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Woman Who Helped Save Jews During Holocaust Shares Stories

BY STEFANIE MILLER Staff Writer

Wednesday afternoon a woman shared stories of life and death in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Marion P. van Binsbergen Pritchard of Vershire told students at the St. Johnsbury Middle School how she rescued Jews during World War II. She was in touch with about 150 Jews during the Holocaust.

Hearing about some of those encounters made history come to life for the seventh-graders who jammed into the library.

Pritchard & acute;s talk was preceded by a video called "The Courage To Care," which featured several rescuers.

In the video, Pritchard describes the moment when she realized she had to do all she could to help the Jews.

She was 20 years old and on her way to class - a school of social work in Amsterdam - when she saw the Nazis loading Jewish babies and children onto trucks. When two women coming down the street tried to stop the Nazis, they were also thrown into the trucks.

"That & acute;s when I decided if there was anything I could do to prevent any of this, I was going to do it," said Pritchard in the video.

It & acute;s hard for Pritchard to put a number on how many people she saved, not knowing what became of everyone she helped.

Pritchard is honored at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in a room that offers photographs and histories of rescuers.

She is saddened that no Jewish rescuers have been recognized yet.

"We are referred to as righteous Christians or righteous Gentiles," she said, adding there is a common belief that Christians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust were doing something special - while Jews who did so were just doing their duty.

"That & acute;s a distortion of history," she said.

Jews helping other Jews were even more at risk. And, she said, inferences that Jews were cowards who did nothing to fight back are false.

In the video and in person, she told a tale that demonstrated the courage of one Jew, and of her own incredible strength.

It was 1943 and Pritchard was living in a house in the country caring for three small Jewish children. One night, four Germans and a Dutch Nazi policeman came to search the place when everyone was safely in their hiding place. A short time after the raid, the Dutch Nazi returned alone - a common trick of the Nazis.

The children were out of their hiding place, as Erica, a 2-week-old baby (whom Pritchard loved like a daughter), had started to cry. Pritchard killed the Nazi with a revolver that she never expected to have to use.

"I felt I had no choice except to kill him. I & acute;d do it again under the same circumstances," said Pritchard in the video.

She added that people disliked the policeman - who was a local - and no one tried very hard to find out how or why he died.

"I did sweat it out for quite a long time," she said.

Helping out the night Pritchard was forced to shoot the policeman was Karel Poons, a Jewish ballet dancer who lived in the garden house of the villa next door.

Although it was after curfew time, Poons walked into the village to try to find a cart for the Nazi & acute;s body. A local undertaker ended up disposing of the body by putting it in a coffin with another body.

If Poons had been caught that night walking to the village, the consequences would have been grave.

"I would have been found out, and there would have been serious trouble for all of us," said Pritchard.

After her lecture, a number of children asked questions.

Seventh-grade teacher Jackie Dadourian said she had asked her students to write down two questions they might want to ask Pritchard.

"I read through them, and I was really impressed," said Dadourian.

One student wanted to know how Pritchard stayed so strong inside.

"I certainly didn & acute;t feel strong," she said. "In fact, I was scared stiff all the time."

Another child wanted to know if Pritchard was ever happy during the war - a question the lady had never been asked, in all of her many speaking engagements.

Pritchard was brought up in the Anglican church, and today she is a nominal member of an Episcopalian church in Hanover.

"I am no longer a true believer," she said.

"It is Christian anti-Semitism that made the Holocaust possible," she said, adding that Christians have persecuted the Jews in one way or another for the past 2,300 years.

Pritchard remains supportive of any form of Christianity that sees the error of its ways.

She offered advice on how to prevent atrocities like the Holocaust.

Noting that there are exceptions, she said, "Bring children up with respect. If you & acute;re brought up with respect, then you learn to respect others."

Pritchard is featured in a chapter of the book, "Moral Courage: Rescuers in the Holocaust."

Copyright 1998

The Caledonian-Record

http://www.caledonian-record.com/

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