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Varian Fry’s Grave Responsibility

On April 11, the world observed Yom HaShoah, or Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism. Varian Fry, often called the “American Schindler,” was an American journalist who recognized early on the evils of the Nazi regime and did everything he could to save refugees from it. He wrote about the increasingly troubling events taking place at the beginning of the Third Reich and eventually went over to Europe to help refugees escape across the border and into countries like Spain, Portugal, and the United States. Through his bravery and commitment to finding solutions for a situation in which many felt helpless, he was able to get many desperate refugees out of the Third Reich and into Allied territory. Fry remained in Vichy France until 1941, when the pressure of the Nazi regime forced him to flee Europe, but not before his heroic efforts saved thousands likely destined from the horrors of Nazi concentration camps.

This eLesson introduces students to Varian Fry and explores his sense of responsibility in the face of danger. In reviewing his exploits, students will see how they can use Varian Fry’s example of conviction in their own lives.

Objectives:

Students will learn about the actions of Varian Fry at the beginning of the Second World War and assess how his actions impacted the lives of hundreds of refugees.

Students will assess how they can work to support and advance people and causes in their own lives.

Resources:

Varian Fry American Portrait Lesson

Varian Fry United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Varian Fry New York Times

Activities:

  1. Have students read about Varian Fry using the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Bibliogrpahy or the American Portraits summary PDF and identify three ways he tried to save as many people as possible.
    1. In groups, have students:
      1. Identify who helped him and what challenges Varian overcame to rescue these refugees.
      2. Discuss if Varian could have done more or utilized different methods to save refugees.
      3. Brainstorm ways they would have helped the refugees, had they been in the same situation.
  1. Using Varian Fry’s example, have students write their own Op-Eds, not to exceed 500 words, about a situation taking place in the United States or around the world today that they believe warrants more attention than it is now receiving.
    1. Have students read their Op-Ed out loud and allow the class to discuss whichever topic was highlighted by the article.
      1. Have students identify ways in which they could bring attention to the situation.
      2. Offer students the chance to brainstorm other potential ways they could act like Varian Fry and show their own sense of responsibility in their chosen situation.