Varian Fry in Marseille

  • Pierre Sauvage


In February 1941, in Marseille, France, an American wrote to his wife back in New York:

Among the people who have come into my office, or with whom I am in constant correspondence, are not only some of the greatest living authors, painters, sculptors of Europe… but also former cabinet ministers and even prime ministers of half a dozen countries. What a strange place Europe is when men like this are reduced to waiting patiently in the anteroom of a young American of no importance whatever.

Varian Fry, the young American, was 32 when he arrived in Marseille early in the morning of 14 August 1940 — only two months after France’s traumatizing defeat by the Nazis, and a full year and a half before Americans finally allowed themselves to get dragged into the war.


Mass Murder Rescue Effort Relief Work Consul General Refugee Crisis 
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    Interview with Mary Jayne Gold (Crown). Also, Mary Jayne Gold, Crossroads Marseilles 1940 (New York: Doubleday, 1980), p.xvi.Google Scholar
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    Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 2, 1933–1938, (New York: Viking, 1999), p.312, in a chapter entitled ‘A Silence Beyond Repair.’ If the Fry story is in large measure a story about Americans, the perplexing relationship that the crusading First Lady had with the Emergency Rescue Committee — and indeed with the later massacre of the Jews — is a piece of the puzzle that deserves far greater research and analysis than the shallow and mostly evasive treatment it has received to date. What is one to make of her astounding question to a Zionist in January 1943, at a time when everybody had a sense of what was happening to the Jews of Europe: ‘Why can’t Jews be members of a religious body but natives of the lands in which they live?’ (Letter to Dr. Joseph Dünner, reprinted in his The Republic of Israel: Its History and Its Promise [New York: Whittlesey House, 1950]). In 1952, providing a preface to the publication of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (New York: Doubleday, 1952), all Mrs. Roosevelt saw in the work was ‘one of the wisest and most moving commentaries on war.’ She also felt no need to make any reference to Anne Frank being Jewish.Google Scholar
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    A bizarre footnote to Fry’s stay in Marseille is the allegation put forward independently in the early 1960s by writers Victor Alexandrov and Marcel Wallenstein, and later repeated by Charles Wighton, that Adolf Eichmann met with Varian Fry in Marseille in 1940 thinking that Fry represented the American government (!) and wishing to negotiate the possibility of letting shiploads of Jews go to Madagascar, in return for $5,000 for each Jew and in the context of the attempt to reach a negotiated peace with Great Britain. Fry later denied that such an encounter or such discussions ever happened, even with Nazi officials other than Eichmann, and there is not a shred of credible evidence that they did. However, the notion of such a discussion taking place between German and American representatives in the summer or early fall of 1940 is not inherently absurd from a strictly political point-of-view, according to historian Yehuda Bauer, and given the good connections that Alexandrov and Wallenstein seem to have had with intelligence services — and the fact that they get some relatively obscure details right, though their accounts are riddled with absurdities — it would certainly be interesting to know how and why this completely forgotten story ever surfaced in the first place. See Victor Alexandrov, Six Millions de Morts: La Vie ďAdolf Eichmann (Paris, 1960);Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pierre Sauvage

There are no affiliations available

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