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Who Shall Live

Reporter Dara Horn admires Varian Fry, who saved Jewish intellectuals from the Nazis, but she questions his belief that not all lives held equal value

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Refugees outside the American consulate in Marseille, France, 1940-'41. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Hiram Bingham)

When Varian Fry, an American journalist, went to Europe in 1941 on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee, he went with a mission: to save a group of European artists and intellectuals from the Nazis. His endeavor succeeded. With the help of a small team, he rescued Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, and more than 2,200 others. But at a time when Oskar Schindler and Raul Wallenberg are familiar names, Fry has been largely forgotten.

Journalist Dara Horn was determined to tell his story. In a revelatory Kindle Single published today by Tablet Magazine, Horn reports on how Fry came to his rescue work and what became of him after the war. (You can read a preview on Tablet.) But how did this hero decide whom to save in the first place? Horn spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivy about Fry’s exploits, the arguably eugenics-like nature of his mission, the cultural heritage that was not protected by his and other rescue missions, and why so few know of his heroic work. [Running time: 22:09] 

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David B. says:

Remarkable how Arendt was saved from near certain death and goes on to bitch about Jews and Israel and stays friends with Heidegger. Remarkable.

Mark Smith says:

I read the Rescuer previews and listened to Sara Ivy’s interview of author Dara Horn with great interest and appreciation.

I have a small quibble with the headline for the podcast that questions Varian Fry’s beliefs in the relative value of individuals.

I would like to point out that Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee rescued far more than the 200 intellectuals and anti-nazis that formed the famous list for which the State Department granted rare and precious emergency immigration visas. The ERC had to raise sufficient funds to support the refugees awaiting permission to leave France, pay for travel as well as recruit sponsors to vouch for the character and ongoing support for each of the individuals who were to immigrate to the US – not an easy task in 1940. Fundraising by using easily recognizable personalities was the only sensible approach they developed in order to keep the program running and save lives.

I personally have met three individuals who Fry rescued along with their families. To a person they would each attest in their own words that at the time they were a “nobody”, with no money or special claim to fame. These individuals have great admiration and gratitude to Fry for his intervention and concern.

Finally I would recommend to readers the original introduction to Fry’s “Surrender on Demand” and his 1942 piece in the New Republic that attest to his greater concerns and passionate anguish in response to the Nazi atrocities.

boruch Helman says:

Just listened to Dara Horn conversation. First reaction is that the Musar rabbis were not all killed and their writings were not all burned. Their legacy is very much alive not only in the yeshiva world but also in academia. Now a query. In the ’60’s I had an IRelations course at Harvard taught by Dr. Alton Fry,later a prof at Notre Dame, whom I believe was a son of the Righteous Gentile. Was he contacted? Thank you very much for an enlightening and thoughtful twenty plus minutes.

Thanks to Dara Horn for the interview. I would like to add that Fry who was the savior of Andre Breton, Victor Serge, Wilfredo Lam among others occupied the Villa Air Bel, a large rambling victorian structure technically in Marseilles city limits but surrounded at that time by vineyards and countryside. Very few people know that this Villa saw the birth of the tarot surrealiste de Marseille and that Fry and his artists suffered a French Vichy police raid and arrest. Fry had a friend at the US Consulate in Marseilles, the vice consul Harry Bingham (Bingham’s boss Fullerton was the Nazi sympathizer) and Bingham was instrumental in covering for whatever illegal activities Fry engaged in and they were many. They included “springing” Fry and his staff from a jail when they were arrested during Petain’s visit to Marseilles in DEc 1941. The arrest was uncomfortable but did not result in deportation. Well, the whole point was that the Emergency Rescue Committee’s activities soon centered around the old Villa which Fry photographed many years after in 1964 on his sole return visit to Europe and which aficionados may find on the internet. Very regrettably, the Villa Air Bel was torn down in 1982 to build an old age home.

I am a US national and live in Marseilles. I am working with a highly specialized team using the latest in digital imaging to rebuild the Villa and its area as it was in 1941. I welcome any information anyone has about the Villa and Marseilles at that time. Also, I should add that I am a native New Yorker and lived 5 blocks away from Fry’s West End Ave apartment, although I did not know it. He died in 1967 when I was 18.

Thanks for the contact

Diana Pollin

Cheryl Kreiser says:

Thank you. This is a wonderful interview, one that I intend to use in my classroom. Soon.

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Who Shall Live

Reporter Dara Horn admires Varian Fry, who saved Jewish intellectuals from the Nazis, but she questions his belief that not all lives held equal value

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