Saved Thousands During World War II

Varian Fry –Contributed photo

Journalist Varian Fry helped renowned artist Marc Chagall and more than 2,000 other anti-Nazi and Jewish refugees, including prominent writers and artists, escape from France between 1940 and 1941 and emigrate to the United States.

Rita L. Frost will lead a seminar on Fry at Founders Hall in Ridgefield on Friday, Jan. 20 at 1 p.m. Founders Hall is located at 193 Danbury Road in Ridgefield. The event is open to the public.

Fry was residing in Easton and was a teacher at Joel Barlow High School when he died in 1967 at age 59.  He was the first American to be named “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to Holocaust victims, for risking his life to rescue Jews.

There are at least 12 books about him, including “A Hero of Our Own, The Story of Varian Fry” by Sheila Isenberg. There are also at least two films about him, and a Netflix series about Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee entitled “Transatlantic” is coming out early next year. He is commemorated with a name sign in the Ridgefield High School Library Learning Commons, where he also taught classes.

Through her research, Frost met fascinating people involved with Fry. One was living right in Ridgefield: Founders Hall member Gys Landsberger, who has since passed away. Gys was coaxed to give a talk with Frost at the Ridgefield Library and in Newtown.

Fry’s life became Frost’s passion after reading an article in the Ridgefield Press 20-some years about his heroic efforts in Vichy, France.  Frost has met with Fry’s son, along with Dr. Justus Rosenberg, who had worked in Fry’s Vichy office when he was 16. She also hosted Amy Ernst, granddaughter of artist/survivor Max Ernst.

Frost is an artist, photographer, and poet, formerly from Ridgefield, now living in Newtown with her four cats. Her paintings and photographs are in collections throughout the Northeast, and are in the collections of Golda Meir, ambassadors from Turkey and Bulgaria, as well as numerous corporate collections. After studying at the San Francisco Art School, Frost moved back to New York City and later had a scholarship to study in Florence at the Accademia di Belle Arti.

Founders Hall was conceived and built by Founders Hall Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization started by the families of Elaine and John Couri and Liz and Steven Goldstone. It is intended to set a new standard for senior recreation and education by combining a state-of-the-art facility with a caring staff and an exciting curriculum of classes and activities. Founders Hall has approximately 3,200 active members.

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