Varian Fry Institute
(a division of the Chambon Foundation)

dedicated to exploring and communicating
the American experience of the Holocaust

THE WEBSITE'S GLITCHES ARE BEING FIXED! 

While the world turned away,
Varian Fry led the most determined and successful
private American rescue operation of the Nazi era.


 

Upcoming...

And Crown Thy Good

                                       Varian Fry in Marseille

a feature documentary by the filmmaker of Weapons of the Spirit

We live in times in which hope is a rare commodity.  That is why someone like Pierre Sauvage is such a valuable resource.  [He] is a purveyor of hope, of faith in the better instincts of human beings.  Judging from the footage he has completed so far, Sauvage has another inspiring effort on his hands.  George Robinson, The Jewish Week

But first...

We said we didn't know.
We said we couldn't have done anything even if we had known.

Meet Peter Bergson!
 

Not Idly By—
Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust

a documentary by Pierre Sauvage (58 min., 2014)

FINAL VERSION TO BE RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER 2014

Documentary Award, Toronto Jewish Film Festival
 

Peter Bergson, a militant Jew from Palestine,
led a controversial American effort to fight the Holocaust.

This is his testimony.

In Not Idly By, documentary filmmaker Pierre Sauvage (Weapons of the Spirit), himself a child survivor of the Holocaust, provides a forceful contribution to our understanding of the American reaction to the Holocaust—and the American Jewish response.

A Palestinian Jew who had served with the nationalist Irgun organization in pre-Israel Palestine, Peter Bergson (born Hillel Kook, 1915-2001) had come to the U.S. in 1940. In America, this firebrand went on to lead what came to be known as the Bergson Group, whose strenusous efforts from 1942 to 1945 underscore just how much known at the time—and how must was attempted during those difficult years.

Sometimes vilified at the time, Bergson remains a controversial yet relatively obscure figure in the history of America and the Holocaust.

The only documentary to draw on both of the existing filmed interviews with Bergson, Not Idly By provides the challenging first-hand testimony of the charismatic and eloquent Bergson, who comments scathingly on the response to the crisis by American Jewish leaders, and described his group's determined efforts to fight the Holocaust. This notably included the fiery 1943 production We Will Never Die by Ben Hecht and Kurt Weill, presented extensively for the first time in this documentary.

"We lost the war in Europe," Bergson insists, referring to the war against the Jews that was occurring at the same time as World War II. "You couldn't have stopped the massacre—you could have slowed the massacre, you could have made it an inefficient massacre."

Yes, this is a one-side view of those times: Peter Bergson's. Isn't it about time we gave further thought to that side? Do we not need to face our share of responsibility for what happened to the Jews of Europe?

Not Idly By ̶ Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust (more information) 


 

About Varian Fry and other Americans who cared

 

Mary Jayne Gold
Mary Jayne Gold
(1909-1997)
prior to World War II


Varian Fry (1907-1967) in Marseille in 1941
There was no stamp in 2007 for the 100th anniversary of his birth

Miriam Davenport Ebel
Miriam Davenport
(1915-1999)
prior to World War II


Charles Fawcett (1915-2008)

in Ambulance Corps uniform


Hiram Bingham IV (1903-1988)
righteous vice-consul in 1940-41, stamp issued in May 2006

Leon Ball

 

"In all we saved some two thousand human beings.  We ought to have saved many times that number.

But we did what we could." 

Varian Fry

Viewed within the context of its times, Fry's mission in Marseille, France, in 1940-41 seems not "merely" an attempt to save some threatened writers, artists, and political figures.  It appears in hindsight like a doomed final quest to reverse the very direction in which the world—and not merely the Nazis—was heading.

 from Varian Fry in Marseille, by Pierre Sauvage

In a challenging time, Varian Fry, Miriam Davenport Ebel, Mary Jayne Gold, Charles Fawcett, Leon Ball and Hiram Bingham IV, were Americans who joined with others in the U.S. and in Marseille, France, to further brotherhood from sea to shining sea...

We believe that at least seven non-Jews who worked with Varian Fry in Marseille would be worthy of joining Varian Fry as Righteous Among the Nations, a distinction granted by Israel's Yad Vashem memorial:

  • Leon F. Ball, USA
  • Daniel Bénédite, France
  • Hiram Bingham IV, USA
  • Miriam Davenport Ebel, USA
  • Charles Fawcett, USA
  • Jean Gemähling, France
  • Mary Jayne Gold, USA

In February 1941, in Marseille, France, an American wrote to his wife back in New York:

Among the people who have come into my office, or with whom I am in constant correspondence, are not only some of the greatest living authors, painters, sculptors of Europe . . . but also former cabinet ministers and even prime ministers of half a dozen countries.  What a strange place Europe is when men like this are reduced to waiting patiently in the anteroom of a young American of no importance whatever.

Varian Fry, the young American, was 32 when he arrived in Marseille early in the morning of Aug. 14, 1940—only two months after France's traumatizing defeat by the Nazis, and a full year and a half before Americans finally allowed themselves to get dragged into the war.

In that summer of 1940, high-level Nazis were talking among themselves about the need for a final solution to the Jewish question, but there is no evidence that anybody was seriously thinking of mass murder.  Throughout the coming year, the German policy would remain one of emigration and resettlement.

What was possible when Fry arrived in Europe would, however, no longer be possible by the time Fry left Europe at the end of October 1941.  By then, it wouldn’t only be the doors of the U. S. and other Western countries that were largely closed to refugees; the doors of departure from Europe would be shut too, and the Final Solution would be underway.

These are the circumstances in which a New York intellectual led what we know to have been the most determined and successful private American rescue operation during World War II.  At a time of tragic American apathy about the refugee crisis in Europe, Varian Fry was assisted locally in his struggle by other singular and similarly non-Jewish Americans: the late Miriam Davenport Ebel, Mary Jayne Gold, Charles Fawcett, and Leon Ball, as well as the late righteous consul Hiram Bingham IV.

Banding together with Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from the Third Reich, as well as early French opponents to Vichy, this tiny group, with erratic assistance from colleagues in New York , may have helped to save as many as 2,000 people: Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Jacques Lipchitz, Heinrich Mann, Franz Werfel, Alma Mahler Werfel, André Breton, Victor Serge, André Masson, Lion Feuchtwanger, Konrad Heiden, Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Arendt, Max Ophuls, Walter Mehring, Jean Malaquais, Valeriu Marcu, Remedios Varo, Otto Meyerhof…  The list—Fry’s list—goes on and on.

“There is a fire sale on brains going on here, and we aren’t taking full advantage of it,” an American official in Lisbon told Fry in August 1940, long before the Holocaust became established as a metaphor.  Even if many of the names on Fry’s list have faded into relative obscurity, the list as a whole represents much of the intelligentsia of Europe at that time; the population shifts Fry helped produce would have major ramifications for American culture.

Though Fry was not specifically concerned with saving Jews—and indeed the German and Austrian anti-Nazi émigrés in France then seemed the most vulnerable of all, whether Jewish or not—Fry became in 1998 the first American singled out to be honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem memorial to the Holocaust.

Many basic facts about the man and his mission are still unfamiliar even to scholars, while some of what is “known” is in fact erroneous or misleading.  Furthermore, there have been no attempts as yet to place the rescue effort in its full historical context.

Filling some of these gaps and drawing on extensive research and over one hundred and fifty interviews conducted for the author’s upcoming feature documentary, And Crown Thy Good: Varian Fry in Marseille, this account of the mission will lead naturally enough to some fundamental questions about what we are to make of it, what still remains unknown, and whether the story is more than a mere footnote, however culturally significant, in the history of the Holocaust.

Continues here...


Americans Who Cared and why we should care about them

Varian Fry et le Centre américain de secours par Pierre Sauvage (in French)

On Mary Jayne Gold, with excerpts from her published memoir Crossroads Marseille 1940,
which chronicles her participation in the rescue effort

Oh You Must Not Peek Under My Sunbonnet,
the first peek at Mary Jayne Gold's delightful, still unpublished memoir of her early years

Tribute to Miriam Davenport Ebel,
Varian Fry's close aide who died September 13, 1999, at the age of 84
An Unsentimental Education, Miriam Davenport Ebel's memoir of 1940

The swashbuckling Charles Fernley Fawcett

The Indomitable Lisa Fittko

A Hero Of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry, a biography (2001) by Sheila Isenberg

A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry, a biography (1999) by Andy Marino
Interview with Andy Marino

Some of the 2,000 people helped...

Officers of the Emergency Rescue Committee

Crossroads Marseillethe movie project

Varian's War, 2001 Showtime movie, which purported to be about Varian Fry

Smithsonian magazine, March 2009: Bingham's List
This article, beginning with its misleading title, does not serve the memory of a good man
a letter to the editor was sent by Annette Riley Fry, Sylvia Fry-Severino, and Pierre Sauvage [pending]

World War II magazine, March 2008: Rescue Mission to Vichy:
American Varian Fry saved a generation of France's greatest artists from the Nazis


The following need to be updated...

Chambon Foundation presentations

Other Varian Fry-Related Resources and Internet Links

Varian Fry Exhibit

Internet Links on righteous Gentiles

America and the Holocaust—a few recommendations

Varian Fry Photo Gallery [pending]

On-line video clips [pending]


The Varian Fry Institute is sponsored by the Chambon Foundation
Pierre Sauvage, President (contact information)


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