The history of Varian Fry is perhaps one of the least known yet most extraordinary sagas of World War II. In the summer of 1940, following the defeat of France by Hitler's armies, Fry, an idealistic American journalist and classical scholar, arrived in the port city of Marseilles armed with only three thousand dollars and a list of two hundred names. Sent by the newly formed American Emergency Rescue Committee, Fry was charged with the task of finding many of this century's most famous artists and intellectuals and helping them escape from Nazi-occupied France. With the help of a dedicated staff, Fry immediately established a legal French relief organization, the American Relief Center, as a front for his covert rescue operation. Using a variety of clandestine and sometimes illegal means, from raising funds on the black market and forging documents to smuggling refugees via secret mountain and sea routes, Fry was able to channel some two thousand endangered people out of France and to the relative safety of Portugal, North Africa, and the United States. In a rescue operation unprecedented in modern times, Fry managed to save a virtual roll call of twentieth-century genius. Among the lucky were the artists Marcel Duchamp, Andre Masson, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Wilfredo Lam, and Jacques Lipchitz; writers Franz Werfel, Hans Habe, Victor Serge, Walter Mahring, Hannah Arendt, Andre Breton, Lion Feuchtwanger, and Heinrich Mann; scientists Peter Pringsheim, Emil Gumbel, and Nobel Prize winner Otto Meyerhof; and musicians Erich Itor-Kahn and Wanda Landowska. Alma Mahler also escaped, bringing with her original scores composed by her first husband, Gustav Mahler, and manuscript symphonies by Georg Bruckner. After more than thirteen months of tirelessly spiriting people away under the constant threat of arrest by the Gestapo, Fry was finally deported by the Vichy French government in September 1942 as an "undesirable alien" for protecting Jews and anti-Nazis. Forced to return to the United States, Fry died in 1967, tragically without ever receiving recognition for his work from his own government. Only posthumously has he been honored by the United States Holocaust Museum and Israel's Yad Vashem. A Quiet American is a penetrating examination of the life of a genuine American hero whose courage, humanity, and ingenuity significantly changed the character of American culture.
Biographies & Memoirs, Ethnic & National, Jewish,