Varian Fry Foundation Project


405 El Camino Real # 213
Menlo Park
CA 94025
United States






In 1940, Varian Fry volunteered to go to France for the Emergency Rescue Committee (forerunner of the International Rescue Committee) which had been set up shortly after the fall of France to rescue intellectuals and others hunted by the Nazis in Vichy zone. Although Fry came to France with lists of only 200 names, he was approached by thousands of refugees to help them evade the Gestapo. At that time, the Gestapo could ask the Vichy government to ``surrender on demand'' any non-French person, who would then frequently face deportation to concentration camps.

In a period of thirteen months, Varian Fry managed, mainly through illegal means and always facing possible arrest, to save or help thousands of refugees. Among these were famous persons, such as the painters Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, and Wilfred Lam; the sculptor Jaques Lipchitz; the writers Franz Werfel and Hans Habe; the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska; Spain's leading Catholic philosopher Alfredo Mendizabel; Hannah Arendt, political scientist; Fritz Kahn, medical authority; Jaques Hadamard, called the ``Einstein of France''; and Otto Meyerhof, Nobel-Prize winning biochemist. Unfortunately, there were many famous persons who could not be saved.

On account of his activities, Fry was pursued by the Vichy authorities and was arrested and detained. Soon thereafter, American consular representatives refused to renew his passport. In September 1941, he was expelled from France and forced to return to the United States. In 1945, he published a book about his experiences (Surrender on Demand). He passed away in 1967 without ever receiving any recognition for his work from his own government.

In 1996 he was awarded the "Certificate of Honor" and the "Righteous among Nations" medal in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who declared on that occasion: "We owe Varian Fry our deepest gratitude, but we also owe him a promise - a promise never to forget the horrors that he struggled against so heroically, a promise to do whatever is necessary to ensure that such horrors never happen again."

Mandates/Sources of Authority

The purpose of the Varian Fry Foundation Project/IRC is to make the Varian Fry story more widely known in this country, particularly among high-school and college students.

Administrative Structure

The Varian Foundation Project/IRC is affiliated with the Association Varian Fry - France which was founded in Marseilles in October 1999.

The College Initiative of the Project is directed by Professor Justus Rosenberg of Bard College, New York. Colleges and other institutions of higher learning can obtain a higher level educational kit at minimum cost by sending an e-mail to or by calling (845) 758-4149. Inquiries about the availability of speakers and background materials can be made in the same manner.

Finding Aids, Guides, and Publication

There are a number of sources of additional information available on Varian Fry, his life and the impact of his actions.

Varian Fry himself wrote two memoirs about his experiences in France. In 1945, he published a book about his experiences entitled Surrender on Demand which has been reprinted (ISBN 1-55566-209-9) (see Books, below).

Assignment:Rescue, a revised version created especially for young readers, was published in 1967 by Scholastic Press. It was reissued, with a new introduction, in 1993 in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's exhibition of the same name and is still available in print (ISBN 0-590-46970-3) . Large book store chains such as Barnes and Noble usually have Assignment:Rescue in stock.


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