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Assignment: Rescue, The Story of Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee, April 1993
Courtesy United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Photograph: Ed Owen
This project was originally organized by and presented at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

When it was learned that the armistice that France made with Germany in June 1940 contained a clause providing for the "surrender on demand" of German refugees, Varian Fry, a young editor from New York, was sent to Marseilles, France, as the representative of a private American relief committee. Working day and night, often in opposition to French and even obstructionist American authorities, Fry assembled an unlikely band of associates and constructed a clandestine rescue network.



Andre Breton Writing Fata Morgana at the Villa Air Bel Library, Winter 1940-41
Collection Varian Fry Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University
Photograph credit: Varian Fry
Photo Courtesy Varian Fry Papers, Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Columbia University/Friends of Le Chambon

The intensity of Fry's work began to take its toll. When several of his colleagues decided to rent the Villa Air Bel on the outskirts of Marseilles, Fry seized the opportunity to move in. Many Surrealist artists and their families who were waiting to receive visas formed the group of residents. There they created a number of significant artistic and literary works, including Andre Breton's Fata Morgana, illustrated by Wifredo Lam.



Varian Fry with Marc and Bella Chagall and Hiram Bingham, American Vice-Consul, Outside Chagall's Studio, Gordes, France, 1941
Cynthia Jaffee McCabe Papers, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Following the instructions of Alfred Barr, the director of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Fry contacted several well-known artists including Marc Chagall, who was in particular danger because of the German anti-Jewish laws. Fry visited Chagall several times at his studio in Gordes; and although he did finally convince Chagall and his wife to flee France, Fry found Chagall, like most artists he encountered, extremely reluctant to leave.



Nighttime Meeting of Staff to Review Refugee Client Needs, rue Grignan, Fall 1940
Collection Varian Fry Papers, Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Columbia University
Photograph: Varian Fry
Photo Courtesy Varian Fry Papers, Rare Books and Manuscript Library, Columbia University/Friends of Le Chambon

In the fall of 1940, Fry established the Centre AmÈricain de Secours, a legal relief committee that served as a cover for his clandestine rescue activities. His staff was composed of European refugees, French citizens, and American expatriots. Only a handful of them knew of the secret work that went on after the relief center closed at the end of the business day. This photograph by Varian Fry documents the secret meetings.



Lipchitz, Jacques
Embracing Figures, 1941

Watercolor on paper; 12 1/8 x 9 1/2 in; 30.8 x 24.1 cm
Collection of Annette R. Fry
Photograph: John Parnell, for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Fry was instrumental in enabling Lipchitz to escape from Vichy France. After Lipchitz was relocated to New York, he renewed his friendship with Fry after Fry's return from Europe. Embracing Figures was given to Fry as a gift in 1951 around the time of his wedding. On January 5, 1952, a terrible fire at Lipchitz's studio claimed most of the artist's work, and Varian Fry and his wife were thankful that this work by Lipchitz was spared. The definitive outline of the figure's contour and implied volume through modulation of light and shadow suggests that the drawing might have been a study for a sculpture.


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