Savior of Thousands of Jews Honored Posthumously

Varian Fry, an American journalist responsible for aiding thousands of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, was honored posthumously.

Rachel Hirshfeld ,

Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) posthumously honored Varian Fry, an American journalist responsible for aiding thousands of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust, with the ADL Jan Karski 'Courage to Care' Award.

The award was presented posthumously to Fry on February 8 during the League’s National Executive Committee Meeting in Palm Beach, Florida, where it was accepted on behalf of the family by his son, James Fry.

“Varian Fry stood up to say ‘no’.  Others did too, but too few,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor. “And we know that whenever and wherever good people stood up to say 'no,' Jews lived, Catholics lived, and other lived.  Imagine what would have happened if there were more people like Varian Fry.”

Varian Fry organized mass rescue efforts together with a group of American expatriates, French nationals and other refugees by obtaining foreign visas and passports.  Through the coordination of hired guides, smuggling routes were created, and over a 13-month period Fry was able to aid close to 4,000 refugees.  He facilitated the escape of close to 2,000 individuals targeted by the German Gestapo, including such distinguished artists and intellectuals as Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Hannah Arendt and Heinrich Mann.

Fry’s activities became difficult to keep secret and he was eventually expelled from France in 1941.  In 1994, the State of Israel bestowed the title of Righteous Among the Nations for Fry’s remarkable rescue efforts.

“This award does cause a mix of emotions for me,” his son, James, said in accepting the award on his father’s behalf.  “I regret that he couldn’t be here, and that he didn’t obtain much recognition in his lifetime.  … My father loved to fight battles. This was a very useful trait for his time in Marseilles, because he was facing an enormous evil, a black and white choice, a clear danger even to himself.”

The ADL 'Courage to Care' Award is named in honor of one of its first recipients, Jan Karski, a Polish diplomat and righteous Gentile who provided the West with one of the first eyewitness accounts of Hitler’s Final Solution. It is made possible through a generous grant from Eileen Ludwig-Greenland.

The award was presented in the form of a plaque with bas-reliefs that was designed by noted sculptor Arbit Blatas and depicts the horrifying context – the Nazis’ persecution, deportation and murder of millions of Jews – that served as a backdrop for the rescuers’ exceptional deeds.