For many years, American born Varian Fry was an unsung hero of Holocaust history, who only very late received the commendation he deserved. Unlike Oskar Schindler, Fry never received any benefit for his efforts. Rather his work was motivated purely by a concern for justice and sympathy for the oppressed. 

Born to a well-to-do family in New Jersey, Varian Fry attended Harvard University and founded a literary magazine while there. After graduating, he took a position as a foreign correspondent for an American journal called The Living Age. It was through his work with the journal that Fry was stationed in Germany, where he witnessed the mistreatment of Jews by the Nazis. It was 1935, and Fry was so moved by what he saw that he dedicated himself to fighting this injustice.

Over the following years, Fry became increasingly involved in the cause and eventually founded the Emergency Rescue Committee in 1940. Although U.S. immigration policies had been generally unfriendly to refugees of the Nazis, the ERC enjoyed strong support from many influential figures including Eleanor Roosevelt and Upton Sinclair among others.

Fry was especially concerned with the condition in Vichy France, and traveled to Marseille on behalf of the ERC. Over the following thirteen months, Varian Fry facilitated the rescue of more than 2,000 people in Vichy France. Through his efforts, and with the assistance of consular officials Hiram Bingham IV and Myles Standish, many of Europe’s best-known intellectuals and artists escaped death. Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Franz Werfel, Otto Meyerhof, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Heinrich Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger, Alma Mahler-Werfel, and many others owed their lives to Varian Fry. 

The United States government however, was not happy about Fry's activities. At great personal risk, Fry had forged documents, contacted the mob, and bribed border guards to smuggle his people to Portugal. And while the Vichy government initially turned a blind eye, Fry was eventually arrested and deported in 1941. He continued to argue vociferously against the U.S. government's immigration policies, and later published a book about his time in France. 

But unlike Schindler, Fry was never celebrated for his efforts. In fact, it was not until 1994 that Yad Vashem recognized Varian Fry as the first American to be listed as "Righteous Among the Nations."