Varian Fry

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Varian Fry
Varian Fry.jpg
Born Varian Mackey Fry
(1907-10-15)October 15, 1907
New York, New York
Died September 13, 1967(1967-09-13) (aged 59)
Redding, Connecticut
Resting place Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York[1]
40°39′23.35″N 73°59′41.67″W / 40.6564861°N 73.9949083°W / 40.6564861; -73.9949083Coordinates: 40°39′23.35″N 73°59′41.67″W / 40.6564861°N 73.9949083°W / 40.6564861; -73.9949083
Nationality American
Alma mater Harvard University
Occupation Journalist
Known for Emergency Rescue Committee

Varian Mackey Fry (October 15, 1907 – September 13, 1967) was an American journalist. Fry ran a rescue network in Vichy France that helped approximately 2,000 to 4,000 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees to escape Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

Early life[edit]

Photograph of Varian Fry (1907-1967) taken when he was a boy

Varian Fry was born in New York City. His parents were Lillian and Arthur Fry, a manager of the Wall Street firm Carlysle and Mellick. The family moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey in 1910. He grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey and enjoyed bird-watching and reading. During World War I, at 9 years of age Fry and friends conducted a fund-raising bazaar for the American Red Cross that included a vaudeville show, ice cream stand and fish pond. He was educated at Hotchkiss School from 1922 to 1924 when he left the school due to hazing rituals. He then attended the Riverdale Country School, graduating in 1926.[2]

An able, multi-lingual student, Fry scored in the top 10% on the entrance exams to Harvard University[2] and, while a Harvard undergraduate, founded Hound & Horn, an influential literary quarterly, in 1927 with Lincoln Kirstein. He was suspended for a prank just before graduation and had to repeat his senior year.[3][4] Through Kirstein's sister, Mina, he met his future wife, Eileen Avery Hughes, an editor of Atlantic Monthly who was seven years his senior and was educated at Roedean School and Oxford University. They married on June 2, 1931.[4]


While working as a foreign correspondent for the American journal The Living Age, Fry visited Berlin in 1935 and personally witnessed Nazi abuse against Jews on more than one occasion and "turned him into an ardent anti-Nazi". He said in 1945, "I could not remain idle as long as I had any chances at all of saving even a few of its intended victims."[3][5]

Following his visit to Berlin, Fry wrote about the savage treatment of Jews by Hitler's regime in the New York Times in 1935. He wrote books about foreign affairs for Headline Books, owned by the Foreign Policy Association, including The Peace that Failed.[6][7] It describes the troubled political climate following World War I and the break-up of Czechoslovakia and the events leading up to World War II.[8]

Emergency Rescue Committee[edit]

Greatly disturbed by what he saw, he helped raise money to support European anti-Nazi movements. Following the Occupation of France in August 1940, he went to Marseille as an agent of the newly formed Emergency Rescue Committee in an effort to help persons wishing to flee the Nazis,[9][10] and circumvent the processes by French authorities who would not issue exit visas.[3] Fry had $3,000 and a short list of refugees under imminent threat of arrest by agents of the Gestapo. Clamoring at his door came anti-Nazi writers, avant-garde artists, musicians and hundreds of others desperately seeking any chance to escape France.[11]

Some later confessed they thought it a miracle that a white American Protestant would risk everything to help them.[12]

Beginning in 1940, in Marseille, despite the watchful eye of the collaborationist Vichy regime,[13] he and a small group of volunteers hid people at the Villa Air-Bel until they could be smuggled out. More than 2,200 people were taken across the border to Spain and then to the safety of neutral Portugal from which they made their way to the United States.[14][15]

Varian Fry and Miriam Davenport, c.1940

Others he helped escape on ships leaving Marseille for the French colony of Martinique, from which they too could go to the United States.[16] Among Fry's closest associates were Americans Miriam Davenport, a former art student at the Sorbonne, and the heiress Mary Jayne Gold, a lover of the arts and the "good life" who had come to Paris in the early 1930s.[17][18]

When the Nazis seized France in 1940, Gold went to Marseille, where she worked with Fry and helped finance his operation. Also working with Fry was a young academic named Albert O. Hirschman.[17][18]

Letter to his wife Eileen, February 1941

Among the people who have come into my office, or with whom I am in constant correspondence, are not only some of the greatest living authors, painters, sculptors of Europe . . . but also former cabinet ministers and even prime ministers of half a dozen countries. What a strange place Europe is when men like this are reduced to waiting patiently in the anteroom of a young American of no importance whatever.

Varian Fry[19]

Especially instrumental in getting Fry the visas he needed for the artists, intellectuals and political dissidents on his list was Hiram Bingham IV, an American Vice Consul in Marseille who fought against State Department anti-Semitism and was personally responsible for issuing thousands of visas, both legal and illegal.[3][13][20][21]

From his isolated position in Marseille, Varian Fry relied on the Unitarian Service Committee in Lisbon to help the refugees he sent. This office, staffed by American Unitarians under the direction of Robert Dexter, helped refugees to wait in safety for visas and other necessary papers, and to gain ship passage from Lisbon.[22]

He was forced to leave France in September 1941 after both the Vichy France and United States State Department disapproved of his covert activities.[3][23] In 1942, the Emergency Rescue Committee and the American branch of the European-based International Relief Association joined forces under the name the International Relief and Rescue Committee, which was later shortened to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC is a leading nonsectarian, nongovernmental international relief and development organization that still operates today.

Refugees aided by Fry[edit]

Among those Fry aided were:[24]

Back in the United States[edit]

There are some things so horrible that decent men and women find them impossible to believe, so monstrous that the civilized world recoils incredulous before them. The recent reports of the systematic extermination of the Jews in Nazi Europe are of this order... we can offer asylum now, without delay or red tape, to those few fortunate enough to escape from the Aryan paradise. There have been bureaucratic delays in visa procedure which have literally condemned to death many stalwart democrats... This is a challenge which we cannot, must not, ignore.

Varian Fry, The Massacre of Jews in Europe.[25]

He wrote and spoke critically against U.S. immigration policies particularly relating to the issue of the fate of Jews in Europe. In a December 1942 issue of The New Republic, he wrote a scathing article titled: "The Massacre of Jews in Europe".[25]

Although by 1942 Fry had been terminated from his position at the Emergency Rescue Committee, American private rescuers acknowledged that his program in France had been uniquely effective, and recruited Fry in 1944 to provide behind-the-scenes guidance to the Roosevelt administration's late-breaking rescue program, the War Refugee Board.[22]

Back home in the United States, Fry published his book in 1945 about his time in France under the title Surrender on Demand.[26] In 1968, the US publisher Scholastic (which markets mainly to children and adolescents) published a paperback edition under the title Assignment: Rescue.[23]

Fry and his wife Eileen divorced after he returned from France. She developed cancer and died on May 12, 1948. During her hospital convalescence, Fry visited her and read to her daily. At the end of 1948 or early 1949, Fry met Annette Riley who was 16 years his junior. They married in 1950, had three children together, and in 1966 were separated due to his irrational behavior, believed to have been manic depression.[27]

After the war, Fry worked as a journalist, magazine editor and business writer. He also taught college and was in film production. Feeling as if he'd lived the peak of his life in France, he developed ulcers. Fry went into psychoanalysis and said that as time went on, he grew more and more troubled. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage and was found dead in his bed on September 13, 1967 by the Connecticut State Police.[3] He was buried at Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York with his parents.[1]

His papers are held in Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.[28]

Published works[edit]

  • A bibliography of the writings of Thomas Stearns Eliot. Hound & Horn; 1928.
  • Assignment Rescue: an autobiography. 1992. ISBN 978-0-439-14541-1.
  • Bricks Without Mortar: The Story of International Cooperation. Foreign Policy Association; 1938. LCCN 39-2481.
  • Headline Books. Foreign Policy Association.; 1938.
  • Surrender on Demand. Random House; 1945. LCCN 45-3492 OCLC 1315136
  • The Peace that Failed: How Europe Sowed the Seeds of War. Foreign Policy Association; 1939. LCCN 40-3702
  • To Whom it May Concern. 1947.
  • War in China: America's Role in the Far East. Foreign Policy Association.; 1938. LCCN 38-27205
  • Varian Fry; Emil Herlin. War Atlas: A Handbook of Maps and Facts. Foreign Policy Association; 1940. LCCN 42-11302.
  • Delia Goetz; Varian Fry. The Good Neighbours: The Story of the Two Americas. The Foreign Policy Association; 1939. LCCN 39-7983
  • David H. Popper; Shepard Stone; Varian Fry. The puzzle of Palestine. Foreign Policy Association; 1938.
  • Henry Cutler Wolfe; James Frederick Green; Stoyan Pribichevich. Varian Fry, William V. Reed, Elizabeth Ogg, Emil Herlin, Foreign Policy Association Spotlight on the Balkans. Foreign Policy Association; 1940.


Varian Fry street in Berlin
  • 1967 - The government of France recognized his contribution to freedom with the Legion of Honor.[23]
  • 1980 - Mary Jayne Gold's 1980 book titled Crossroads Marseilles 1940[29] sparked an interest in Fry and his heroic efforts.
  • 1991 - The United States Holocaust Memorial Council awarded Fry the Eisenhower Liberation Medal.[23]
  • 1994 - He became the first United States citizen to be listed in the Righteous among the Nations at Israel's national Holocaust Memorial, award by Yad Vashem.[23][30]
  • 1997 - Irish film director David Kerr made a documentary entitled Varian Fry: The America's Schindler that was narrated by actor Sean Barrett.[31]
  • 1998 - He was awarded the "Commemorative Citizenship of the State of Israel" on 1 January 1998.[32]
  • 2001 - Fry's story was also told in dramatic form on film in 2001 when Barbra Streisand co-produced the made-for-television motion picture, Varian's War, written and directed by Lionel Chetwynd and starring William Hurt and Julia Ormond.[33]
  • 2002 - On the initiative of Samuel V. Brock, the U.S. Consul General in Marseille from 1999 to 2002, the square in front of the Consulate was renamed Place Varian Fry.[34]
  • 2005 - A street in the newly reconstructed East/West Berlin Wall area in the Berlin borough of Mitte at Potsdamer Platz was named Varian-Fry-Straße in recognition of his work.[35]
  • 2005 - A street in his home town of Ridgewood, New Jersey was renamed Varian Fry Way.[30]
  • 2007 - On October 15 the House of Representatives honored Varian Fry on the 100th anniversary of his birth.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Burial search on Varian Fry. Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Ridgewood Son. Varian Fry (1907-1967). Ridgewood Library. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Barry Gewen. For the American Schindler, Writers and Artists First. Literature of the Holocaust. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Andy Marino. A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry. St. Martin's Press; 13 November 2000. ISBN 978-0-312-26767-4. pp. 19-20.
  5. ^ Mordecai Paldiel. Saving the Jews: Men and Women who Defied the Final Soultion. Taylor Trade Publications; 1 December 2011. ISBN 978-1-58979-734-5. p. PT83.
  6. ^ a b House Resolution 743, 2007 - Honoring Varian Fry on the 100th anniversary of his birth. House of Representatives, United States. Retrieved February 9, 2014.
  7. ^ Varian Fry. The Peace that Failed: How Europe Sowed the Seeds of War. The Foreign policy association; 1939.
  8. ^ Varian Fry - Bibliography. United States Holocaust Museum. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  9. ^ The Genesis of the Emergency Rescue Committee, Terence Renaud, 2005
  10. ^ Karl B. Frank and the Politics of the Emergency Rescue Committee, Terence Renaud, 2008
  11. ^ Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee. Holocaust Teacher Resource Center. Retrieved February 15, 2008.
  12. ^ Sheila Isenberg. A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry. iUniverse; 2005. ISBN 978-0-595-34882-4. p. 36.
  13. ^ a b Nancy Brown. No Longer A Haven: Varian Fry and the Refugees of France. Yad Vashem. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  14. ^ Peter Watson. The German Genius: Europe's Third Renaissance, the Second Scientific Revolution and the Twentieth Century. Simon and Schuster; 16 September 2010. ISBN 978-0-85720-324-3. p. PT556.
  15. ^ Susan Elisabeth Subak. Rescue and Flight: American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis. U of Nebraska Press; 1 May 2010. ISBN 0-8032-3017-6. pp. 62, 130, 166.
  16. ^ Susan Elisabeth Subak. Rescue and Flight: American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis. University of Nebraska Press; 1 May 2010. ISBN 0-8032-3017-6. p. 91.
  17. ^ a b Pierre Moulin. Dachau, Holocaust, and US Samurais: Nisei Soldiers First in Dachau?. AuthorHouse; 2007. ISBN 978-1-4259-3801-7. p. 174.
  18. ^ a b Alan Riding. "Mary Jayne Gold, 88, Heiress Who Helped Artists Flee Nazis." New York Times. October 8, 1997.
  19. ^ John K. Roth; Elisabeth Maxwell. Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide. Palgrave; 2001. ISBN 978-0-333-80486-5. p. 347.
  20. ^ Alan Riding. And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-occupied Paris. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group; 19 October 2010. ISBN 978-0-307-59454-9. p. PT106.
  21. ^ Ruth Schwertfeger. In Transit: Narratives of German Jews in Exile, Flight, and Internment During "The Dark Years" of France. Frank & Timme GmbH; 2012. ISBN 978-3-86596-384-0. p. 64.
  22. ^ a b Susan Elisabeth Subak. Rescue and Flight: American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis. U of Nebraska Press; 1 May 2010. ISBN 0-8032-3017-6. p. 59, 103, 112, 148, 229–230.
  23. ^ a b c d e Varian Fry. United States Holocaust Museum. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  24. ^ Dara Horn (January 17, 2012). "The Rescuer". Tablet Magazine. 
  25. ^ a b Mordecai Paldiel. Saving the Jews: Men and Women who Defied the Final Soultion. Taylor Trade Publications; 1 December 2011. ISBN 978-1-58979-734-5. p. PT94.
  26. ^ Varian Fry, Surrender on Demand, first published by Random House, 1945. Later edition published by Johnson Books, in 1997 in conjunction with the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
  27. ^ Sheila Isenberg. A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry. iUniverse; 2005. ISBN 978-0-595-34882-4. p. 116, 251–252, 271.
  28. ^ Varian Fry's Papers. Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Columbia University. Retrieved January 9, 2014.
  29. ^ Mary Jayne Gold. Crossroads Marseilles, 1940. Doubleday; 1 January 1980. ISBN 978-0-385-15618-9.
  30. ^ a b "Catherine Taub: ‘A hometown hero’". Jewish Standard. June 7, 2013.
  31. ^ Varian Fry: The America's Schindler. IMdB. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  32. ^ Joanne Mattern. Life stories of 100 American heroes. KidsBooks; 1 January 2001. ISBN 978-1-56156-978-6. p. 181.
  33. ^ Varian's War IMdB. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  34. ^ History. Consulate General of the United States, Marseille, France. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  35. ^ Worlds of Jewish France. Matterhorn Travel. Retrieved January 9, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]