Varian Fry had visited pre-warGermany and was appalled by what he witnessed. Beginning in 1940, in Marseille, France, despite the watchful eye of the collaborationist Vichy regime, he 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 the safety of neutral Portugal from where they made their way to the United States. Others he helped escape on ships leaving Marseille for the French colony of Martinique from where they could go to the United States. Among Fry's closest associates was the beautiful U.S. heiress, Mary Jayne Gold, a lover of the arts and the "good life" who had come to Paris in the early 1930s. When the Nazis seized France in 1940, the rich WASP girl went to Marseille where she worked with Fry and helped finance his operation. In 1980, Mary Jayne Gold published her book about those times called Crossroads Marseilles 1940.
Back home in the States, in 1945 Fry's book about his time in France was published under the title, Surrender on Demand. He 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."
In 1967, the government of France recognized his heroic contribution to freedom with the Legion of Honor. Beyond that, he was basically forgotten in life and death until recent years when his deeds began to be recognized. Now being called the "American Schindler," in 1995 Varian Fry became the first United States citizen to join Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler among the gentiles designated as "Righteous Among the Nations" at Israel's national Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem. He was awarded the additional honor of "Commemorative Citizenship of the State of Israel" on January 1, 1998.
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