On August 4, 1940, an unassuming American journalist named Varian Fry made his way to Marseilles, France, carrying in his pockets the names of approximately two hundred artists and intellectuals – all enemies of the new Nazi regime. As a volunteer for the Emergency Rescue Committee, Fry’s mission was to help these refugees flee to safety, then return home two weeks later. As more and more people came to him for assistance, however, he realized the situation was far worse than anyone in America had suspected – and his role far greater than he had imagined. He remained in France for over a year, refusing to leave until he was forcibly evicted.
At a time when most Americans ignored the atrocities in Europe, Varian Fry engaged in covert operations, putting himself in great danger, to save strangers in a foreign land. He was instrumental in the rescue of over two thousand refugees, including the novelist Heinrich Mann and the artist Marc Chagall.
This book provides the warts-and-all story of a man dedicated to helping citizens whom Adolf Hitler marked for death sneak out of Nazi-occupied France. McClafferty takes a fascinating, in-depth look at journalist Varian Fry's operation as he worked beneath the noses of the Gestapo to bring people to safety. Fry was so committed to the cause that he continued his work without the support of the American government to the point of quarreling with his lout of a replacement. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt even writes to Fry's wife that her husband will have to return to the U.S. because "he has done things which the government feels it cannot stand behind.o There are many nail-biter moments, such as when a group comprised of mostly elderly refugees must traipse across the Pyrenees Mountains to safety or when Fry and his assistant take turns distracting a guard so they can hide incriminating paperwork. But McClafferty's most daring move, perhaps, is to show enough of Fry's personality that the reader is not entirely convinced that he was a likeable figure. At first, it can be irritating until one realizes that the author is honoring the truth by leaving emotion to history or up to the audience. By the end, readers are not sure that Fry was a great man, but they are clear that he did a very great thing. Reviewer: Matthew Weaver