Varian Mackey Fry, an American journalist, left an indelible mark on history through his courageous efforts to save thousands of lives during one of humanity’s darkest periods. Born on October 15, 1907, in New York City, Fry’s journey would lead him to become one of the “Righteous Among the Nations,” a title bestowed upon non-Jews who risked everything to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

Fry’s awakening to the horrors of Nazi persecution came during a visit to Berlin in 1935 while working as a foreign correspondent for The Living Age. Witnessing firsthand the abuse inflicted on Jews by the Nazi regime transformed him into a staunch anti-Nazi activist. His resolve to act grew stronger as he realized the urgent need to save lives.

In the wake of the German invasion of France in 1940 and the swift occupation of the country, Fry co-founded the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) in New York City. Supported by influential figures like First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Fry embarked on a perilous mission to aid refugees endangered by Nazi tyranny.

Operating from Vichy France, Fry and his network facilitated the escape of 2,000 to 4,000 anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees, defying the wrath of Vichy French officials and facing constant surveillance. His actions drew the ire of US State Department representatives who viewed his work as a hindrance to America’s neutrality in World War II.

Fry’s daring efforts did not go unnoticed. On August 29, 1941, he was arrested by French police and swiftly escorted to the Spanish border, marking the end of his time in Vichy France. Undeterred, Fry returned to the United States and continued his advocacy, shedding light on the plight of refugees and condemning the restrictive immigration policies of his own country.

His writings, including the poignant article “The Massacre of the Jews: The Story of the Most Appalling Mass Murder in Human History,” served as a testament to his unwavering commitment to justice and humanity. Fry’s legacy endures as a beacon of courage and compassion in the face of adversity.

Photo: US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Annette Fry

Further Reading

“Netflix devotes series to Varian Fry, the man who saved thousands from Vichy France in WWII” in France24.com

“Varian Fry’s Holocaust rescue network and the origins of the IRC” in Rescue.org

“VARIAN FRY” in Holocaust Encyclopedia