Varian Fry at his office in Marseilles in the spring of 1941. "I felt obliged to help," he said of his daring rescue operation.
The quiet American whose courageous exploits helped leading artists and others escape the Nazis
Shortly after Hitler's Army swept through Europe and seized France, an erudite American editor named Varian Fry settled into the Hotel Splendide in Marseilles. There he initiated a clandestine operation to rescue some of Europe's most famous artists, writers and intellectuals who had fled to France and whose names were on the Nazis' wanted list.
Fry had been hurriedly sent from New York by the Emergency Rescue Committee, which would combine in 1942 with the International Relief Association to form the International Rescue Committee.
Over the next 13 months, Fry and a small team of American and French anti-Nazis helped at least 1,500 refugees escape from France to Spain and several other safe countries. The group also provided aid to more than 2,000 other European refugees. Fry's work would have continued had France not expelled him "for helping Jews and anti-Nazis."
Among the Nazi opponents who were rescued were Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst, Nobel Laureate Otto Meyerhof and Spain's leading Catholic philosopher Alfredo Mendizabel.
It was many years before Fry's exploits won the widespread recognition they deserved. Five months before his death in1967, France awarded Fry the Croix de Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.
In 1996 Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial honored him posthumously. He became the first American to receive its "Righteous Among Nations" medal. At the ceremony in Israel, Warren Christopher, then U.S. Secretary of State, said: "Even today, Varian Fry's tale of courage and compassion is too little known in the United States....We owe Varian Fry our deepest gratitude, but we also owe him a promise - a promise never to forget the horrors that he struggled against so heroically, a promise to do whatever is necessary to ensure that such horrors never happen again."
During the 1999-2000 school year, The Varian Fry Foundation, in cooperation with the IRC, sent an instructional kit about Fry to all 35,000 secondary schools in the United States. It included a video, study and resource guides, and a copy of Fry's book "Assignment: Rescue." For more information, visit The Holocaust Education Center or the web site of the Varian Fry Foundation.