Varian Fry an Hans Sahl
New York, NY, 20. Juli 1942
July 20, 1942
I wonder if you can help me straighten out some chronology I've gotten pretty badly mixed up?
The first question is when did Chinese, Siamese, and Belgian Congo visas and Czech passports cease to be of any use? I think it must have been early in September, 1940, but I can't remember exactly when, nor can I remember whether they all ceased to be recognized on the same day or one after the other, and if so in what order? It isn't very important, but I like to get even small details straight.
The next question has to do with the suicide of Walter Benjamin. I know that he committed suicide at Port-Bou, but I can't remember why he wasn't allowed to go through Spain. Was it that he had entered Spain during that week (I think it was the first week of October), when Spain was closed to everyone, or was it because he had an affidavit (American) in lieu of passport and these were not being recognized at the time he crossed? Can you remember the exact date of his suicide? That would help. As I remember it, the Spanish border was hermetically closed for about one week early in October. When it was reopened, there was a whole new set of rules. For one thing, no Pole – man or woman or child – was allowed into the country, and for another, American affidavits in lieu of passports were not any longer recognized as valid travel documents. Later both were again recognized. It is therefore possible that Benjamin may have committed suicide because he had an affidavit in lieu of passport and not because the Spanish border was closed. I'd be grateful if you'd help me straighten this tangle out. This time it's really important in building up the crisis atmosphere in that terrible month of October.
I believe that Hans Jacoby committed suicide at Banyuls in December. Do you remember the exact date and the reason?
By the way, if you can tell me anything I don't know about Benjamin and Jacoby, I'd be very grateful. I only known them both as German writers, and that isn't very much is it?
Still another person who I believe committed suicide was the son of Karl Neuberg, the physicist. We sent Dr. and Mrs. Neuberg to Lisbon in September, but their son was interned in the camp of St. Cyprien, as I remember. He came to Marseille with permission and we urged him not to go back to the camp. Instead he went into hiding in a town near the border. I believe he committed suicide there, but I don't remember when or why.
Do you remember the date of George Reisner's suicide? As I remember it, it happened in January 1941. But here again I can't be sure.
Am I right in thinking that almost nobody was able to leave France between the first of October and sometime in January? As I remember it very few American visas were issued in that time. Czech passports issued by the Marseille consulate were no longer recognized in Spain and it was extremely difficult to get Portuguese and Spanish transit visas. Both consuls had to cable their governments for permission and the Spanish consul wouldn't cable until you already had the Portuguese visa in your passport. By the time the Spanish consul got a reply, your Portuguese visa had expired and you had to start all over again. Do you remember whether both consuls got similiar orders at the same time or whether first one and then the other was obliged to cable his government? If so, which happened first and what were the dates?
I am sorry to bother you with all of this but I tried to get you on the telephone but you weren't in.
I haven't heard from Barr yet. When I do I'll let you know.
Thanks a lot for your trouble.
Yours as ever,