In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry

In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry

by Carla Killough McClafferty

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On August 4, 1940, an unassuming American journalist named Varian Fry made his way to Marseilles, France, carrying in his pockets the names of approximately two hundred artists and intellectuals – all enemies of the new Nazi regime. As a volunteer for the Emergency Rescue Committee, Fry's mission was to help these refugees flee to safety, then return home two weeks later. As more and more people came to him for assistance, however, he realized the situation was far worse than anyone in America had suspected – and his role far greater than he had imagined. He remained in France for over a year, refusing to leave until he was forcibly evicted.

At a time when most Americans ignored the World War II atrocities in Europe, Varian Fry engaged in covert operations, putting himself in great danger, to save strangers in a foreign land. He was instrumental in the rescue of over two thousand refugees, including the novelist Heinrich Mann and the artist Marc Chagall.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466868458
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 04/22/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 874,692
File size: 3 MB
Age Range: 11 - 16 Years

About the Author

CARLA KILLOUGH MCCLAFFERTY is the author of the acclaimed The Head Bone's Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky, and Wonderful X-ray and, most recently, Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium, an ALA Best Book, among other honors. She lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

Carla Killough McClafferty grew up on an agricultural farm near England, Arkansas. “My elementary school didn’t even have a library. Bookshelves underneath the windows that spanned one side of each classroom were the substitutes. To this day, libraries inspire me with awe and appreciation. I always loved to read, but it never occurred to me as a child that I would become a writer. As a matter of fact, I have no background or training to be a writer.

“After high school I graduated from Baptist Medical Center School of Radiologic Technology in Little Rock, then worked in local hospitals. After my children were born, I was a stay-at-home mom except for occasional freelance work as a radiologic technologist in orthopedic clinics.

“I began writing after the death of my fourteen-month-old son, Corey, which left me struggling to answer impossible questions like ‘Why did this have to happen?’ I wrote a book about how God brought me through this difficult period in my life titled Forgiving God (Discovery House, 1995). I found through that experience that I loved to write and have been writing ever since.”

Ms. McClafferty’s first book of nonfiction for children is The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky, and Wonderful X-ray. Through an engaging text and numerous photographs, McClafferty tells the history of the X-ray, from its discovery to its applications today, covering such things as the use of X-rays to study art, Egyptian mummies, astronomy, and paleontology, just to name a few. In manuscript form, The Head Bone’s Connected to the Neck Bone: The Weird, Wacky, and Wonderful X-ray won the 1997 Work-in-Progress Grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

In Something Out of Nothing: Marie Curie and Radium, Ms. McClafferty gives the scientist’s life and work a fresh telling, one that also explores the larger picture of the effects of radium in world culture, and its exploitation and sad misuse. Kirkus Reviews says the book “gives readers a terrific sense of Curie’s state of mind as she worked and loved. There are many biographies of Curie; this one stands out in its shared focus on her discovery and its legacy.”

Ms. McClafferty is a frequent speaker at church, writers’, teachers’ and school groups. She lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas, with her husband Pat. They have three children, Ryan, Brittney and the late Corey McClafferty.

Read an Excerpt

In Defiance of Hitler

The Secret Mission of Varian Fry

By Carla Killough McClafferty

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1945 Varian Fry
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-6845-8




Varian Fry saw the mob. They gathered in front of the neat shops and cafés that lined Kurfürstendamm, one of Berlin's main streets. He heard singing in the distance. The melody was that of a German military song, but the words were chanted like a cheer at a ball game as more and more of the crowd joined in. A leader sang a line of the song, then the crowd repeated it.

Varian understood German well enough to realize the words meant:

When Jewish blood spurts from the knife,

Then everything will be fine again.

Somewhere in the crowd, someone yelled out "Jew." A pack of people surrounded the man who had been pointed out. They spit on the nameless "Jew," insulted him, and knocked him down onto the sidewalk. Once he was on the ground, the mob kicked him repeatedly, with sickening thuds. Then, from all directions, like a disease that spread, Varian heard "Jew," "Jew," "Jew." Each time a Jewish man or woman was pointed out, he or she was immediately set upon and beaten. The sound of sobbing women added to the chaos of shuffling feet and the repeating chorus of the military song. Then a new anti-Semitic chant rang out: "The best Jew is a dead Jew."

The mass of people on the street forced passing cars and buses to stop. If the occupants looked as if they might be Jewish, the crowd pulled them out and beat them. They pulled Jewish customers from cafés and attacked them. Everywhere Varian looked, Jewish people covered with blood ran down the street. Their pursuers were right behind them, hitting them with clubs and calling them names.

Members of the S.A., short for Sturmabteilung, the private Nazi army known as storm troopers, picked up tables and chairs from outside cafés and threw them through the windows of Jewish-owned shops.

Varian was horrified at what he was seeing.

"This is a holiday for us," a German youth said to Varian.

Varian was shocked when he realized that the people in the crowd were actually enjoying their brutal behavior. He looked at the people who made up the mob. They were German boys and girls, men and women, policemen and S.A. men, young and old, rich and poor. All sang and participated in the riot.

The scene Varian witnessed was seared into his memory.

The next morning, Varian walked down the once-charming street to survey the damage from the previous night. Shards of glass from broken shop windows littered the sidewalks and crunched beneath his feet. He passed several people who were bound with bandages.

Varian Fry had gone to Berlin to find out if the Germans were mistreating their own Jewish citizens. Ever since Adolf Hitler took over the government, rumors of abuse had spread throughout the world. As editor at The Living Age, a political journal, Varian wanted to see the situation for himself. Now he had no doubt. Germany had begun a reign of violence against Jews.

Hitler rose to power within the Nazi political party and was named Chancellor — the head of government — of Germany in 1933. The next year he added the title of der Führer, which means "the leader." As the supreme leader of Germany, Hitler became a dictator with unlimited power. Nothing happened in that country without his consent and approval.

Varian made an appointment with Ernst Hanfstaengl, who was chief of the Foreign Press Division of the Nazi Propaganda Ministry and a personal friend of Hitler's. Hanfstaengl — son of a German father and American mother — often entertained Hitler by playing classical music on the piano. Varian had never met Hanfstaengl, but they had one thing in common: they were both Harvard graduates.

Though their meeting took place in Berlin, Germany's capital, Hanfstaengl spoke to Varian in English. In his cultured accent, he calmly explained that the goal of the Nazi Party was to get rid of all the Jews in Europe and that there were two opinions about what to do with them. One group suggested that all Jews be rounded up and shipped out of Europe, maybe to Palestine or Madagascar. The other group, including Hitler, wanted to solve the "Jewish problem" by killing the Jews.

As Varian listened to Hanfstaengl, he was stunned. How could one group of people discuss the possibility of annihilating another group of people? It was such a horrible thought that Varian couldn't quite believe it. Yet he had witnessed the brutality of average Germans toward average Jews the day before. Right away, Varian wrote an article detailing this violence; it appeared in The New York Times the next day, July 17, 1935.

At the time, few people outside Germany understood the lengths to which Hitler was willing to go. Ever since he had come to power, Hitler had been steadily working toward taking away the rights of Jews in Germany.

Hitler believed in a racist theory that Germans belonged to a so-called Aryan race. In ancient times, Aryans were people who settled in northern India and spoke a language that became known as Indo-European. In the mid-1800s, Joseph-Arthur, comte de Gobineau, a wealthy Frenchman, wrote a book called Essay on the Inequality of Human Races. In it Gobineau suggested that the white race, which he referred to as the Aryan race, was superior to all others. Gobineau's ideas later influenced Houston Stewart Chamberlain, an Englishman with great admiration for Germany. In 1899 Chamberlain's book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century was published. He wrote that all positive influences in Europe came from "Aryans," all negative ones from other races, especially the Jews. Many people believe that Adolf Hitler was inspired by Chamberlain's views. Hitler was convinced that Germans were Aryans, making up a "master race" of Caucasian, non-Jewish people.

When Varian went back home to New York City, he and his wife, Eileen, closely followed the news from Nazi Germany. In September 1935, only a few weeks after Varian returned from Berlin, Germany passed the Nuremberg Laws. These laws took away the civil rights of Jewish people who lived in Germany. It didn't matter to Hitler that the families of these Jewish German citizens had lived there for centuries, or that many Jewish men were war veterans who'd fought for Germany during World War I. What mattered to Hitler was that they were Jews.

The Nuremberg Laws dictated that a "Jew" was anyone who had three or four Jewish grandparents. Suddenly all people considered Jewish were stripped of their German citizenship and segregated from other German citizens. From that point on, it was illegal for a Jew to marry a non-Jewish German. Jews were not permitted to display the German flag, own land, use the legal system, have national health insurance, serve in the military, or own a radio. Jews were forced out of their jobs as newspaper editors, doctors, and lawyers. Jewish teachers could not teach non-Jewish children. Jewish students could not attend a non-Jewish school. Jewish stores were boycotted by Germans. Books written by Jewish authors were publicly burned.

Taking away their rights was only the first phase of Hitler's plan to destroy Jews everywhere. Yet the Jews weren't the only group of people Hitler considered inferior. He intended to wipe out Gypsies, homosexuals, Freemasons (members of a secret society frequently opposed by organized religion), Jehovah's Witnesses (a religious sect who refused to vote, salute, or join the army), and disabled people as well. With Germany's army and air force trained to carry out his orders without hesitation, Hitler had the power to destroy countless people.

Hitler also wanted military domination over as much of Europe as possible. In 1938 Germany took over Austria and seized Czechoslovakia. The next year, with Germany's invasion of Poland, World War II began. In 1940 the Nazis invaded Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. All countries that came under Hitler's control were bound by Germany's anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws. As each country fell to Hitler, its Jewish citizens went from being a free and important part of society to having no rights at all. Nazi brutality was displayed again and again as German soldiers humiliated Jews on the streets of Europe.

Those who opposed Hitler and his Nazi Party became known as anti-Nazis. As Hitler's army took over a new country, the secret state police, the Geheime Staatspolizei, known as the Gestapo, moved in. The Gestapo would hunt down and kill every anti-Nazi they could find, including former government leaders, writers, artists, and scientists, as well as average citizens.

When the German army occupied a country, many Jews and anti-Nazis ran for their lives. They became refugees, people who flee to another country for safety. The refugees took with them only what they could carry in their hands, leaving behind all the material possessions they had accumulated in a lifetime.

Before France fell to the Germans, refugees from other countries headed there. In the past, France had always welcomed and protected refugees. The capital city, Paris, located in the northern part of the country, overflowed with them.

Varian Fry and all the rest of America listened to news reports as Nazi Germany methodically vanquished the European continent. At this time the United States was not involved in the war. America wouldn't enter the war until the empire of Japan, an ally of Germany, bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

In June 1940 the German army defeated the French. While the Nazis made their way toward Paris, the refugees who had gathered there had to run for their lives again. They were joined by French citizens who also wanted to get away before the Germans arrived. Many of the refugees headed for Marseilles, a busy port city on the Mediterranean Sea. It was as far from the German army as they could get. Countless people jammed the roads, traveling south through the French countryside in cars and wagons, on bicycles and on foot. Occasionally Nazi airplanes would fly over and shoot at the crowds.

When the victorious Germans arrived in the capital of France, their soldiers marched down the famous street the Champs-Elysées toward the Arc de Triomphe, a monument built to honor the victories of France under Emperor Napoleon I. Hitler posed for photographs with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Now that they controlled France, the Germans set up a center of government in the city of Vichy (VEE-SHEE). This new system was known as the Vichy government, a network of Frenchmen who collaborated with the Germans and did exactly as they were told. The official leader of the Vichy administration was eighty-four-year-old Philippe Pétain. On June 22, 1940, on behalf of the new Vichy government, Pétain signed an armistice agreement, a truce with the Germans.

Varian had then been working for three years as an author and editor of political books at the Foreign Policy Association's Headline Books in New York. He was alarmed when he read Article 19 of the armistice agreement, which said:

The French Government is obliged to surrender upon demand all Germans named by the German Government in France, as well as in French possessions, Colonies, Protectorate Territories and Mandates.

The French Government binds itself to prevent removal of German war and civil prisoners from France into French possessions or into foreign countries.

Article 19 was phrased politely, but Varian understood what the "surrender upon demand" section meant. The Vichy government agreed to turn over to the Germans anyone in France for whom the Nazis asked. Vichy also agreed to prevent prisoners from leaving France. By prisoners, the Germans meant anyone they wanted to arrest, including Jews and political enemies of Hitler. In effect, Article 19 empowered the Vichy government to keep all of Germany's enemies in France until it was convenient for the Nazis to have them arrested by the Vichy police and delivered to the Germans.

When Varian read the details of Article 19, he remembered what Ernst Hanfstaengl had said five years before. Hanfstaengl had spoken about a Nazi plan to kill Jews. Back then it had been hard for Varian to believe such a plan could be real. But now he had no doubt that Hitler intended to kill every Jew he could get his hands on. Article 19 trapped refugees in France between the German army and the Mediterranean Sea.

And the Germans were coming for them.


ON JUNE 25, 1940, JUST THREE DAYS AFTER THE French-German armistice was signed, an organization called the American Friends of German Freedom held a luncheon. Varian Fry attended, along with about two hundred other concerned citizens who were leaders in education, religion, the media, and the arts. They met at the Commodore Hotel in New York City to discuss the situation and collect money to help the refugees. These Americans realized that some of the people trapped in France were world-famous writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, scientists, and doctors. If they were not rescued, they would face certain death at the hands of the Nazis. Varian and others were determined not to let this happen.

By the end of the luncheon, three thousand dollars had been donated and a new organization had been formed called the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC). This committee would have one purpose: to help certain well-known refugees escape France.

The refugees needed a place to go. Each had to find a country that would allow him or her to immigrate. Varian wrote the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to ask him to allow the refugees to come to America. He got a response dated July 8, 1940, from the First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt: "The President has seen your letter of June 27. He will try to get the cooperation of the South American countries in giving asylum to the political refugees."

Only three weeks after the ERC was created, the committee settled into an office in the Chanin Building, across from Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Dr. Frank Kingdon, a prominent Methodist minister, was named the chairman. Harold Oram, a professional fund-raiser, raised money to support the efforts of the committee. Right away, the ERC had to settle two issues: first, to decide which refugees it wanted to help get out of France; second, to find someone willing to go to France to arrange their escape.

Compiling lists of refugees was the easy part. Leaders from the Museum of Modern Art and the New School for Social Research named prominent people who were in danger. These totaled approximately two hundred men and women, both Jews and non-Jews, who were known in the worlds of art, music, politics, and science. The list included:

Marc Chagall, a Russian-born artist famous for his whimsical scenes using vivid colors, often depicting Jewish folkloric themes.

Max Ernst, a German Surrealist artist who was part of the Dada movement of modern art, which rejected traditional art styles.

Jacques Lipchitz, a Russian-born sculptor influenced by Cubism and known for his large sculptures.

Pablo Picasso, a famous Spanish artist who was one of the co-creators of Cubism, a style of modern art with a fragmented look.

Henri Matisse, a world-famous French painter whose art was considered degenerate by the Nazis.

Franz Werfel, a writer born in Czechoslovakia, famous for his 1933 book The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. This book, about the mass murder of Armenians in 1915, was one of thousands publicly burned in Germany.

Lion Feuchtwanger, a world-famous novelist who had been exiled from his native Germany. In 1933 Feuchtwanger published a novel entitled The Oppermanns about a German-Jewish family during Hitler's rise to power. The fictional events in the novel turned out to be unbelievably close to actual events. Copies of all Feuchtwanger books published before 1933 were publicly burned on May 10 of that year.

Konrad Heiden, a German writer wanted by the Nazis for his unflattering book Hitler: A Biography.

Hertha Pauli, an Austrian anti-Nazi who wrote a biographical novel about the peace activist Bertha von Suttner entitled Nur eine Frau (Only One Woman), which was banned by the Nazis. She had to flee Austria when the Nazis took over her country.

Otto Meyerhof, a German biochemist who had been awarded a Nobel Prize in 1922 for his work studying the chemistry of muscles.

Heinrich Mann, the older brother of the novelist Thomas Mann and himself a well-known German novelist who also wrote political essays warning the German people about the growing danger from the Nazis. When Hitler came to power, Heinrich Mann was exiled from Germany. His books, too, had been burned on May 10, 1933.

Walter Mehring, a famous German writer who lived in Berlin and composed satirical songs and poems about the Nazis. When they gained control of Germany, Mehring became a wanted man. All of his works were burned on May 10, 1933.

Hans Sahl, a popular German-Jewish poet, playwright, novelist, and film critic who had lived in Berlin until forced to flee.

André Gide, a well-known French writer who was an anti-Nazi. His books were burned on May 10, 1933.

Wanda Landowska, from Poland, a famous harpsichordist who inspired new interest in an instrument that had been around for several centuries. She was one of the greatest players of the harpsichord, and first performed on it in public in 1903.

Erich Itor Kahn, born in Germany to a Russian-Jewish father and a German mother, a classical concert pianist and composer.

Camilla Koffler, from Austria, a photographer professionally called Ylla, best known for her pictures of animals.


Excerpted from In Defiance of Hitler by Carla Killough McClafferty. Copyright © 1945 Varian Fry. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
A Note to the Reader,
Source Notes,
Recommended Further Reading,
Recommended Web Sites,
Illustration Credits,

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In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
sdea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having read a few books regarding the holocaust, Fry was a person that I had not heard of before. Varian Fry is an "un-song" hero in the history books. This book portrayed a magnitude version of Schindler's list. The middle of the road rating does not take away the importance of the content of the book because it is a much needed story to tell. The strengths of the book came from the real black and white photos, well-documented text, and historical significance. This book would make an excellent source to supplement other fiction or non fiction. reading about the holocaust. Where I saw some weaknesses, was that it was hard to follow the characters or the refugees. Of course this was due to so many that were involved. I also think that the element of danger, risk, and unknown was kind of watered down. There was mention of crossing the mountains, raids, and close calls. However, I had a hard time really getting into the emotional aspect of constant fear and courage. Even though the author writes in clear readable language, it sometimes seems flat and confusing.Even though the sequence of events was appropriate, it was difficult to follow the groups of refugees, workers, and Fry's own points of views and happenings.
tgoodson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Check the next issue of The Alan Review for a review of this book!
memphisrain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent telling of the story of Varian Fry, an unexpected hero in the rescue of 2,000 Jews fleeing the Nazis in Marseilles, France. It's informative, flows well and opens the door to a part of World War II history of which many people are unaware.
cshupp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow basically the underground railroad of WWII. For some reason I thought this story was about something else and I was pleasantly surprised. I had never heard any of this informations. Super interesting.