America's 'Schindler,' a former Fairfield University student, is focus of new film by Holocaust survivor, Emmy winner Pierre Sauvage



"Pierre Sauvage is a purveyor of hope, of faith in the better instincts of human beings. Judging from the footage he has completed so far, Sauvage has another inspiring effort on his hands." - George Robinson, The Jewish Week

Image: Pierre SauvageThe 2011 Fairfield University Holocaust Remembrance Program will place an overdue spotlight on a former Fairfield graduate student who doubled as a hero - the late Varian Fry.

During World War II, Fry, called by many 'the Artists' Schindler,' had foiled the Nazis and rescued over 2,000 Jewish intellectuals, including artist Marc Chagall, writers Franz Werfel and Leon Feuchtwanger, philosopher Hannah Arrendt and physicist Dr. Otto Meyerhoff. Twenty years later, the Ridgefield, Connecticut resident came to Fairfield to study for a teaching degree at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

Pierre Sauvage, an Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker who is also a Holocaust survivor, is nearing completion on a film about Fry's amazing life: "And Crown Thy Good-Varian Fry in Marseille." In a multimedia lecture on Wednesday, April 27 at 7:30 p.m., Sauvage will debut scenes from it and talk about Fry who became the first American honored by Israel with the title of "Righteous Among the Nations." Fry, who taught English at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, died in 1967 at age 59.

Sauvage will also share scenes from what is likely his best-known film, "Weapons of the Spirit," the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious DuPont-Columbia Award in Broadcast Journalism (which shared the documentary award with Ken Burns' "The Civil War" series). It tells the story of the goodness of the Protestant villagers of Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, a small mountain community in Vichy France, who defied the Nazis and saved many Jews, including Sauvage and his parents. Sauvage himself was born in this unique Christian oasis.

The event - free and open to the public - is entitled, "A Time For Rescue: America and the Holocaust." It will take place in the Regina Quick Center for the Arts. The university's Bennett Center for Judaic Studies, in conjunction with Campus Ministry and KADIMA - the University's undergraduate Jewish cultural club - are the sponsors of this program.

Ellen Umansky, Ph.D., Carl and Dorothy Professor of Judaic Studies, said there will be a short holocaust commemoration before Sauvage speaks, featuring poems, prayers, and music. "Varian Fry's personal connection to Fairfield will undoubtedly make this an extra special event. Mr. Sauvage has even agreed to show clips of "And Crown Thy Good," which he does not plan on showing elsewhere until its release next fall."

The Los Angeles-based Sauvage's new film focuses on how Fry, then working as a journalist, created a remarkable private rescue operation in the early 1940s that saved the lives of Jews and non-Jewish opponents of the Nazi regime. (There's a scene of the late Chet Stuart, a Fairfield professor, fondly recalling Fry's Fairfield days.)

While celebrating some remarkable Americans - Fry, Miriam Davenport, Mary Jayne Gold, Charles Fawcett, Leon Ball and Hiram Bingham IV - the documentary will place the story in the context of those challenging times, addressing American policies then towards the unwanted refugees. "What makes the saga especially useful is that is provides a rare illustration of the intellectual as activist hero," Sauvage said. "Varian Fry loved the arts so much that he did all that he possibly could to save their creators."

The son of prominent French journalist Léo Sauvage, Sauvage is the president of the Chambon Foundation, the first nonprofit educational foundation committed to exploring and communicating the necessary and challenging lessons of hope intertwined with the Holocaust's unavoidable lessons of despair. In 2005, the Varian Fry Institute was established as a division of the foundation.

In conjunction with this event, The Bennett Center will have a showing of "Weapons of the Spirit," in the multi-media room of the Dimenna-Nyselius Library on Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m., followed by a discussion facilitated by Dr. Patricia Behre, associate professor of History, and Dr. Umansky. This showing is free of charge. Reservations are recommended for both events and should be made by calling the Bennett Center at (203) 254-4000, ext. 2066. For more information, visit www.fairfield.edu/judaic.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on April 1, 2011

Vol. 43, No. 263