Varian Fry was an American journalist who helped anti-Nazi
refugees escape from France.
After Germany invaded France in June 1940, the Emergency
Rescue Committee, a private American relief organization, sent Fry to
France to aid anti-Nazi refugees who were in danger of being arrested
by the Gestapo (German
secret state police). In Marseille, Fry's network of accomplices forged
documents and created clandestine escape routes. He offered aid to antifascist
refugees, both Jews and non-Jews, threatened with extradition to Nazi
Germany under Article 19 of the Franco-German armistice (the "Surrender
on Demand" clause).
Fry stayed in France for 13 months. He was under constant
surveillance and was, more than once, questioned and detained by authorities.
He established a legal French relief organization, The American Relief
Center, and worked behind its cover using illegal means--black-market
funds, forged documents, secret mountain passages, and sea routes--to
spirit endangered refugees from France.
Fry's efforts resulted in the rescue of some 2,000
persons, including such distinguished artists and intellectuals as Marc
Chagall, Max Ernst, Franz Werfel, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Heinrich
Mann. His covert activities angered officials of both the U.S. State
Department and Vichy France and in September 1941, he was expelled from
Shortly before Fry's death, the French government
awarded him the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. It was the
only official recognition he received in his lifetime. Fry died unexpectedly
in 1967 while revising his memoirs. He left behind a wealth of written
and photographic materials that document his experiences in France. Assignment
Rescue, the version of his memoirs Fry rewrote for young readers,
was published shortly after his death.
In 1991, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council
awarded the Eisenhower Liberation Medal to Varian Fry. In 1994 he was
also honored by Yad Vashem as a "Righteous Among the Nations"
for his rescue activities [the only American so honored].