Varian Fry found his courage when called upon to act in a moment of extraordinary historical and personal challenge, saving thousands of lives during the Second World War.
- After Germany's invasion and partition of France in June 1940, Varian Fry, a young editor from New York, went to Marseilles, France, as the representative of a newly formed, private American relief committee.
- In Marseilles, Fry offered aid and advice to anti-Fascist refugees who found themselves threatened with extradition to Nazi Germany under Article 19 of the Franco-German Armistice-- the "Surrender on Demand" clause. Working day and night, in opposition to French and even obstructionist American authorities, Fry assembled a band of associates and built an elaborate rescue network.
- Convinced that he could not abandon the operation while desperate refugees needed him, Fry extended his stay into a 13 month odyssey carrying on without his passport, under constant surveillance and, more than once, questioned and detained by the authorities.
- Establishing a legal French relief organization, The American Relief Center, Fry worked behind its cover using illegal means -- black-market funds, forged documents, secret mountain and sea routes-- to spirit some 2000 endangered people from France.
The Emergency Rescue Committee office in Marseilles in 1941 shows fine artists who escaped France: (from left to right) Max Ernst, Jacqueline Breton, Andre Masson, Andre Breton and Varian Fry.
- Among the refugees were notable European intellectuals, writers, artists, scientists, philosophers and musicians. Their arrival in the United States significantly changed the character of American culture.
- Fry was recalled by the American government and ignored repeated entreaties. He was finally ousted by the Vichy French government under an "ordre de refoulement" as an "undesirable alien" for protecting Jews and anti-Nazis, in September 1941.
- When Fry returned to New York, he recounted his story and tried to warn of Hitler's impending massacre of the Jews.
- His activities in France prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to open a file on him and to keep him under surveillance which prevented him from ever working for the United States government.
- Shortly before his death, Mr. Fry was awarded the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by the French government, which was the only official recognition he received before his death.
- Fry died unexpectedly and alone in 1967 while revising his memoirs. He left behind a wealth of written and photographic materials that document his experiences in France.
- Varian Fry was posthumously honored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Council with the Eisenhower Liberation Medal in 1991. His work in France, in 1940-41, to assist and rescue endangered refugees was the subject of an exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993-94.
- Varian Fry was posthumously honored by Yad VaShem, The Holocaust Heros and Martyrs Remembrance Authority, Jerusalem as the first American "Righteous Among the Nations" in a ceremony attended by Secretary of State Warren Christopher in February 1996. The additional honor of "Commemorative Citizenship of the State of Israel," awarded to selected Righteous Among the Nations "who rekindled the light of humanity during the Nazi era in Europe" was given to Fry on January 1, 1998.
Source: http://www.almondseed.com/vfry/fryhist.htm. Used with permission.