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Varian Fry Exhibit comes to Dallas

By Kurt Hubler, KERA 90.1 Reporter

Dallas, TX – Kurt Hubler, KERA 90.1 Reporter: Varian Fry was born in New York City in 1907 and studied history and international affairs at both Harvard and Columbia. A journalist by trade, Fry was offered a position with a European affairs magazine, ?The Living Age,? and traveled to Europe in 1935. In Berlin, he witnessed the growing animosity directed at Germany?s Jewish population. After returning to the States, Fry dedicated himself to raising public awareness of the injustices taking place and joined the American Friends for German Freedom. In 1940, the group sent him to Marseilles in southern France, which was under control of the puppet Vichy government. Initially, Fry was commissioned to assist a small group of anti-Fascists, but as the University of Colorado?s Nancy Thomas Brown explains, once he arrived at the port city, he realized countless others were also in fear for their lives.

Nancy Thomas Brown, Doctoral Candidate in History, University of Colorado: He thought he would be riding a bicycle across the countryside of France, handing out these 200 visas. And when he showed up at the Hotel Splendide in Marseilles, thousands showed up at his hotel room. He had no idea of the magnitude of the problem until he got there.

Hubler: Seventeen photographs make up ?Assignment Rescue? that show how Fry and his staff forged documents to get refugees past checkpoints as they made their way along the safest route across the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and Portugal. There are also pictures of the Marseilles Fry experienced, and Paris under Hitler?s control. It may seem tame compared to other Holocaust exhibits, but as concentration camp survivor Max Globin stared at a photo of a French market, it stirs images he will never forget.

Max Globin, Holocaust survivor: Looking over here, it reminds me of a Kristallnacht type of a deal with the police standing there and people breaking the glass, which visually isn?t shown in the picture, but it would give me a flashback of that.

Hubler: Fry planned to be in France for just three weeks, but extended his stay for another thirteen months before being deported. He also expanded his original list of rescue subjects from 200 to more than 2000, the most notable of whom were artists like Max Ernst and Marc Chagall. Michele Regine, herself an artist and Holocaust survivor, believes Hitler felt threatened by creative people.

Michele Regine, Holocaust survivor: I think artists are always on the edge of anarchy because they?re always breaking rules. The aspect of an artist transcends from the everyday to the higher realms and so they see maybe more clearly, freedom is part of their aspect.

Hubler: Even after his deportation, Fry?s staff continued to help an additional 300 refugees escape France until the Nazis completed their occupation of the country in 1942. In 1945, Fry published a book about his experiences, but it received little notice. After the war, State Department records criticized him for working against U.S. policy, which had been friendly towards the Vichy government. This stymied his aspirations of working for the U.S. government in the 1950?s. Frieda Sobel, Executive Director of Dallas? Holocaust Memorial Center, which is co-sponsoring the exhibit, says ?Assignment Rescue? introduces the public to an American all can be proud of.

Frieda Sobel, Executive Director, Dallas Holocaust Memorial Center: He was the only American to be honored by Yad Vashem, Israel?s Holocaust authority, as ?Righteous Among the Nations.? And he was truly a hero, risked his life, his safety, and really was not recognized for his heroic acts until very late.

Hubler: Shortly before his death in 1967, Varian Fry was honored by the French government for his efforts, but that was the only national recognition he received during his lifetime. ?Assignment Rescue? is on display at the Biblical Arts Center until March 3rd. For KERA, 90.1, I?m Kurt Hubler.