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Varian Fry

Okaloosa-Walton College in Niceville, Fla., will host two traveling exhibits from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum this month, both dealing with the subject of Righteous Gentiles during the Holocaust.

“Varian Fry, Assignment: Rescue, 1940-1941” and “Oskar Schindler: An Unlikely Hero” will be on display from Jan. 15 to Feb. 25 at the College Arts Center galleries.

An opening lecture is scheduled for Jan. 14 at 1 p.m., in room J328, followed by a reception and preview of the exhibits.

The galleries are open Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

“Varian Fry” chronicles the efforts of Fry to help political and intellectual refugees escape Nazi-controlled Vichy France in 1940 and 1941. An urbane Harvard graduate working as an editor in New York, Fry volunteered for the Emergency Rescue Committee’s project to bring 200 individuals from the French port city of Marseille to safety. Unable to gain cooperation from the French government or the American Consulate in Marseille, Fry established a clandestine operation by which artists, writers, philosophers, and their families — Jews and non-Jews alike — were spirited away to safety.

Fry’s activities angered both the French and the U.S. State Department, but by the time the French expelled him in September 1941, he and his colleagues had managed to save some 2,000 refugees, including Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, Hannah Arendt, and Andre Breton.

When Fry returned to New York, he recounted his story, but few listened. Fry died unexpectedly in 1967 with the pages of his memoirs scattered about him; the police officer who discovered them dismissed them as an apparent "work of fiction."

Shortly before Fry's death, the French government awarded him the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. It was the only official recognition he received in his lifetime. Not until 1991 did an American institution recognize Fry’s work when the United States Holocaust Memorial Council posthumously awarded him its Eisenhower Liberation Medal.

In 1994, Yad Vashem honored Varian Fry as the first American "Righteous Among the Nations."

Oskar Schindler’s transformation from Nazi war profiteer to protector of Jews is the subject of several documentaries, the best-selling novel “Schindler’s List” by Thomas Keneally, and an Academy award-winning film directed by Steven Spielberg.

An ethnic German living in Moravia, Czechoslovakia, he joined the Nazi party in 1939. In the wake of the German invasion of Poland, Schindler went to Krakow. He assumed responsibility for the operation of two formerly Jewish-owned manufacturers of enamel kitchenware and then established his own enamel works in Zablocie, outside Krakow. Through army contracts and the exploitation of cheap labor from the Krakow ghetto, he amassed a fortune. Dealing on the black market, he lived in high style.

In 1942 and early 1943, the Germans decimated the ghetto’s population of some 20,000 Jews through shootings and deportations. Several thousand Jews who survived the ghetto’s liquidation were taken to Plaszow, a forced labor camp run by the sadistic SS commandant Amon Leopold Goeth. Moved by the cruelties he witnessed, Schindler contrived to transfer his Jewish workers to barracks at his factory.

In late summer 1944, through negotiations and bribes from his war profits, Schindler secured permission from German army and SS officers to move his workers and other endangered Jews to Bruennlitz, near his hometown of Zwittau. Each of these Jews was placed on "Schindler’s List." Schindler and his workforce set up a bogus munitions factory, which sustained them in relative safety until the war ended.


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