Partner with the Genealogical Society of Bergen County
Varian Fry, 1907-1967 Holocaust Hero
During 1940 and 1941, Varian Fry, a 32-year-old Harvard graduate working as an editor in New York, volunteered to take on the Emergency Rescue Committee's project to bring 200 specific political and intellectual refugees out of Nazi-controlled Vichy France to safety. While in Marseilles he realized the need to get many other people out of France and away from the Nazis. Unable to gain cooperation from the French government or the American Consulate, Fry established a clandestine operation by which some 2,000 artists, writers, philosophers, and their families - Jews and non-Jews alike - were spirited away to safety. Fry said, "I stayed because the refugees needed me. But it took courage, and courage is a quality that I hadn't previously been sure I possessed." Many of those rescued--including Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Arendt and Andre Breton--went on to make major contributions to intellectual culture in the United States and elsewhere. For more information about his work see the links below and the bibliography.
Recognition of Fry's extraordinary work on behalf of the refugees mostly came after his death. These honors include being named, in 1994, "Righteous Among Nations" by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. "Righteous Among Nations" are those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Many people worked with Fry in Marseille. Among them Martha and Waitsill Sharp, who were recognized as "Righteous Among Nations" in 2005.
Fry was born on October 15, 1907, in Harlem, New York City. In 1910, his parents, Arthur and Lillian Fry, moved to 25 Richmond Avenue, Ridgewood, NJ. They joined many others who were moving to Ridgewood at this time to take advantage of new housing, clean air, and the easy rail commute to New York City. Arthur Fry managed the office of Carlysle and Mellick, a stockbrokerage on Wall Street.According to Andy Marino's biography, As a child Fry enjoyed solitary pursuits, particularly reading and the natural world. He especially liked bird watching and once rescued an injured cedar waxwing. Fry's early school years were spent at the Monroe Street School (at the site of the present George Washington Middle School) and he "displayed an alert intelligence and showed a great facility for learning."
In 1917, at 9 years old, Varian and several of his friends had a bazaar to raise money for the Red Cross, to benefit the war effort. Attractions included an ice cream booth, a vaudeville show, and a fish pond. Fry joined the West Side Presbyterian Church on June 25, 1922, when he was 14. Also at that time he was enrolled in a private school where he prepared for examinations for entrance to Hotchkiss, a prestigious private school. When he reached Hotchkiss in 1922, he found that the hazing was intolerable and that his protest of it only targeted him for extra pain and humiliation. He left Hotchkiss at the end of 1924, refusing to return, and completed his high school education at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx.Throughout this time Fry was an avid reader and an eager student. By his graduation in 1926, he was on his way to reading and writing in six languages and scored in the top 10% on the Harvard entrance examinations. Although Fry's interests were now centered at Harvard and in New York City, his parents continued to live in Ridgewood until 1951. He wrote to his mother at the Richmond Street address when he was in France.
Honoring Fry in Ridgewood
November 3-December 16, 2001: The Committee to Honor Varian Fry sponsored a Holocaust Memorial Museum traveling exhibit about Fry. It was installed in the Library auditorium. Concurrent with the exhibit was a lecture series.
2002: A photograph of Fry with a description of his work is displayed on the 2nd level of the library.
2002: As a living memorial, the Varian Fry Humanitarian Scholarship was established and is awarded each year to a senior student at Ridgewood High School. The student is chosen based on demonstrated ability to recognize a need, and to step up and make a humanitarian difference as exemplified by Varian Fry's work.
June 26, 2005: Ridgewood dedicated a portion of South Monroe St. as Varian Fry Way. The dedication ceremony included addresses by Isi Canner, a man rescued by Fry, and William Bingham, the son of Hiram Bingham who aided Fry in his work in France.
October 16, 2007: The Ridgewood Post Office issued a special 30-day cancelation commemorating Fry's 100th birthday.
October 28, 2007: Ridgewood commemorated the 100th anniversary of Fry's birthday with the dedication of a plaque in his honor. The plaque is placed at the entrance to the Library patio. The occasion featured presentations by Nancy Blasberg, Assistant Library Director, Catherine Taub, Founder of the Committee to Honor Varian Fry, Isi Canner and Jeanette Berman, who were both rescued from France by Fry, Congressman Steve Rothman, Rosemary Sullivan, author of Villa Air-Bel, and Juan Opitz, independent film maker. Mary Ellen Murray, Ridgewood Postmaster canceled mail with a special cancelation commemorating the anniversary.
October 19, 2008: West Side Presbyterian Church dedicated a memorial picture of Fry and announced the addition of Varian Fry Way to the Church address. Robert Carey, Vice President of Resettlements for the International Rescue Committee spoke at the event.
Resources Available in the Ridgewood Public Library:
In 2005, Congressional Representative Steve Rothman (D-NJ, 9th District) and Senator Robert Mendendez, introduced resolutions in support of the stamp
Catherine Taub, 1948-2013:
Founder of the Committee to Honor Varian Fry
It was through Catherine's tireless efforts that Varian Fry's story is being told in the town where he grew up and he is permanently honored by the name of Varian Fry Way and the plaque outside the Library commemorating the 100th anniversary of his birth. Catherine's passion for the lessons of history, her ability to motivate others, and the hard work of carring out the myriad details of a project brought to life the legacy of Varian Fry.