Varian Fry

Resources on Varian Fry

Written Materials


Fittko, Lisa.  Escape through the Pyrenees (Northwestern University Press, 1991).   

Fittko's book is a memoir of life as an "enemy alien" in France before and after the Nazi invasion of 1940. As a Jewish leftist reared in Berlin, Fittko and her husband Hans fled Germany in 1933 to apparent safety in France. German emigres were regarded as grave political threats, however, and they were rounded up and isolated in concentration camps in France. Fittko experienced the hunger, disease, and chaos of the Gurs camp. As Hitler's army swept through France, she and several comrades escaped. She was reunited with her husband at the foot of the Pyrenees. They made their way out of the country through a tortuous mountain pass. They also guided other refugees to safety. The book is illustrated with historical documents and original photographs (not seen). Although the story is unique and heroic, the prose is acceptable at best and often difficult to follow.  (Susan Dearstyne, Schenectady City Community College for Publisher's Weekly)


Fry, Varian.  Assignment-Rescue (Scholastic, Inc., 1968).

Marseilles, France....August, 1940 The Gestapo's blacklist was thousands of names long...How many people could he get out before Hitler sealed the frontiers? Varian Fry didn't know any more about being an undercover agent than what he'd seen in the movies. But, he was the one man who could get into Vichy France, where thousands of people had fled Hitler's Germany. Unless he could get them out, they'd be trapped-turned back to the concentration camps and death camps. An exciting, true story of World War II - Varian Fry describes the methods he used to get thousands of hunted men and women to safety.


Fry, Varian.  Surrender on Demand (Johnson Books, 1997).  

Like Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, Varian Fry risked his life to rescue those targeted by the Gestapo in "the most gigantic man-trap in history." Now, more than fifty years later, the story of this neglected American hero is back in print.

Varian Fry, a young editor from New York, traveled to Marseilles after Germany defeated France in the summer of 1940. As the representative of the Emergency Rescue Committee, a private American relief organization, he offered aid and advice to refugees who found themselves threatened with extradition to Nazi Germany under Article 19 of the Franco-German armistice—the "Surrender on Demand" clause.

Working day and night in opposition to French and even American authorities, Fry assembled an unlikely band of associates and built an elaborate rescue network. By the time Fry left France after 13 months, he and his colleagues had managed to spirit more than 1,500 people from France, among them some of Europe’s most prominent politicians, artists, writers, scientists, and musicians. Their arrival in the United States significantly expanded the intellectual exodus from Europe that began when Hitler came to power, and permanently changed the face of American culture.


Isenberg, Sheila. A Hero of Our Own: the Story of Varian Fry (Random House,  2001).

In 1940, a young Harvard-educated American named Varian Fry, inexperienced and not at all certain that he possessed any courage, went on a secret mission to Marseille. There, with only three thousand dollars and a list of names, he was to help those who had fled Nazi Germany and were now trapped in southern France.

The list he took with him had been prepared by, among others, the Museum of Modern Art and Eleanor Roosevelt. It included most of the premier writers, painters, and scientists of Europe, many of them Jews?people like Marc Chagall and Max Ernst, Jacques Lipchitz, Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Arendt, Franz Werfel, André Breton, André Masson, and other sur- realists, and hundreds more. When Fry witnessed their plight, he became determined not just to give them immediate aid but to find ways for them to escape. Slowly he built up a group of people who could help, forging passports and finding secret paths across the Pyrenees into Spain and then to Lisbon.

Fry himself was constantly in great danger, but he seemed to experience a divine inspiration, achieving greatness and glimpsing immortality by acting as the hero he never thought he could be. His own government tried again and again to stop him and send him home, but he managed to continue his rescue operations for more than a year. Only in the past decade has the world begun to honor Fry, who died in 1967. He is, for instance, the only American honored at Israel?s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, as one of the ?Righteous Among the Nations.?

Using letters and records unavailable to anyone else, as well as interviews with numerous survivors, Sheila Isenberg has given us an inspiring story of how the brave and determined actions of one individual can help change the world.


Marino, Andy.  A Quiet American: the Secret War of Varian Fry (St. Martin's Press, 1999).

The story of Varian Fry, called the "real Rick" of Casablanca, is perhaps one of the most unknown, yet extraordinary sagas of World War II. This penetrating biography follows Varian Fry through his adult life--from his beginnings in the 1930s as a Harvard graduate and political journalist to his arrival in Marseille in 1940 where he managed to spirit away thousands of Europe's cultural elite by falsifying passports, creating new identities, and always resorting to subterfuge.

The list of those saved includes: Hannah Arendt, Andre Breton, Franz Werful and his wife Alma Mahler, Heinrich Mann, Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz, Andre Masson, and Max Ernst among others. A Quiet American is an effort to extensively examine the life of a genuine American hero whose political and cultural influence is still largely unacknowledged.



Meyerhof, Walter.  In the Shadow of Love, Stories from my Life.  (Fithiam Press. 2002).  

Walter Meyerhof was born in 1922 and was raised in Germany. His roots were Jewish, but he and his siblings attended the Lutheran church. His father was a prominent physiologist who won the Nobel Prize the year that Walter was born. As he grew, Walter too became interested in science, but the one he chose—or the science that chose him—was physics, a passion that would last a lifetime. Now a professor emeritus at Stanford University, he still has the microscope his parents gave him as a boy. He describes that instrument with the same respect and awe as he feels for the two-mile-long linear accelerator in the Stanford hills.

That microscope is one of several "artifacts" that have inspired the reminiscences in In the Shadow of Love—Stories From My Life, a warm collection of autobiographical essays. A photograph of his mother, his father’s pocketwatch, letters written in haste…these all serve to bring the author’s memories into focus. What unfolds in these pages is a long life full of wonder, danger, hard work, love, and accomplishment.

Growing up in Germany during those years was not easy for a young man with a Jewish "background." Walter Meyerhof and his family experienced the growth of Nazi bullying, until finally they left for friendlier countries. Walter became a student in France, but then France too fell under the shadow of Nazi occupation. Part of the book tells of the Foreign Workers Camp where he had to put in his time, and of his eventual escape to Portugal, a hair-raising adventure of lost and faked documents, near capture, and the heroic and generous help of an American named Varian Fry, who helped many refugees escape Vichy France. By the time Walter was able to join his parents in Philadelphia, he had already been through more danger than most men face in a lifetime.

His years in America were devoted to academic accomplishment and to learning about life as a young man. He delicately and respectfully recounts a couple of his romances. Then, in the summer of 1947, he took a trip to England, and met a young woman named Miriam. They’d actually met as teenagers; she had called him a "dumb ape" when he asked to go out with her. But this time love took over, and the couple was engaged within a matter of weeks. That love affair has lasted more than fifty years.

Now Walter Meyerhof is retired, after a forty-three-year career as a Professor of Physics at Stanford University. He is co-directing the Varian Fry Foundation Project to educate the young about Fry. And he’s writing the stories of his life. In the Shadow of Love leaves us with the fond impression of an elderly man who takes walks and stops to have conversations with an elderly dog named Sam. Sam is a good listener, and Walter Meyerhof is a good storyteller.


Rosenberg, Justus. Varian Fry Biography, American National Biography Online,  (Oxford University Press,  2002).

American National Biography Online series is an exploration of American history through the lives of the men & women who shaped the nation.


Video Materials


U.S. Consulate, Marseille, France, 1940 (photo by Dr. Hans Cahnmann)

And Crown Thy Good: And Crown Thy Good (2010), Director: Pierre Sauvage, Running time: Not known. 

 Varian Fry (1907-1967) was a New York intellectual who after the fall of France to the Nazis spent a year in the Southern port city of Marseille leading one of the most remarkable and successful rescue efforts of the Nazi era.  Defying the Nazis, the French Vichy regime, and his own government, Fry, a dapper, 32 year-old intellectual, led a unique mission that helped to save some 2,000 artists, intellectuals, and anti-Nazi refugees, Jewish and non-Jewish.  He was the first American to be singled out by Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

An extended overview of the Fry mission and why it matters is available at Varian Fry in Marseille.  As the feature documentary will underscore, Varian Fry did not work aloneAnd Crown Thy Good is a production of the Varian Fry Institute, a division of the Chambon Foundation, a nonprofit foundation committed to documentary exploration of the Holocaustand especially of those necessary and challenging lessons of hope intertwined with the unavoidable lessons of despair.



Varian's War (2001), Director: Lionel Chetwynd, Running time: 121 minutes

This is the untold story of Varian Fry (William Hurt), a forgotten hero of World War II. He built an elaborate underground rescue network that managed to save some of the most influential cultural figures of our age. He saved artists (such as Marc Chagall), writers, and scientists. The safe arrival of these treasured individuals in the United States permanently changed the face of American culture and enriched all of our lives forever.


The Last Survivor: Justus Rosenberg

Justus Rosenberg was the youngest member of the team led by Varian Fry that rescued some of Europe's most famous artists, writers, and intellectuals who had taken refuge in France prior to the Nazi invasion of 1940.  Dr. Rosenburg is professor emeritus of Bard College.  He has generously given permission for the material presented in the preceding pages.  His partial story is given here.  The film is a production of IRC.  For over 75 years, the IRC has been responding to the worlds worst crises. Meet some of our extended family: dedicated IRC staff members who tackle enormous challenges to change lives; courageous refugees weve led through their journeys from harm to home; and committed leaders, thinkers and supporters who help us protect human freedom and dignity.


Artists in Exile

The list of people who escaped Nazi Europe, with the help of Fry and others, is like a roll call of European culture. A handful of famous names will suffice: Max Ernst, Hannah Arendt, André Masson, Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler Werfel, Jacques Lipchitz, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Heinrich Mann, Marc Chagall and André Breton.

Many artistic émigrés found their way to New York City where Peggy Guggenheim exhibited their work at the Art of this Century gallery, which she opened in 1942. Another amazing photograph was taken during a gathering of these artists at her New York apartment. Guggenheim did not rescue them (apart from Max Ernst) but she helped their survival and integration, once they had safely landed on American soil.

"Artists in Exile", Peggy Guggenheim's apartment, New York, 1942. Front row: Stanley William Hayter, Leonara Carrington, Frederick Kiesler, Kurt Seligmann. Second Row: Max Ernst, Amedee Ozenfant, Andre Breton, Fernand Leger, Berenice Abbott. Third Row: Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, John Ferren, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian. Photograph: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Source: Art and Architecture Mostly,


An American Hero

Varian Fry found his courage when called upon to act in a moment of extraordinary historical and personal challenge, saving thousands of lives during the Second World War.

  • After Germany's invasion and partition of France in June 1940, Varian Fry, a young editor from New York, went to Marseilles, France, as the representative of a newly formed, private American relief committee.
  • In Marseilles, Fry offered aid and advice to anti-Fascist refugees who found themselves threatened with extradition to Nazi Germany under Article 19 of the Franco-German Armistice-- the "Surrender on Demand" clause. Working day and night, in opposition to French and even obstructionist American authorities, Fry assembled a band of associates and built an elaborate rescue network.
  • Convinced that he could not abandon the operation while desperate refugees needed him, Fry extended his stay into a 13 month odyssey carrying on without his passport, under constant surveillance and, more than once, questioned and detained by the authorities.
  • Establishing a legal French relief organization, The American Relief Center, Fry worked behind its cover using illegal means -- black-market funds, forged documents, secret mountain and sea routes-- to spirit some 2000 endangered people from France.

The Emergency Rescue Committee office in Marseilles in 1941 shows fine artists who escaped France: (from left to right) Max Ernst, Jacqueline Breton, Andre Masson, Andre Breton and Varian Fry.

  • Among the refugees were notable European intellectuals, writers, artists, scientists, philosophers and musicians. Their arrival in the United States significantly changed the character of American culture.
  • Fry was recalled by the American government and ignored repeated entreaties. He was finally ousted by the Vichy French government under an "ordre de refoulement" as an "undesirable alien" for protecting Jews and anti-Nazis, in September 1941.
  • When Fry returned to New York, he recounted his story and tried to warn of Hitler's impending massacre of the Jews.
  • His activities in France prompted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to open a file on him and to keep him under surveillance which prevented him from ever working for the United States government.
  • Shortly before his death, Mr. Fry was awarded the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur by the French government, which was the only official recognition he received before his death.
  • Fry died unexpectedly and alone in 1967 while revising his memoirs. He left behind a wealth of written and photographic materials that document his experiences in France.
  • Varian Fry was posthumously honored by the United States Holocaust Memorial Council with the Eisenhower Liberation Medal in 1991. His work in France, in 1940-41, to assist and rescue endangered refugees was the subject of an exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993-94.
  • Varian Fry was posthumously honored by Yad VaShem, The Holocaust Heros and Martyrs Remembrance Authority, Jerusalem as the first American "Righteous Among the Nations" in a ceremony attended by Secretary of State Warren Christopher in February 1996. The additional honor of "Commemorative Citizenship of the State of Israel," awarded to selected Righteous Among the Nations "who rekindled the light of humanity during the Nazi era in Europe" was given to Fry on January 1, 1998.  


Source: Used with permission.



Varian Fry

Varian Fry, a 32 year old Harvard-educated classicist and editor from New York City, helped save thousands of endangered refugees who were caught in the Vichy French zone escape from Nazi terror during World War II. Yet this man, known as "the American Schindler," died in obscurity, without recognition, and having been reprimanded by the US government for his actions.

Despite having had no training in underground work and no knowledge of forgers, black marketeers, or secret passages, Fry within 24 hours after his arrival in France committed himself to a mission that saved prominent persons such as artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst, writer Hannah Arendt, and sculptor Jacques Lipchitz.

Fry said, "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." This man who found the courage to save some of Europe's greatest artists, writers and thinkers remained unrecognized by his countrymen and unacknowledged by his country until recently.

In 1991, 50 years after his courageous actions in France saved thousands of innocent lives and 24 years after his death, Fry received his first official recognition from a United States agency, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1996, Varian Mackey Fry was named as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Heros and Martyrs Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem -- the first American recipient of Israel's highest honor for rescuers during the Holocaust, an honor also received by Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg.

Source:  Used with permission.