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Varian Fry in Vichy France

September 12, 2017

Varian Fry, an American journalist who helped more than 2,000 Jewish and anti-Nazi refugees escape the Holocaust through Vichy France, died on this date in 1967 at age 59. As a Harvard freshman, Fry was a founder of Hound & Horn, a literary quarterly, which he co-edited with Lincoln Kirstein. When Fry visited Berlin in 1935, he was outraged by the Nazis’ savagery toward the Jews. After the Nazis occupied France in 1940, he went to Marseille with $3,000 and helped establish the Emergency Rescue Committee, which he operated using forged documents and secret routes, and while under constant surveillance. (The FBI, too, would later place him under surveillance, after his return to the U.S.) Among those whom Fry helped to escape were Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, Lion Feuchtwanger, Max Ophuls, and numerous other artists and intellectuals. In 1967, France awarded Fry the Legion of Honor; in 1995, he became the first American to be included in Yad Vashem’s “Righteous Among the Nations” honor roll. The square in front of the U.S. Consulate in Marseille is named Place Varian Fry.

“I stayed because the refugees needed me. But it took courage, and courage is a quality that I hadn’t previously been sure I possessed.” — Varian Fry