ORANGE, Connecticut, USA (TNS) — Arnie Pritchard of New Haven and his two brothers knew in a general way growing up that their mother, Marion Pritchard, had sheltered Jews in the Netherlands during the Holocaust.
But it wasn’t until 1981, when they were well into adulthood, that they learned the details and scope of her heroism when their mother received the Righteous Among the Nations award from Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial.
It would turn out that, while in her early 20s in Holland, Marion Pritchard risked her life many times over by assisting in saving some 150 Jews, mostly children, killing a man with her pistol to protect a Jewish family and sheltering a Jewish family with an infant for three years. She was even imprisoned for her resistance work.
Arnie Pritchard said his mother wasn’t “gifted with nerves of steel” — she once was terrified when a bat was flying around the house — yet she endured so much risk during that dark time in history when over 6 million Jews were killed.
“It’s not that she didn’t feel the fear. She was able to overcome it,” said Arnie Pritchard, who came to New Haven in 1970 to attend graduate school at Yale University and settled here.
While she was sheltering the Polack family of four, Marion Pritchard even fatally shot a Nazi officer who came to the door — if the family had been found, they would have been sent to a death camp — then covered up his death by getting a local mortician to put him in a casket with another dead body.
Pritchard famously said in hindsight, according to Rabbi Alvin Wainhaus of Or Shalom synagogue in Orange, Connecticut: “I lied, stole and even killed … I had to save those children … I would do it again.”
Wainhaus said killing the Nazi always haunted her.
Marion Pritchard loved children.
One of those children, Erica Polack, was a baby when she arrived with her father and two siblings to be cared and hidden by Pritchard, a social worker, who had to give her “sleeping powder” at night to keep her quiet.
Pritchard was even imprisoned and tortured for her resistance work at one point.
The late Pritchard, who died last year at the age of 96, will be honored and remembered Sunday at Or Shalom as part of the synagogue’s annual Kristallnacht remembrance.
The program begins at 9 am, is open to the public and free. Donations will be accepted for one of Pritchard’s favorite causes: “Save the Children.”
Arnie Pritchard will be there to receive a US Senate Commendation from Sen. Richard Blumenthal on behalf of his late mother, as will “baby Erica” who flew in from Holland for the occasion.
Kristallnacht, which translates to “Night of Broken Glass,” refers to attacks Nov. 9-10, 1938, in Nazi Germany and Austria in which massive destruction and violence against Jews, synagogues, Jewish-owned businesses and everything Jewish took place.
Some 30,000 were arrested during the attack and sent to Nazi concentration camps, and more than 1,000 synagogues were burned.
Kristallnacht is considered the beginning of the Holocaust, and each year the synagogue recognizes a person who was a “beacon of light” in the darkness — as Wainhaus likes to put it.
“This is a labor of love,” Wainhaus said of the program, noting he would not be here if not for such heroes because his father, Rabbi Anshel Wainhaus, was among the thousands rescued through a transit visa issued by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara.
Waihaus said he thinks the goodness of people like Pritchard and Sugihara, who saved so many lives during the Holocaust, is the answer to the oft asked question: “Where was God during the Holocaust?”
“There is inconceivable goodness and kindness in the human soul, not only evil,” Wainhaus said.
Wainhaus said saving babies and young children during the Holocaust, as Pritchard did, was particularly risky business because there is no way to control a cry at all times — and many went to their death by letting out a cry at the wrong time.
Wainhaus said watching Jewish children picked up by their ponytails, arms, legs and thrown on the truck like “lumber” really “shook her to core,” referring to Pritchard, and made her feel compelled to risk everything.
He said the Polack family moved on with their lives after the war and were reunited with their mother who wasn’t sheltered, as she was active in the resistance.
Decades later, when Erica was in her mid-30s, and had given birth herself, she had “primal memories” of having had another mother and felt the urge to reunite with Pritchard, Wainhaus said.
She contacted Pritchard and the two had a decades long relationship.
After World War II, Marion Pritchard worked in a displaced persons camp in Germany, where she met her husband, Anton Pritchard, an American serviceman .
They later settled in the United States where she became a noted social worker, college professor, and, after the award in 1981, a successful lecturer around the country.
Arnie Pritchard said his mother used the speaking opportunities as a way to bring attention to causes such as the “humane treatment of children” and to dispel myths about the Holocaust.
Arnie Pritchard said he’s proud and that what his mother did during World War II was “fairly remarkable.”©2017 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.