The Bus-Shelter Project
'Varian Fry' 2004
The Bus-Shelter in the Varian-Fry-Straße
Who was Varian Fry? (1907-1967)
In August 1940, U.S. journalist Varian Fry was asked by the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) to go to France. After the German Army occupied France, a group of concerned Americans set up the ERC to rescue prominent intellectuals. Upon arrival in France, Fry had a list of 200 names, but he was approached by thousands. Within 13 months, Fry helped over 1,500 people escape from southern France. Among them were the artists Marc Chagall and Max Ernst and philosopher Hannah Arendt. Fry was expelled from France in September 1941. After his return to the U.S., his deeds were recognized neither during nor after World War II. Fry died in 1967. In 1996, he posthumously received Israel's highest award, and an olive tree was planted in his honour at the Yad Vashem Memorial Centre in Jerusalem.
|In 1935, Varian Fry worked briefly as a reporter in Berlin. The photo was taken on a balcony overlooking the Kurfürstendamm.
Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Washington
After German Re-Unification in 1990, Mercedes Benz began the development of a whole new neighbourhood at the former site of Potsdamer Platz, on the western side of the Berlin Wall.
Part of the new development was the creation of new streets and the decision on what name they should carry. In this context, the then head of Mercedes Benz, Edzard Reuter took the decision to name one of the new streets in honour of Varian Fry.
A close friend of Edzard Reuter was the German-Jewish author Hans Sahl (1902-1993). Sahl was one of the hundreds of Jews whose life was saved by Varian Fry in 1941-42. Shortly before he died, Sahl asked Edzard Reuter to ask The Berlin City Government to commemorate Varian Fry in some manner or other. By choosing Varian Fry's name for a street in the new Mercedes Benz project, Hans Sahl's wish was fulfilled.
With the completion of construction work in 1998, the city transportation company (Berliner Verkehrs Betriebe / BVG) opened up a new bus stop on Potsdamer Strasse immediately next to Varian Fry Street and named the bus stop "Varian-Fry-Strasse".
Hans Wall, has for many years been putting up bus-shelters throughout Berlin. The leasing of advertising space within the shelters is his source of income. As the new buildings at Potsdamer Platz have become the talk-of-the-town both in and outside Berlin, Wall decided to use his most modern style of shelter for the bus stops.
|Wall had eagerly supported my first JUST STOP project on Berlin's Kurfuerstenstrasse at the former site of Adolf Eichmann's "Jewish Department" in 1998. (see link). In early 2004 I noticed the new shelters and - knowing about Varian Fry- decided to once again approach Hans Wall with a suggestion on using the shelters to inform passers-by about who Varian Fry was and what he had achieved in Marseille in 1941-42.
The glass plaques that I designed carry a photo of Varian Fry and a short text (see above). They where inaugurated at the bus-shelters by Edzard Reuter, on June 22nd 2004.
|I would like to thank Hans Wall for his generosity, understanding and support. I would also like to honour Edzard Reuter for fulfilling Hans Sahl's wish that Varian Fry be remembered. I would like to thank my partner the American Jewish Committee and its Berlin director, Deidre Berger for their strong support in realising this project.
I hope that the plaques will contribute to furthering the memory of a great American hero.
Berlin June 22nd, 2004