continues to save lives today through her influence."
Books About Courageous Holocaust Rescuers
Monique’s small French village has been occupied by Nazis for some time when she wakes up to see another little girl at the foot of her bed. Sevrine is Jewish, and Monique’s mother has been concealing her and her family in a hidden room in the basement. When a neighbor discovers them, though, both families will have to flee. Based on the real experiences of author Patricia Polacco’s great-aunt, this poignant story shows the power of friendship and quiet heroism, and the courage shown by people who stood up for others in desperate need.
In Denmark, the Resistance successfully saved nearly the entire Jewish population across the sea to safety in Sweden, and this picture book captures the suspense and heroism of this incredibly brave act. Anett's family lives in a small Danish fishing village, and they're concealing Carl and his aging mama, the last pair they need to get aboard a fishing boat and to safety. But with the occupying soldiers getting suspicious, and a cloudy sky that will prevent Carl from seeing which way is safe from patrols, it takes Anett's clever idea of a chain of whispers to smuggle them safely to the harbor.
Today Anne Frank is famous for her optimistic diary, written while she hid from the horrors of the Holocaust. We have that diary thanks to the efforts of another, often unsung woman, Miep Gies. Miep and her husband were integral in protection the Frank family as they lived in the Secret Annex, and when the Nazis arrested the fugitives, she knew that they would be back to pilfer their belongings as well. She couldn't bear the thought of Anne's precious diary being stolen or destroyed, so she hid it, hoping to return it to Anne or her family in time. Sadly, only Anne's father, Otto, survived the concentration camps, but when Miep gave him Anne's writing, it was the first step towards her words being read around the world. This powerful account celebrates everyday heroism and the power of the written word.
When Elsa's grandmother Dounia has trouble sleeping after a nightmare, Elsa begs her to share why she is so sad. In response, Dounia shares a story even her own son has never heard: a story of a confused child being ostracized by neighbors and teachers, forced to wear a yellow star, and finally, concealed in a secret panel in a wardrobe while her parents are arrested and taken away. This powerful graphic novel handles a difficult topic in an age appropriate way, without concealing the hard truths of history.
In Poland's Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, a young nurse and social worker went about her daily work, caring for the sick — and smuggling Jewish children out to safety. Irena Sendler knew what she was risking, but she couldn't bear to watch children suffer and do nothing. And after every child was safe — over 2,500 children in total — she meticulously recorded their name in hopes that, someday, they could be reunited with their families. This illustrated biography from the Encounter: Narrative Nonfiction series tells Sendler's inspiring story in an accessible and evocative way, perfect for young readers.
It’s Denmark in 1943, and word is leaking out that the Nazis intend to detain the Danish Jews before shipping them to concentration camps. 10-year-old Annemarie doesn’t know why anyone would want to hurt her neighbors, including her best friend, Ellen Rosen, who Annemarie’s family conceals as one of their own. With the efforts of the Danish Resistance — and the entire community — Annemarie looks on as the Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, is seen to safety on Sweden’s shores. This beautiful story of the heroism of ordinary people is sure to be thought-provoking.
In Irena's Children: The Extraordinary Story of the Woman Who Saved 2,500 Children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Tilar J. Mazzeo told Irena Sendler's incredible story of smuggling children out of the Jewish ghetto to foster families in order to keep them safe; this edition makes that story accessible to younger readers. Tweens and teens will be fascinated to read about the many ways Sendler helped children escape — from hiding them under her overcoat to slipping them through secret passages — and about her incredible determination not to reveal their names and locations, even under torture and risk of losing her life.
During World War II, women around the world stood up to protect those they could, doing everything from transmitting radio messages from occupied France, to hiding Jewish families or smuggling them out of dangerous territory, to conducting sabotage missions throughout Europe. Kathryn J. Atwood tells some of their stories in this book, showing how these women, from many nations and backgrounds, each took tremendous risks to fight the battles that they were not permitted to fight on the front. A companion book, Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater, tells the stories of women's contributions in China, Japan, Malaya, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, and the Philippines.
When World War II began, 17-year-old Irene Gut was a Polish nursing student, a typical teenager preparing for a future career. Then she was separated from her family, assaulted by Russian soldiers, and forced to serve German officers. But she was determined to help who she could, smuggling food into the ghetto and hiding several Jewish friends at the villa where she worked. And when she was discovered, she even agreed to become mistress to a German major in exchange for protection for Jewish friends. This memoir by a real-life Holocaust rescuer, full of hard choices, is a powerful read for any teen.
Corrie ten Boom was an ordinary person — a Dutch watchmaker — from an ordinary family when their values and courage were tested by the Nazi invasion. As Christians, they were safe, but around them, they could see their Jewish neighbors and friends were at tremendous risk. So together, the family risked their own lives in an effort to save as many people as they could. In this riveting account, ten Boom tells the story of how she and her family became heroes of the Resistance — and then faced their own horrors in the Nazi death camps. The sole survivor of her family, ten Boom has ensured that her book is a powerful testimonial to the power of faith and compassion. Ten Boom's story is also told in the documentary Corrie ten Boom: A Faith Undefeated.
In the late 1930s, Suzanne Spaak, a child of Belgium's leading political family, discovered a new purpose: helping people escape from the Nazi regime. When Paris fell, she used her wealth and connections for the Resistance, arranging for thousands of children to be "kidnapped" out from under the Gestapo's nose. As liberating armies approached Paris, Spaak was caught in a Gestapo dragnet... and executed for her "crimes" against the Nazi regime, shortly before Paris was freed. This meticulously researched biography reads like a thriller, full of suspenseful twists — and starring a daring woman who gave her life to protect World War II Europe's most vulnerable people.
Who were the people who risked arrest, torture, and death to protect friends — or strangers — during the Holocaust, and why did they do it? Psychologist Eva Fogelman, who has worked with Holocaust survivors for decades, explores the psychology of altruism through the real stories of these courageous rescuers, including Marion Pritchard, Miep Gies, and Stefania Podgorska. This powerful examination of compassion, resistance, and altruism is hopeful and inspiring, a reminder that even in the worst times, there are those who step forward to become heroes.