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Varian Mackey Fry - Comune di PadovaVarian Mackey Fry (October 15, 1907 – September 13, 1967) was an American journalist. Fry ran a rescue network in Vichy France that helped approximately 2,000 to 4,000 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees to escape Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. He was the first of five Americans to be recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations", an honorific given by the State of Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Varian Fry was born in New York City. His parents were Lillian Mackey and Arthur Fry, a manager of the Wall Street firm Carlysle and Mellick.[2] The family moved to Ridgewood, New Jersey, in 1910. He grew up in Ridgewood and enjoyed bird-watching and reading. During World War I, at 9 years of age, Fry and friends conducted a fund-raising bazaar for the American Red Cross that included a vaudeville show, an ice cream stand and fish pond. He was educated at Hotchkiss School from 1922 to 1924, when he left the school due to hazing rituals. He then attended the Riverdale Country School, graduating in 1926.[3] An able, multi-lingual student, Fry scored in the top 10% on the entrance exams to Harvard University[3] and, while a Harvard undergraduate, founded Hound & Horn, an influential literary quarterly, in 1927 with Lincoln Kirstein. He was suspended for a prank just before graduation and had to repeat his senior year.[4][5]

In the first issue of Hound & Horn, Henry-Russell Hitchcock wrote a piece on the decline of architecture and Maurice Grosser contributed a homoerotic painting. Hitchcock's good friend, the future historian Ned Arvin, also wrote for the periodical. Kirstein supplied the money and vision for the magazine while Fry did most of the grunt work, such as selling subscriptions. Despite their close friendship, Kirstein couldn't decide if he liked Fry. One night, for example, Kirstein complained of being woken up at 2:00 am by Fry having loud sex with another man in the rooms above his. In his diary, Kirstein described Fry as being a weak effeminate alcoholic always on the brink of being ousted from Harvard due to a combination of violent drunk binges, emotional breakdowns, academic incompetence, and indiscreet homosexuality. Yet after years of this loathing, Kirstein finally had sex with Fry, saying "we always end up by sleeping with or lying with friends." Suggesting Kirstein was an extremely poor judge of character, Fry went on to become one of the major saviors of Jews, socialists, artists, and other victims being hunted down in Nazi occupied Europe. After France was defeated by the Germans and before the United States entered the war, Fry (working closely with Alfred Barr) helped get visas and boat tickets for Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Claude Levi-Straus, and more than a thousand others. His work involved tremendous courage and he was eventually awarded the French Legion d'honneur as well as recognition in Israel, the United States, and elsewhere for his bravery.

Through Kirstein's sister, Mina Kirstein Curtiss, he met his future wife, Eileen Avery Hughes, an editor of Atlantic Monthly, who was seven years his senior and had been educated at Roedean School and Oxford University. They married on June 2, 1931.[5]

While working as a foreign correspondent for the American journal The Living Age, Fry visited Berlin in 1935, and personally witnessed Nazi abuse against Jews on more than one occasion, which "turned him into an ardent anti-Nazi". He said in 1945, "I could not remain idle as long as I had any chances at all of saving even a few of its intended victims."[4][6] Following his visit to Berlin, Fry wrote about the savage treatment of Jews by Hitler's regime in the New York Times in 1935. He wrote books about foreign affairs for Headline Books, owned by the Foreign Policy Association, including The Peace that Failed.[7][8] It describes the troubled political climate following World War I, the break-up of Czechoslovakia and the events leading up to World War II.[9]

Greatly disturbed by what he saw, Fry helped raise money to support European anti-Nazi movements. Shortly after the invasion of France in June 1940, which the Germans quickly occupied, Fry and his friends formed the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC), with support of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and others. By August 1940, Fry was in Marseille representing the ERC[10] in an effort to help persons wishing to flee the Nazis,[11][12] and circumvent the processes by French authorities who would not issue exit visas.[4] Fry had $3,000 and a short list of refugees under imminent threat of arrest by agents of the Gestapo, mostly Jews. Clamoring at his door came anti-Nazi writers, avant-garde artists, musicians and hundreds of others desperately seeking any chance to escape France.[13] Some historians later noted it was a miracle that a white American Protestant would risk everything to help the Jews.[14] Beginning in 1940, in Marseille, despite the watchful eye of the collaborationist Vichy regime,[15] Fry and a small group of volunteers hid people at the Villa Air-Bel until they could be smuggled out. More than 2,200 people were taken across the border to Spain and then to the safety of neutral Portugal from which they made their way to the United States.[16][17] Fry helped other exiles escape on ships leaving Marseille for the French colony of Martinique, from which they too could go to the United States.[18] Among Fry's closest associates were Americans Miriam Davenport, a former art student at the Sorbonne, and the heiress Mary Jayne Gold, a lover of the arts and the "good life" who had come to Paris in the early 1930s.[19][20] When the Nazis seized France in 1940, Gold went to Marseille, where she worked with Fry and helped finance his operation. Also working with Fry was a young academic named Albert O. Hirschman.[19][20] Especially instrumental in getting Fry the visas he needed for the artists, intellectuals and political dissidents on his list, was Hiram Bingham IV, an American Vice Consul in Marseille who fought against anti-Semitism in the State Department and was personally responsible for issuing thousands of visas, both legal and illegal.[4][15][22][23] He was also helped in his mission by Alfred Barr, Museum Director at the MoMa and his wife Margaret Scolari Barr art historian also working at the MoMA.[24] From his isolated position in Marseille, Fry relied on the Unitarian Service Committee in Lisbon to help the refugees he sent.[25] This office, staffed by American Unitarians under the direction of Robert Dexter, helped refugees to wait in safety for visas and other necessary papers, and to gain ship passage from Lisbon.[26] Fry was forced to leave France in September 1941 after officials both of the Vichy government and at the United States State Department had become angered by his covert activities.[4][27] In 1942, the Emergency Rescue Committee and the American branch of the European-based International Relief Association joined forces under the name the International Relief and Rescue Committee, which was later shortened to the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The IRC is a leading nonsectarian, nongovernmental international relief and development organization that still operates today.

Fry wrote and spoke critically against U.S. immigration policies particularly relating to the issue of the fate of Jews in Europe. In a December 1942 issue of The New Republic, he wrote a scathing article titled: "The Massacre of Jews in Europe".[29] Although by 1942 Fry had been terminated from his position at the Emergency Rescue Committee, American private rescuers acknowledged that his program in France had been uniquely effective, and recruited him in 1944 to provide behind-the-scenes guidance to the Roosevelt administration's late-breaking rescue program, the War Refugee Board.[26] Fry published a book in 1945 about his time in France under the title Surrender on Demand, first published by Random House, 1945. (Its title refers to the 1940 French-German armistice clause requiring France to hand over to German authorities any refugee from "Greater Germany" the Gestapo might identify, a requirement Fry routinely violated.) A later edition was published by Johnson Books, in 1997, in conjunction with the U.S. Holocaust Museum. In 1968, the US publisher Scholastic (which markets mainly to children and adolescents) published a paperback edition under the title Assignment: Rescue.[27] After the war, Fry worked as a journalist, magazine editor and business writer. He also taught college and was in film production. Feeling as if he had lived the peak of his life in France, he developed ulcers. Fry went into psychoanalysis and said that "as time went on, he grew more and more troubled." Fry and his wife Eileen divorced after he returned from France. She developed cancer and died on May 12, 1948. During her hospital convalescence, Fry visited her and read to her daily. At the end of 1948 or early 1949, Fry met Annette Riley, who was 16 years his junior. They married in 1950, had three children together, but were separated in 1966, possibly owing to his irrational behavior, believed to have been a result of manic depression.[30] Fry died of a cerebral hemorrhage and was found dead in his bed on September 13, 1967 by the Connecticut State Police.[4] He was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York with his parents.[1] Fry's papers are held in Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library.[31]


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