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Varian FryA Hero Of Our Own:
The Story of Varian Fry

 a biography by Sheila Isenberg
Random House, 2001

From For the American Schindler, Writers and Artists First by Barry Gewen
New York Times Book Review, Nov. 25, 2001
Sheila Isenberg's book ''A Hero of Our Own'' helps rescue [Varian] Fry from obscurity. And with its stories of desperate exiles, menacing Nazis, forged documents and midnight escapes through the mountains, it reads at times like the script for some old Hollywood movie. Think Warner Brothers in the 1940's. Think ''Casablanca'' (even down to the transit visas for Portugal). All that's missing is Peter Lorre....
Full review

From Publishers Weekly, 2001
The only American to be honored at Yad Vashem (Israel's Holocaust Memorial), Fry saved the lives of thousands of refugees from the Nazis. Isenberg, a professor of English at Marist College (Women Who Love Men Who Kill), delivers a moving, workmanlike account of Fry's heroics. During the late '30s Fry, a Harvard-educated editor, journalist and teacher who was radicalized in 1935 when he witnessed Nazi troopers beating Jews in Berlin, wrote New York Times articles concerning the worsening situation in Europe, but didn't manage to increase public awareness. Under the auspices of the Emergency Rescue Committee, an organization of leftist journalists, religious leaders and activists, Fry traveled to Marseilles in August 1940 with $3,000 and a list of refugees, primarily Jewish, stuck in Vichy France, without money or visas. Isenberg details how, under cover of a humanitarian relief center, Fry helped well-known figures such as Marc Chagall, André‚ Breton, Hannah Arendt and many lesser-known people sneak across borders and escape. But his evident na‹vet‚ and combative personality sometimes worked against him: mistakenly assuming that most Americans would support his efforts, he alienated officials in the American Embassy who were unsympathetic to the plight of Jews and was forced to return home after a year. Fry's later years were marked by unhappiness in his personal life (he divorced his first wife and had a tempestuous relationship with the second) and destructive political disagreements with former colleagues. Isenberg ably renders prewar and war-time public ignorance and apathy in America and the extraordinary heroism of the sole volunteer for a dangerous rescue mission....Forecast: Fry was brought to public attention by a Showtime movie last April starring William Hurt. Fry remains somewhat elusive here, but he is a dynamic character and this vivid telling of his story, which the author will promote in New York, should sell well if it is widely reviewed.
© 2001, Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Review by Hazel Rochman
Booklist, the review journal of the American Library Association, 2001
Varian Fry, the only American honored at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, played a crucial role in rescuing more than 1,000 European refugees from the Nazis in the early 1940s. With his Emergency Rescue Committee, Fry rescued Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Hannah Arendt, Heinrich Mann, and other intellectuals, political activists, and what the Nazis called "degenerative" artists, many of them Jews. Yet, up until the late 1990s, few in this country had heard of Fry. This highly readable biography tells the exciting escape stories of the underground railroad he organized to lead refugees from southern France across the Pyrenees to freedom. Isenberg sets the rescue story against the background of American isolationism and anti-Semitism at the time, documenting her dramatic narrative with more than 70 pages of fascinating notes, including references to letters, interviews, personal papers, and government reports. The drama here is in the thrill of rescue, the realistic portrait of a complex leader, and the decidedly nonheroic truths about WWII at home. 

Richard Holbrooke's blurb on the back cover
"The story of Varian Fry is important on many levels, historical and personal. Skillfully evoking a crucial moment in recent history, Sheila Isenberg tells the compelling and dramatic story of how an ordinary person, thrust into a situation of extreme danger, did extraordinary things for one year in wartime France, then drifted almost lost through the rest of his own life. It is also a story of institutionalized bureaucratic stupidity that must never be forgotten so that it is never repeated."
N.B.  Varian Fry was no "ordinary person."  And this is not a mere story of "institutionalized bureaucratic stupidity."


Sheila Isenberg, a teacher at Marist College, is the author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, and coauthored My Life as a Radical Lawyer with William M. Kunstler.

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