The earliest hint of the history that sparked my interest in learning more about France in 1940 was learning about Varian Fry. He was an American journalist who arrived in Marseille in August 1940 just after the fall of France in June with 3,000 taped to his leg—what a vivid image! In his pocket was list of artists, intellectuals, and well-known writers and politicians, anti-fascists who were considered dangerous to the Reich. To be on that Gestapo hit list was to be in grave danger of arrest and deportation. Execution.

Varian Fry was a young journalist who’d joined the Emergency Rescue Committee in New York City. The group was dedicated to saving the intellectual cream of the crop in Europe and Fry volunteered to go to France to try to save them. He planned to stay a month, locate the endangered people on the list, and help them to find safety—in many cases to try to get them to America. The only way out of Vichy France, “The Free Zone” or Unoccupied France, was through the port of Marseille or over the Pyrenees through Spain to Lisbon, where a ship would take refugees to safety.

For seven years I read books about Fry did extensive research about WWII and the fall of France, fascinated with the layers of history that I uncovered. I learned that even now France is still uncomfortable with details about the politics of that time, especially the full collaboration of France with Germany and the deaths of thousands of people, mostly Jews.

In my early visits to France the last twenty years, I wasn’t writing a book, at least not consciously, but eager to learn more, I toured the Resistance Museum and learned about the courageous acts for the cause of freedom, which usually led to their deaths.

As I wandered through the Marais, which was the Jewish quarter of Paris, I imagined how it must have been for the Jews to be gathered up and put into busses, ultimately heading for the concentration camps in Germany. I read about the SOE—the Special Operation Executive in England that recruited civilians to help France fight the Nazis, young people who were part of the resistance. I soaked up the history about people who jumped out of planes and faced the Gestapo and the S.S. to fight for freedom.

Varian Fry’s memoir Surrender on Demand and the biographies about him continued to inspire me over several years before I took the plunge to write this novel. The story of how that evolved will appear in another entry on the website. Fry’s story is powerful and rich with intrigue, emotion, struggle, and ultimately defeat. He was eventually arrested and forced to leave France, but not before saving 2,000 to 4,000 people. Not only the famous, but ordinary people who needed his help.

The unpublished forward to his book, written before the war ended, is included on this site with permission from his son, James Fry.

After four years of research and writing, I’m happy to introduce Varian Fry and other heroes of that time through my novel. Churchill said, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much been owed by so many to so few.” He was referring to the courage of the fighter pilots and the bomber crews, but it applies to the brave people in the Resistance too, to those who began resisting long before there was a formal resistance movement later in the war. The early resistance was made up of ordinary people who risked their lives to save others, operating in small groups, doing what they could to help thousands of people trapped in France.  Some of these people helped the refugees escape over the Pyrenees, a great mountain that stands between France and Spain. Some were guides, others were forgers. They all made a difference at the risk of a rope.

Through reading historical fiction, we can learn the truth and live through historical moments, joining the heroes and heroines to see how their story turns out.

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