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Artist Marc Chagall poses outside his studio in Gordes, France.

Photograph | Digitized | Photograph Number: 34484

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    Artist Marc Chagall poses outside his studio in Gordes, France.
    Artist Marc Chagall poses outside his studio in Gordes, France.


    Artist Marc Chagall poses outside his studio in Gordes, France.
    1940 - 1941
    Gordes, [Vaucluse] France
    Photo Credit
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Cynthia Jaffee McCabe
    Event History
    The Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) was established in New York in the summer of 1940 in the wake of the defeat of France and its acceptance of Hitler's terms for an armistice. Article 19 of the agreement committed the new French government under Marshal Philippe Petain to surrender on demand all refugees from the Greater German Reich. The impetus for the ERC came from some of the leaders and associates of the American Friends of German Freedom, an organization formed in the U.S. in 1936 to provide support for the socialist, anti-Nazi underground in Germany. Among these people were Karl B. Frank (an Austrian Jewish political activist, who had recently fled to the U.S.), Reinhold Niebuhr (Protestant theologian), Frank Kingdon (Methodist churchman) and Raymond Gram Swing (radio commentator). The members of the ERC feared for the lives of hundreds of anti-Nazi refugee intellectuals and artists, who had fled the Reich and were now trapped within the closed borders of Vichy France. Under the chairmanship of Kingdon, the committee set itself the mission to locate a group of approximately 200 prominent refugees and to arrange for their escape from France and transport to America. The mission was intended to last approximately three weeks. For their emissary to France, the ERC selected Varian Fry, an editor for the Foreign Policy Association with ties to the International YMCA. This connection allowed Fry to secure a visa to France at a time when they were difficult to obtain, as well as give him a cover for his rescue work. Soon after arriving in Marseilles on August 4, 1940, Fry assembled a staff and established a legal French relief organization, the Centre Americain de Secours (American Relief Center), to serve as a cover for their illegal activities. As word spread that an American had come with visas to help them escape, the refugees flocked to his office, and it quickly became clear that Fry could not complete his mission in the allotted time, nor limit his assistance to the names on the list. Fry and his staff did their utmost for the desperate refugees. They dispensed modest allowances, helped the refugees find places to stay, assisted them in securing legal and false documents, sought to obtain the release of those held in internment camps, and explored escape routes out of France. To find respite from the crush of their responsibilities, Fry and some of his staff rented a villa on the outskirts of Marseilles. They were soon joined at the Villa Air-Bel by surrealist writer Andre Breton and former Russian revolutionary Victor Serge, who were also waiting to leave France. In December 1940, the villa was raided by French police, who detained Fry and his colleagues on a ship in the harbor for several days during the visit of Marshal Petain. The following month Fry's American passport expired, and the State Department, which disapproved of his high-handed activities, refused to renew it. Fry decided to continue his mission, nonetheless, though he knew he faced ever-increasing hostility from both the American and French authorities. By the time he was expelled from France on August 27, 1941, Fry had spent thirteen months in the country. He and his colleagues had spirited more than 1,500 refugees from France and provided support to 2,500 others. Among the refugees he saved were the artists Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Andre Masson and Jacques Lipchitz; the writers Heinrich Mann, Lion Feuchtwanger and Franz Werfel; the scientists Otto Meyerhof and Jacques Hadamard; and the political scientist Hannah Arendt. Varian Fry was recognized by Yad Vashem as one of the Righteous Among the Nations in 1994.

    [Greenberg, Karen J. Columbia University Library, New York: the Varian Fry papers: the Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter papers. New York: Garland, 1990; Gold, Mary Jayne. Crossroads Marseilles 1940. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980.]

    Rights & Restrictions

    Photo Source
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
    Provenance: Cynthia Jaffee McCabe
    Source Record ID: Collections: 1987.A.82

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Marc Chagall (formerly Moshe Segal, 1887-1985), Russian Jewish painter. Chagall was born into a large, poor hasidic family in Liozno, Vitebsk. His father earned a living working in the warehouse of a herring monger. After attending cheder as a child, Chagall was sent to a public school, where he discovered his artistic talent. Against the wishes of his father, but with the support of his mother, he enrolled in a local art school. In 1907 Chagall moved to St. Petersburg, where he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Imperial Society for the Furtherance of the Arts. Subsequently, he attended the Svanska school, where he studied under the well-known Jewish artist Leon Bakst. Chagall's work was greatly admired by the Jewish lawyer Maxim Vinaver, who provided the young artist with a monthly allowance so that he could go to Paris. There, he joined a group of Jewish émigré artists from eastern Europe who later became known as the Ecole Juive [Jewish school], a sub-group of the Ecole de Paris [School of Paris]. In the spring of 1914 Chagall opened his first one-man exhibition in Berlin, and from there returned to Vitebsk. The outbreak of the World War I prevented him from returning to Paris. One year later he married Bella Rosenberg, who became a major inspiration of his artistic work, even after her premature death in 1944. After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 Chagall became commissar for fine arts in Vitebsk, then director of the Free Academy of Art, and finally, designer for the Kamerny State Jewish and Habimah theaters in Moscow. Despite notable artistic successes, Chagall was unable to support his family in Russia and decided to leave in the summer of 1922. After spending a year in Berlin, he settled in Paris, where he gradually gained international recognition. After the rise to power of National Socialism in Germany, 57 of Chagall's works were confiscated from public collections. Some of these paintings were later held up for public ridicule in the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich in 1937. In the wake of the German invasion of the Low Countries in the spring of 1940, Chagall moved his family to the south of France, where they found a home in the Provencal village of Gordes near Avignon. Chagall dreaded the thought of leaving France and stubbornly refused all efforts to help him emigrate until Varian Fry, director of the Emergency Rescue Committee, arrived with an invitation from New York's Museum of Modern Art to come to the U.S. Chagall initially declined the invitation, fearful of crossing the ocean and moving to an unknown cultural environment. However, after the Vichy government began interning Jews, he realized he had no choice, and on May 7, 1941, he, his wife and daughter, Ida, crossed the border into Spain. From there they traveled to Lisbon, where they found passage on a cargo ship to the US. Chagall was warmly greeted by the American art world, and because he had managed to send ahead all of his paintings and studies, he was able to get back to work soon after his arrival in New York on June 23. Never feeling quite at home in America, Chagall returned to France in 1948, and in 1952 married Valentine Brodsky. For the next three-and-a-half decades Chagall exhibited widely and received numerous commissions. His oeuvre included paintings, etchings, lithographs, sculptures, ceramics and designs for costumes, stage sets, stained glass panels and other media.

    [Sources: Encyclopedia Judaica 5:318-24 ; Abramson, Glenda (ed.). The Blackwell Companion to Jewish Culture. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1989, pp.128-29; Greenfeld, Howard. Marc Chagall, Harry Abrams, Inc., New York, 1990]
    Record last modified:
    2015-04-28 00:00:00
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