Newtown High School Chinese teacher Xiafeng “Fosfor” Wang visited with a Holocaust survivor recently thanks to a connection between the survivor and his Newtown host Rita Frost.
Mr Wang has been a part of the NHS World Language Department since August of 2012. As part of the international guest teacher program sponsored by The College Board, Asia Society, and Hanban, a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, Mr Wang is on a short-term stay from China to enhance NHS’s Mandarin program and support the Newtown International Center for Education (NICE) as it helps to bring cultures and language to the Newtown schools.
Jeanette Berman of Brighton Gardens, Saddle River, N.J., was rescued by Varian Fry along with her parents from the Nazi occupied city of Marseilles in Vichy France when she was 19. Ms Berman is now 92.
Ms Frost, an artist and photographer, is a member of the Varian Fry Foundation and met Ms Berman in 2010 at the last traveling exhibition from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on “Varian Fry, Assignment Rescue 1940-41’’ at Ramapo College. Ms Frost had been researching Varian Fry for years. Her passion is finding survivors due to the heroism of Varian Fry, along with having a monument installed in Connecticut, where he lived, worked, and died.
According to Ms Frost, Varian Fry was the first American to be named Righteous Among Nations at Yad Vashem — World Center for Holocaust Research.
Ms Frost is hosting Mr Wang at her home for the current school semester. During Mr Wang’s stay he expressed an interest in meeting Ms Berman.
“I had heard of Oscar Schindler, but this man Fry saved far more people than Schindler, and I was amazed by his acts of heroism,” said Mr Wang.
According to Ms Frost’s research, Varian Fry was an unlikely hero. He was a journalist, from Ridgewood, N.J., and taught in Ridgefield, Wilton, and at the Joel Barlow High School in Redding. He died in Easton, alone in a rented room in 1967 while editing his book Surrender on Demand, according to Ms Frost’s research.
When Mr Wang met Ms Berman over lunch on September 28 he learned the story of the man Ms Frost compares to James Bond. Mr Fry rescued people by having them dress as vineyard workers and crossing over the Pyrenees mountains. Among others he rescued were artists such as Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Jacques Lipchitz, totaling 2,000, according to Ms Frost.
Ms Berman’s story of escape from Germany to France and later going by boat to live in Quito, Ecuador, for six years until her family could get immigration papers to come to the United States was spellbinding, said Ms Frost. At times Mr Wang and Ms Berman slipped into speaking with each other in French.
“Her humor, energy, and beautiful smiling face disguised her difficult early years of survival,” Mr Wang said after the meeting.
On the way home, Mr Wang told Ms Frost how fortunate and humble he felt meeting Ms Berman. He also expressed and how lucky he is to be staying in Connecticut, which he preferred over the more than 20 states he has visited.
When asked why, Mr Wang said, “I like the feeling of the countryside, the fresh air, and forestry, and being somewhat close to New York City. I love the people of Newtown because of their warmth, and resiliency. I enjoy teaching and like to inspire my students.”