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Kunin: Righteous Among The Nations

“I wish I could have saved more lives,” Marion Pritchard told me when we spoke in her Vershire, Vermont home.

“More?” I asked, surprised.

She was a slight woman in her late sixties, who had saved some 150 children and adults during the Nazi occupation of Holland. She’d just told me that she'd had to shoot a Nazi policeman who stood in her doorway, ready to seize a Jewish family she'd hidden under the floorboards. He'd searched her home when the family was safely hidden. A half hour later, he came back. The family was out in the open.

“It was either him, or them,” she explained.

With her death in December, Marion Pritchard may be one of the last surviving “righteous among the nations” an honor bestowed on her by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, for those gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews.

She used great ingenuity. When faced with disposing of the Nazi’s body, she called a friend at a funeral home who managed to pick up the body and put it in a casket with anther cadaver. “I hope he didn’t mind,” she said.

She saved babies. She'd sneak them out of the back door of Westerbork, a detention center, and bring them to a farm family, who agreed to take them. To make sure the other children didn’t know a baby was Jewish, the mother told the children "She has been a bad woman, an unmarried mother, and that is why we are raising her child.”

She shared a bed with a gay man to save him from arrest and arranged for false documents for others.

Marion’s friendship was of great value to me because my own 5 year old cousin and her mother had been hidden in Holland. Thanks to an extraordinary network of the “righteous,” they survived.

When I asked her, “What made you risk your life for others,” she recalled seeing Nazi soldiers seize Jewish kindergarten children by their arms and legs, and throw them into the back of a truck. When two women protested, they threw them in too.

She could have turned aside, but instead, she became a rescuer. She told her story many times to different audiences. She did nothing extraordinary, she would say. She just responded to her belief in our common humanity.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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