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Varian Fry

And Crown Thy Good

                                       Varian Fry in Marseille

the story of the most successful private American-led
rescue effort during World War II

an upcoming documentary by Pierre Sauvage
Varian Fry Institute / Chambon Foundation production


New York Post, 1941 U. S. Consulate in Marseille, France, in 1940

                                                                                                                                U.S. Consulate, Marseille, France, 1940 (photo by Dr. Hans Cahnmann)

The Holocaust did not just happen there—the Holocaust happened wherever it was allowed to happen. The Holocaust happened in the United States too. Until mid-1941, Nazi policy towards the Jews had been one of persecution, theft, expulsion. The problem then wasn’t getting out—it was getting in.

Throughout the ‘30s, many of Hitler’s most prominent or determined opponents—among them non-Jewish artists, intellectuals, political figures—had found refuge in Paris. When France too fell to the Nazis in the summer of 1940, many of these exiles fled south. As the collaborationist Vichy regime turned on the Jews and the refugees, Marseille, the bustling, colorful port on the Mediterranean, became the real Casablanca.

A few Americans too found their way to Marseille: an ornery, dapper New York intellectual named Varian Fry; Mary Jayne Gold, a beautiful heiress who takes on a gangster lover; Miriam Davenport, a scholarly female art student; Charles Fawcett, an adventurer from South Carolina always on the look-out for a good cause... Under Fry’s leadership, banding together with others—early French opponents to Vichy, Jewish and non-Jewish refugees from the Third Reich—this tiny group set out to save a culture.

Ultimately, the most successful private American-led rescue operation of World War II, Fry’s mission helped save some 2,000 people.  Among them were such major figures as Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Jacques Lipchitz, Hannah Arendt, Heinrich Mann, Franz Werfel, Alma Mahler Werfel…  Varian Fry posthumously became the only American honored as a Righteous Gentile by Israel’s Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust.

And Crown Thy Good is the long overdue American documentary account of these efforts and why they matter.  Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Pierre Sauvage comes to the project with extensive preparation and a long friendship with many of the principals.  His parents, Jewish intellectuals, were among those who fled from Paris to Marseille and sought Fry’s help.  The Chambon Foundation's Varian Fry Institutewhich focuses on the American experience of the Holocaustis a major depository of Fry-related materials, including Fry’s original negatives from that time and the collections of key Fry aides Miriam Davenport Ebel and Mary Jayne Gold, as well as materials from the Annette Riley Fry collection. 

Later in the Occupation, the filmmaker’s family was sheltered by a small village in the mountains in France, Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, as he recounted in the highly acclaimed 1989 feature documentary Weapons of the Spirit. A theatrical release and a PBS broadcast hosted by Bill Moyers, the film is now, in both its full-length version and the abridged classroom version, a widely used teaching tool about human nature and the Holocaust.

Weapons of the Spirit was about one unique Christian response to the Holocaust. And Crown Thy Good will be about one unique American response to the growing crisis in Europe. Like all such stories of rescue, it will underscore what it was possible to know and do.

And Crown Thy GoodDetails

America the Beautiful—do you know the other verses?

Crossroads Marseille—the movie

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© Copyright 2006. Chambon Foundation. All rights reserved.                    Revised: May 20, 2010