Museum Fellowship Book Reviews

 
 

book cover used by permission of Scholastic PressAssignment: Rescue: An Autobiography
Varian Fry
New York: Scholastic, 1992

Reviewed by:
Kristin Thompson

Redwood Valley Middle School
Redwood Falls, Minnesota

 
 

This is the amazing story of one brave, heroic man named Varian Fry and his efforts to rescue the people whose names appeared on Hitler's list. It was 1940 and the United States had not yet entered the war. However, individual Americans were risking their lives to help those in Europe.

In June of 1940 the German army overran France. France's new government had signed an armistice with Hitler and as part of that agreement Article 19 was established. The article stated that the French government was to deliver any non-French citizens living on French soil to the Germans. Stopping Article 19 from being carried out was to become Varian Fry's mission.

"A group of men and women in New York, shocked by the news of this armistice, got together and formed the Emergency Rescue Committee. Its purpose: to get the artists, writers, musicians, scientists, professors, political figures - men and women whose works and words had made them enemies of the Third Reich- out of France before they were seized by the Gestapo." (p.3) Finding the right person to send to France as an agent proved to be a difficult task. Finally the committee settled on Fry. In August of 1940 he flew to Lisbon with a list of names in his pocket. From there he would make his headquarters in Marseilles. He was to be in Europe for one month and try to save as many people on the list as possible.

Fry wrote about his mission as soon as he returned home. It makes for a fascinating story partly because it is told in the moment as events unfolded around him. It is also fascinating because of the highs and lows Fry and his committee experienced as some were saved and others, sadly, were not. In the end, Fry had spent thirteen months in Europe and saved two to three thousand men and women from the Nazi's and their concentration camps. 

It seems tragic that the history books in schools throughout the nation have forgotten this man and his heroic efforts. His book serves as an example of how one person can truly make a difference in this world; how one person can impact the lives of so many around him. 

Dr. Albert O. Hirschman said it best. He worked with Varian Fry in France, later became a professor at Princeton University, and wrote the introduction to Fry's book. He wrote, "For many years after the war, the staggering achievements of Varian Fry were largely unrecognized in his own country. His death in 1967 (he was only fifty-nine) went almost unnoticed, except for close friends and family. Belatedly, he is now honored for what he was: 'a hero for our time.'" (p.viii)

 

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