Varian Fry at work on the street in Marseilles, c. 1940-41.
Photo courtesy of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

The Varian Fry Foundation Project/IRC. . .

An educational project of the International Rescue Committee, New York


The purpose of the Varian Fry Foundation Project/IRC is to make the Varian Fry story more widely known in this country, particularly among high-school and college students.

On February 2, 1996, Secretary of State Warren Christopher planted a tree at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Park in Israel for Varian Fry, the first American ever to be awarded the "Certificate of Honor" and the ``Righteous among Nations'' medal by Yad Vashem. In July 1996, the Secretary of State again honored Fry at an exhibit on Capitol Hill about Fry's mission , attended by Representatives Alcee Hastings, Ben Gilman, Tom Lantos, John Porter and many others.

In 1940, Varian Fry volunteered to go to France for the Emergency Rescue Committee (forerunner of the International Rescue Committee) which had been set up shortly after the fall of France to rescue intellectuals and others hunted by the Nazis in Vichy zone. Although Fry came to France with lists of only 200 names, he was approached by thousands of refugees to help them evade the Gestapo. At that time, the Gestapo could ask the Vichy government to ``surrender on demand'' any non-French person, who would then frequently face deportation to concentration camps.

In a period of thirteen months, Varian Fry managed, mainly through illegal means and always facing possible arrest, to save or help thousands of refugees. Among these were famous persons, such as the painters Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, and Wilfred Lam; the sculptor Jaques Lipchitz; the writers Franz Werfel and Hans Habe; the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska; Spain's leading Catholic philosopher Alfredo Mendizabel; Hannah Arendt, political scientist; Fritz Kahn, medical authority; Jaques Hadamard, called the ``Einstein of France''; and Otto Meyerhof, Nobel-Prize winning biochemist. Unfortunately, there were many famous persons who could not be saved.

On account of his activities, Fry was pursued by the Vichy authorities and was arrested and detained. Soon thereafter, American consular representatives refused to renew his passport. In September 1941, he was expelled from France and forced to return to the United States. In 1945, he published a book about his experiences (Surrender on Demand). He passed away in 1967 without ever receiving any recognition for his work from his own government.

In 1996 he was awarded the "Certificate of Honor" and the "Righteous among Nations" medal in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who declared on that occasion: "We owe Varian Fry our deepest gratitude, but we also owe him a promise - a promise never to forget the horrors that he struggled against so heroically, a promise to do whatever is necessary to ensure that such horrors never happen again." This sentence encapsulates the motivation of the Varian Fry Foundation; to make his story as widely known as possible, the story of an American hero whose example can be emulated by us and by future generations.


A "Varian Fry kit" has been mailed at no cost to the principals of all 35,000 secondary schools in the U.S.A. The kit consists of a short video film about Fry's work in France (see Resources, Documentary Videos), study and resource guides, and a copy of Fry's book "Assignment:Rescue," suitable for student reading. For more information about the kit, see and click on LESSON PLANS AND CURRICULA. Look at "Assignment: Rescue" and "Rescued from the Holocaust."

As long as the supply lasts, the kit can be obtained by mailing a check for $5.00 to the Varian Fry Foundation Project/IRC (see Contact Information).

The Varian Fry Foundation Project is loaning to interested venues copies of documents from its archives related to the escape from Vichy France by Walter Meyerhof with the help of Varian Fry. Please address inquiries to the Project (see contact info).


The College Initiative of the Project is directed by Professor Justus Rosenberg of Bard College, New York. Colleges and other institutions of higher learning can obtain a higher level educational kit at minimum cost by sending an e-mail to or by calling (845) 758-4149. Inquiries about the availability of speakers and background materials can be made in the same manner.


The Varian Foundation Project/IRC is affiliated with the Association Varian Fry - France which was founded in Marseilles in October 1999.


The Foundation was funded initially by a gift from a donor who escaped from France in 1940/41 thanks to Varian Fry's help. Contributions are welcomed.


The Foundation, an educational project of the International Rescue Committee, is afforded guidance by an Advisory Board whose membership is honorary. The ongoing program of the Foundation is approved by a Committee of Advisers, between 6 and 8 persons, evenly divided between those who have already been professionally involved in furthering Varian Fry's story and those who have a committed interest in participating. A Committee of Experts, comprised of individuals formerly connected with Fry, has been formed so that their experiences may be drawn upon.

Present Membership of the Advisory Board

Hon. Warren Christopher, former Secretary of State, Honorary Member
Hon. Benjamin Gilman, Member of Congress, Honorary Member
Hon. Alcee Hastings, Member of Congress, Honorary Member
Hon. John Porter, Member of Congress, Honorary Member
Mrs. Annette Lantos, Honorary Member



Professor Justus Rosenberg
Division of Languages and Literature, Bard College,
Project Co-Director


Kit website:

Last updated October 26, 2008

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