Biographical Information:
Dates: 1907-1967
Dates in Ridgefield: 1956-

journalist, editor, author, educator, volunteer agent for the World Rescue Committee during World War II

Varian Fry, called the American Schindler, was an American journalist. Educated at Hotchkiss and Harvard University, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the American journal, The Living Age, visiting Berlin in 1935. There he was galvanized by the savage treatment of Jews by Nazis, and he wanted to help. As a volunteer agent for the World Rescue Committee—formed to help persons in danger of extradition to Germany to flee the Nazis—he went to Marseilles in 1940, sneaking out countless Jews and others wanted by the Nazis. A non-Jew, he saved approximately 2,000 people—mostly artists, musicians, writers, and scholars, such as Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Arthur Koestler, and Wanda Landowska—by smuggling them across the Spanish border. His exploits, and his lack of support from the U.S. government, which helped to get him expelled from France in 1941, are detailed in his 1945 book, Surrender on Demand. In 1956, he purchased a house on Olmstead Lane—later moving to Farmingville—in Ridgefield, and taught graduate courses at Fairfield University and Latin and ancient Greek at Ridgefield High School. He also taught creative writing at City College. When he lived in Ridgefield, he rarely talked about World War II, much less his part in it. He was more likely to chat about his irises or perhaps the state of classics instruction at Ridgefield High School. But by the late 1990s, 20 years after his death in 1967, Mr. Fry was being recognized around the world as one of the unsung heroes of the war. Among the honors bestowed on him were the French Legion of Honor in 1960; posthumously, honorary Israeli citizenship in 1968. In 1995, he became the first, and only, United States citizen to receive the Righteous Among the Nations Award, presented to gentiles who saved Jews, in Israel’s National Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem. Varian’s War, a made-for-TV film starring William Hurt, which chronicled Fry’s war experiences, was released in 2001.

Titles:
Surrender on Demand, 1945
Assignment Rescue: An Autobiography, 1968 (published posthumously)

–Sources: Notable Ridgefielders–Jack Sanders; A Hero of Our Own: The Story of Varian Fry, 2005, by Sheila Isenberg; Wikipedia. See also www.varianfry.org, www.columbia.edu/cu,and www.writing.upenn.edu