He went to Marseilles as an agent of the newly formed Emergency Rescue Committee, in an effort to help persons wishing to flee the Nazis. At first Fry only had a rather small pot of money and a short list of refugees under imminent threat of arrest by the Gestapo. But soon anti-Nazi writers, avant-garde artists and musicians were begging for his help.
Despite the pro-Nazi Vichy regime, Fry and his small group of volunteers hid refugees in a safe home until they could be smuggled out. 2,200 people were taken across the border to the safety of neutral Portugal from which they made their way to the USA. Others he helped escape on ships leaving Marseilles for the French colony of Martinique. He was an absolute hero, a truly moral man who became the first American ever to be recognised as a Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem.
A year and a half later, on 2/9/2011, I was writing about a totally different continent and a totally different era: Machu Picchu in Peru - luxury exploration. Hiram Bingham III (1875–1956) was the American explorer who revealed the remains of the Inca citadel, Machu Picchu, in July 1911. He had traced Simon Bolivar’s footsteps, including the historic trade routes through Venezuela, Columbia, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, funded largely by his wife, an heiress to the Tiffany jewellery fortune.
Hiram Bingham III, in Peru, 1911.
Hiram Bingham III has often been cited as a possible model for the Indiana Jones character. His book Lost City of the Incas became a bestseller upon its publication in 1948.
What did these two apparently disparate history posts have in common? The Bingham name! The most important task for Varian Fry was obtaining the visas needed for the artists, writers and academics. He could not have succeeded without Hiram Bingham IV (1903-1988), an American Vice Consul in Marseilles who fought against US State Department anti-Semitism. Like the Japanese consul in Lithuania, Chiune Sugihara, Bingham was personally responsible for issuing thousands of legal and illegal visas.
Hiram Bingham IV, in France, 1941.
Note the stamp was issued in 2006.
As it turned out, the Hiram Bingham who was the American vice-consul in Marseilles was the son of the discoverer of Machu Picchu. Though young Bingham has also been singled out for his help to artist Marc Chagall, Nobel prize winner Otto Meyerhoff and writer Lion Feuchtwanger, it was probably even more impressive that he provided assistance to a number of obscure refugees who would have otherwise been doomed.
The Varian Fry Institute has proposed to Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem that Hiram Bingham IV be honoured as a Righteous Among the Nations. The Institute also nominated five other colleagues who were working in Marseilles until 1941 of whom I shall mention only one.
Charles Fernley Fawcett also worked with Varian Fry. Fawcett was the groom in a series of six bigamous and bogus marriages, helping six Jewish women to get out of internment camps where they too faced certain death. Another truly moral hero of our times.