Thursday, November 06, 2008
In Defiance of Hitler: The Secret Mission of Varian Fry by Carla Killough McClafferty
This book is one more example of "all I ever needed to know I learned from children's nonfiction." I had never even heard of Varian Fry before I picked up this book. He was a pretty ordinary American man who volunteered for a two-week rescue mission during World War II. The plan was to go to Marseilles, France and find war refugees wanted by the Nazis and get them to safety. His specific mission was to save a specific list of important artists, writers, and thinkers who were in grave danger of being sent to concentration camps. The mission took all of his creativity, stamina, and skills and in it Fry found the most meaningful days of his life. The two weeks spread out into more than a year as Fry desperately tried every way he could think of to get refugees out of France, into Spain, then Portugal, then on to other countries. Together witha selfless staff of other unsung heroes, Fry ultimately saved about 2,000 people from death at the hands of the Nazis. Sadly, his work destroyed his marriage and he never found another endeavor that so fully used his skills and his compassion. McClafferty's research is excellent and her organization makes this book easy to read and understand. She deftly shows how difficult and draining the work was and how many obstacles the rescuers faced. Middle schoolers with an interest in World War II could definitely appreciate this book, but I believe it is equally appropriate for high school students as well as adults. It's an inspiring look at an unsung hero.