Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Web Secret #237: Varian Fry

The Internet can be an instrument for good, and it can be an instrument for evil. During this year's holiday season, the Internet gave me Varian Fry. Or more precisely, I learned about Varian Fry through the Internet, and in turn, that knowledge became a gift.

I was reading "The Orientalist," and came across Varian Fry in a footnote:

"After he graduated from Harvard in the early 1930s, an assignment as a freelance journalist had taken Fry to Berlin, where he'd witnessed the persecution of the Jews and...[heard] rumors within the Nazi Hierarchy [of] the mass murder of the Jews."

I had to find out more and so turned to the Internet. At first Fry tried to publicize what he found out, but his efforts were thwarted by the US government, which for political reasons did not want to focus on the Holocaust.

What he did next is truly wondrous. This young man from a privileged background, who could so easily have looked the other way, took thousands of dollars of his own money and went to Nazi occupied France. There he personally saved an estimated 2,000 Jews, personally escorting the likes of painter Marc Chagall and writer Hannah Arendt over the Pyrenees, risking his own life at every turn. He set up contacts with the French Resistance and the Corsican mob, hired forgers, and bribed border guards.

He was aided in his mission by the son of the man who discovered Machu Picchu, (I am not making this up,) Hiram Bingham IV, an American Vice Consul in Marseille who fought against State Department anti-Semitism and was personally responsible for issuing thousands of visas, both legal and illegal to Jews needing to escape persecution.

The online Holocaust Encyclopedia reported that:

"Shortly before Fry's death, the French government awarded him the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. It was the only official recognition he received in his lifetime...In 1991, the United States Holocaust Memorial Council awarded the Eisenhower Liberation Medal to Varian Fry. In 1994 he was also honored by Yad Vashem as a "Righteous Among the Nations" for his rescue activities."

Is that not a gift?

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