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Fascinating account of a little-known hero of WWII
on January 17, 2012
Millions of people know the name of Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved many Jews from the Holocaust by employing them in his factories. There were many others who also saved Jewish lives, but few of them have had big budget, award-winning films made about them. Varian Fry, an American, is one of those rescuers whose name has largely faded into obscurity.
Thanks to author Dara Horn for writing a short, engrossing story about Varian Fry. In 1940, France fell to the Germans. By this time, many of Europe's Jewish cultural elite had fled to southern France, which was ruled by the collaborationist Vichy government. A young American idealist, Varian Fry, volunteered to go to France on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee to rescue the "guiding lights of Western civilization." Over the next year, Fry helped about 2,000 of Europe's leading Jewish artists, writers, musicians, philosophers, and scientists escape from the Germans.
But what made The Rescuer notable was not just the brief, but fascinating, biography of Varian Fry and his role in saving European Jews, but Ms. Horn's persistence in asking difficult questions. Questions like "Why do some people willingly go in harm's way to save others whose lives are in danger?" The answer, as Ms. Horn found, isn't at all obvious, nor is there any consensus opinion. In the case of the Holocaust, Ms. Horn points out that the real story--and a painful one--is that thousands were saved, but millions were lost due to the world's inaction as nations tried to accommodate and compromise with the Nazis, while closing their eyes to the plight of the European Jews. Does that devalue the rescuers' accomplishments?
The anecdotes about Fry, members of his volunteer staff, and some of their "clients" were especially intriguing. One of my favorites was the well known woman refugee who showed up with seventeen pieces of luggage, all of which she insisted were essential, knowing that she had to face the grueling trek across the Pyrenees into Spain.
The Rescuer is a short book, with 745 Kindle locations. Lending and Text-to-Speech are enabled.