March 1, 1998
VARIAN FRY, ASSIGNMENT: RESCUE, 1940-1941
WASHINGTON, D.C. — ASSIGNMENT: RESCUE, Varian Fry 1940-1941 tells the story of an American, a Christian, who saved the lives of more than 2,000 anti-Nazis and Jews in 1940 and 1941.
Varian Fry is the name of this unlikely hero. The exhibition tells of his eleven-month sojourn in Vichy France. With a small band of European and American assistants, Fry rescued thousands of desperate men and women who were to be “surrendered on demand” to the Nazis under the ominous Article 19 of the Franco-German Armistice. Some, like Hannah Arendt, Heinrich Mann, Marc Chagall, Andrew Breton and Lion Feuchtwanger were among Europe’s leading thinkers and artists.
Days after his arrival in Marseilles in June 1940 as the representative of a newly formed private group, the Emergency Rescue Committee (now the International Rescue Committee), Fry established a legal relief organization as a cover for his clandestine rescue organization. Working for many months without the protection of an American passport, he persevered as long as possible to save as many as possible.
Fry wrote, “I stayed because the refugees needed me. But it took courage, and courage is a quality I hadn’t previously been sure I possessed.”
Varian Fry was the first American, and one of only three, to be designated “Righteous Among the Nations,” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial.