While the adventures of Ryan Quinn and his friends come from my imagination, they were inspired by the real-life heroism of a group of people who came together to form the actual Emergency Rescue Committee. When I first heard about Varian Fry and this secret organization he was part of, I was struck by the courage it took to risk so much to help strangers.
Varian Fry was just a normal guy. He was an American journalist working in France right at the end of the 1930s. At that time, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany was imprisoning and killing anyone who threatened their total control – that included political rebels, creative artists, and minority groups, especially people of Jewish heritage. Varian Fry witnessed many Germans fleeing to safety in France during his time there. But soon, even France was no longer a safe place to hide. Those refugees needed to escape again – and they needed help.
The Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) was founded to help people get out of Nazi-occupied France. But because the work they did was technically illegal, the group had to be kept secret. The ERC didn’t have the support of the government or any larger organization. It was just Varian Fry and a team of like-minded people who saw an injustice and decided to do something about it. There were men and women from all sorts of backgrounds: wealthy individuals who provided funding, people inside the government who forged documents, and those like Varian Fry himself who were actually on the ground in France, risking their lives to help strangers in need.
Varian Fry worked tirelessly with the ERC for 13 months as Hitler’s armies continued to conquer Europe. Eventually, the French and American authorities caught on to Fry’s illegal activities helping people escape and made him stop. He was forced to return to the United States. That meant the end of the Emergency Rescue Committee, but not before it had helped save over 2,000 people. Years later, when Varian Fry spoke about why he got involved against Nazi Germany, he said, "I could not remain idle as long as I had any chances at all of saving even a few of its intended victims."