A large crowd of local residents and dignitaries was on hand as the town of Ridgewood, New Jersey named a street after its most famous native son, Holocaust rescuer Varian Fry, on June 26, 2005.
The featured speaker was William S. Bingham, son of Hiram Bingham IV, the U.S. diplomat who secretly worked with Fry in rescuing more than 2,000 of the world’s most famous artists and writers from Vichy France.
Bingham, an active member of the Wyman Institute’s They Spoke Out network, has spoken at Wyman Institute conferences in New York City and Boston. (Bingham, along with Mrs. Annette Fry and Bella Chagall Meyer, will speak at the Wyman Institute’s third national conference, at the Fordham University School of Law on September 18, 2005.)
Also speaking at the Ridgewood event were Izzy Canner, a New Jersey resident who was rescued by Fry and Bingham; Wyman Institute director Dr. Rafael Medoff; Ridgewood Mayor David Pfund; Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Temple Israel in Ridgewood; and Rev. Kent Smith of West Side Presbyterian Church, where the Fry family worshipped during the 1930s. Village Council member Kim Ringler Shagin served as Master of Ceremonies.
Earlier this year, the Ridgewood Village Council voted to approve ”Varian Fry Way” in response to a petition by local resident Catherine Taub, founder of the Committee to Honor Varian Fry in Ridgewood. In 2001, Mrs. Taub arranged for the Ridgewood Library to host an exhibit about Fry; more than 7,000 people viewed the library’s exhibit.
During 1940-1941, Fry traveled to Vichy France, where he established a clandestine network to rescue refugee intellectuals, artists and musicians. Among those he rescued were artists Marc Chagall, Marcell Duchamp, Max Ernst, and Jacques Lipschitz; writers Franz Werfel and Lion Feuchtwanger; philosopher Hannah Arendt; and Andre Breton, founder of Surrealism. He also helped rescue British pilots who had been shot down by the Germans over France, and he provided important assistance to the Free French underground, for which he was later awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor.
A key figure in Fry’s rescue network –Fry called him ”my partner in the ‘crime’ of saving lives”– was the U.S. vice-consul in Marseilles, Hiram (Harry) Bingham IV. Defying his superiors, Bingham hid refugees in his rented villa and provided Fry with documents needed to protect the refugees he was assisting.
The State Department, which strongly opposed bringing refugees to the United States, put an end to Fry’s activity by refusing to renew his passport and by transferring Bingham to Portugal. Both men passed away long before their rescue work gained public attention.
Last year, the Wyman Institute persuaded the Chicago City Council to name a street after Ben Hecht, to honor his Holocaust rescue activism. Earlier this year, at the Wyman Institute’s suggestion, the governor of Utah proclaimed Elbert Thomas Day, to honor the U.S. Senator from Utah who played a key role in promoting rescue of Jewish refugees.