FRY, VARIAN° (1907–1967), U.S. journalist and Righteous Among the Nations. On hearing of the fall of France to the Germans, in June 1940, a group of intellectuals, headed by Frank Kingdon, met at the Commodore Hotel in New York and decided to create an Emergency Rescue Committee in order to spirit out of the country well-known artists and intellectuals as well as German and Austrian socialist leaders – mostly Jews – who because of their past activities and anti-Nazi stance stood in danger of being turned over to the Germans under clause 19 of the Franco-German armistice, which obliged France "to surrender on demand all persons under German jurisdiction named by the German government." The committee chose Varian Fry, a Harvard graduate and editor of several liberal journals, as its emissary to Vichy France. He was given $3,000, and instructed to explore rescue possibilities for the individuals on his list. He was to leave on August 4, 1940, and return within a month, with a possible extension of two more months. Arriving in Marseilles, he began writing letters from his hotel room to all those on his 200-name list whose addresses were known. The resultant stampede of people to his hotel room led him to open an office called the Centre Américain de Secours. He discovered that some intellectuals were afraid to disclose their whereabouts or, as in the case of Walter *Benjamin, had preferred to end their life. As the job was beyond the capacity of one man, he assembled a staff of trustworthy people to help him in what would become a vast rescue operation, including Albert Hirschman, Mary Jane Gold, former French police officer Daniel Bénédite, Miriam Davenport-Ebel, Willi Spira (a Viennese cartoonist who helped to falsify credentials), Marcel Verzeano, and Johannes (Hans) and Lisa Fittko. The aim now was to get as many people as possible out of the country, in whatever way possible. In Fry's words, "I had come to think of illegal emigration as the normal, if not the only way to go." The escape routes included Route A: from Marseilles to Lisbon through Spain, via the French border town of Banyuls; B: to Spain over the Pyrenees; C: with authentic-looking forged papers, from Pau (France) to Saragossa (Spain); D: Cuban visas on questionable passports; E: from Marseilles by boat to Oran (Algeria); F: an alternate crossing into Spain: G: from Marseilles to the French colony of Martinique. By May 1941, the office had handled more than 15,000 requests, of which 1,800 fell within the scope of Fry's direct work, representing some 4,000 people. Altogether 1,000 were sent out of the country, and support and allowances were distributed to 560 others. Many others were referred to separate welfare agencies. Persons helped to leave France included novelists Franz *Werfel and Lion *Feuchtwanger, painter Marc *Chagall, sculptor Jacques *Lipchitz, political scientist Hannah *Arendt, physiologist Otto *Meyerhof, and many others. The French lodged protests with the American consul in Marseilles over Fry's illegal emigration methods, and the police several times raided Fry's offices in search of incriminating documents. The French wanted him out of the country, as did U.S. diplomats in Vichy France (including the consul-general in Marseilles, Hugh S. Fullerton, and the U.S. ambassador, Admiral William Leahy), who felt that Fry's methods were hurting the good relations existing then between the U.S. and Vichy France. In Washington D.C., the U.S. State Department complained that Fry's "continued presence was an embarrassment to everybody." Fry was continuously followed by French secret agents, "partof a campaign to frighten me into leaving France of my own free will." In a June 1941 letter to his wife, Eileen, Fry wrote, "If I leave, I abandon those human beings, many of whom I have come to know and to like very much, and most of whom have come to depend on me." Finally, in August 1941, Fry was arrested and given an hour to pack, driven to the Spanish border, and told that his expulsion had been ordered by the Ministry of the Interior, "with the approval of the American embassy." Fry's office continued to function, headed by his French aide Bénédite, until the office was closed by the authorities on June 2, 1942. After his forced return to the U.S., Fry criticized the State Department's immigration policy. Asa result, he was placed under FBI surveillance as a subversive agent on the orders of J. Edgar Hoover. In a piece called "The Massacre of the Jews," published in The New Republic in December 1942, Fry called upon the Allied governments to immediately set up tribunals to begin to collect evidence on the Nazi massacres of Jews, while at the same time open their doors to any refugees fleeing the Holocaust, and for the Pope to threaten with excommunication all Catholics who in any way participated in these frightful crimes.

In 1967, a few months before his death, France, which had expelled him in 1941, conferred upon him the Chevalier de Légion honor. In a ceremony at Yad Vashem, on February 2, 1996, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher apologized on behalf of the State Department for its earlier abusive treatment of Fry and underlined the pride of the U.S. that a man of such high moral caliber was now honored as a great humanitarian under the Yad Vashem-sponsored "Righteous Among the Nations" program. Fry is the only American ever to receive the Righteous Among the Nations Award.


Yad Vashem Archives M31–6150; V. Fry, Surrender on Demand, (1997); A. Marino, American Pimpernel (1999); M. Paldiel, Saving the Jews (2000), 61–73; idem, Sheltering the Jews (1996), 137–41.

[Mordecai Paldiel (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.