Varian Fry's Surrender on Demand
Varian Fry closely takes you
through his first hands experiences of often times (thought not all)
resorting to not only "illegal" but "ethically" questionable methods in
order to carry out the true ethically correct end of saving a great
number of lives not his own.
There is no question that his
intentions were noble and his end right. There is no question he was
fighting against a greater systematic evil that made it illegal to do
right things (so that "legality" is hardly relevant in a system where
keeping the law meant being utterly and unashamedly unethical, breaking
all sorts of moral codes - such as oppressing and murdering the
helpless). Mr. Fry and his little organization of private persons both
in France and USA almost singlehandedly went against this system at
The one thing he did "ethically wrong" was lying
(falsifying passports and ID cards, and blatantly lying to authorities
when there was danger). Not to mention, the French authorities knew
this. If there was an eventual indifference from the French government,
certainly being American was Mr Fry's most important asset because
America was greatly respected as a country (most likely stemming from
the US government's generosity in aids, among other things, and the
relative affluence of Americans in those days - the dollar was very
strong and things in Europe relatively inexpensive).
His book is a
delight for those with an eye for detailed accounts, because it helps
with the reconstruction of events. From his journalistic background, his
writing style is very good and by no means dry, very engaging (i read
the remainder ¾ non stop - though i would have probably read the whole
thing non stop). It may require slowing the reading pace down because
the book is packed with information.
This is a book about people.
He is especially sensitive to describing people and their backgrounds.
And there are quite a few of them. One advice i can give is to write a
list of names and the page number where the name first appear, because
many of these names reoccur in latter chapters and it helps to go back
to remind oneself of their backgrounds to keep good historical
No question he and his crew went through great
personal sacrifices (hunger, cold, sleep deprivation, grind, high
stress, constant unsettling emotional experiences, pressure, personal
failures, being taken advantage of - though he does not mention it as
such) in order to take advantage of the very short time to save as many
people as possible.
At times there is just not much one can do to
prepare for crisis. In a war, for example, depleting food stuff, no
utilities. What can you do about these? When regions are being bombarded
there is no agriculture, no traveling, communication hardware
breakdown. Even no internet, if cables are destroyed. But nevertheless
it is better to know than not to know.
Also during war, even
right in the middle of it, things can actually look very peaceful and
its dread fall suddenly, though the warnings have been coming from long
before. This long waiting can sometimes delude that everything will be
OK, though it was not what the warning messages said...