Mary Jayne Gold: Journey through War and Compassion

Mary Jayne Gold: Journey through War and Compassion

Written by Alison Lurie, In Celeb, Published On
April 7, 2024

In Short:

  • In 1909, the life of an American heiress, Mary Jayne Gold, took a turn when she became the renowned woman who saved over 2000 refugees during World War II. Among those who owe their lives to her are the artist Marc Chagall and the philosopher Hannah Arendt.
  • With Gold being raised in an affluent society, having a majestic education, and moving through the society of the wealthiest European people, she became a desired candidate for marriage. Yet, her life was almost reversed when she made up her mind to stay in France under Nazi occupancy, where she was actively involved in the Emergency Rescue Committee`s operations later.
  • Gold’s legacy continues in her memoirs The Flight Portfolio, The Postmistress of Paris, and Transatlantic, as well as many others, because of how it is portrayed in the books.
  • Single and childless (she passed away in 1997), Mary Jayne Gold has been the subject of literature and the media, among other things, apart from her actions during the war.

Mary Jayne Gold is a name that transcends history to reflect one woman’s courage and compassion during the 20th century’s most turbulent time. She was born into wealth in 1909 and moved from pre-war Europe’s rich social scenes to Nazi-occupied France’s hidden passageways. Mary Jayne Gold, an heiress turned heroine, saved numerous lives, leaving a lasting impression on human endurance. After a life of luxury and travel, Gold’s adventure took an unexpected turn in war. She entered Marseille, a major refugee port city after France fell in 1940. In the tumult and danger, Mary Jayne Gold’s true self surfaced. She defied the surrender clause in the German-French armistice by joining the Emergency Rescue Committee. Gold and other volunteers rescued 2,000 people by trekking dangerous mountain routes. Her legacy goes beyond numbers; it shows human perseverance in the most challenging situations.

Mary Jayne Gold Profile Details

Born August 12, 1909
Birthplace Chicago, Illinois
Died October 5, 1997 (aged 88)
Place of Death Gassin, Var, France
Parents Margaret and Egbert H. Gold
Education Masters School, Dobbs Ferry, New York; Finishing school in Italy
Notable Works Crossroads Marseilles, 1940 (1980)
Legacy Literary estate left to Pierre Sauvage

Early Years and Education

Margaret and Egbert H. Gold gave birth to Mary Jayne Gold in the prosperous suburb of Evanston, Illinois, where she was born. This is where the narrative of Mary Jayne Gold begins. Mary Jayne had a privileged upbringing due to her father’s fortune, which was generated by a company that manufactured radiators and heating systems. She initially acquired her education at the highly regarded Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Then, she completed her education at a finishing school in Italy, setting the groundwork for a life characterized by luxury and refinement.

The Roaring 1930s

Mary Jayne Gold

Throughout the 1930s, Mary Jayne Gold was actively involved in the vibrant social scene in London and Paris. She flew her jets over Europe, visiting exclusive resorts, skiing in the Alps, and hanging out with the most influential people. However, she lived in Paris in 1939 as the war clouds started to gather, marking the start of her incredible journey during the conflict.

During World War II: Escape from Nazi-Occupied France

In 1940, when the German army was conquering France, Mary Jayne Gold escaped to Marseille, a city under the jurisdiction of the Vichy regime. At this location, she met Miriam Davenport and Varian Fry. While serving as a representative of the Emergency Rescue Committee, Fry’s objective was to assist Jewish and anti-Nazi artists and intellectuals who were attempting to leave France. Since it was the last free port in Europe, Marseille has become a haven for people looking for sanctuary.

The Underground Effort

After deciding not to return to the United States, Gold joined Fry and Davenport. She committed to providing refugee travellers a haven and facilitating their escape via the rugged mountains to reach Spain or Portugal. Her lover, Raymond Couraud, who had previously served in the French Foreign Legion but had since become a local mobster, was an important player. Approximately 2,000 refugees were saved thanks to the financial assistance provided by Gold to the Emergency Rescue Committee. Those saved were renowned individuals such as Jacques Lipchitz, Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, and Otto Meyerhof.

Departure and Arrest

In 1941, Fry was taken into custody due to the Vichy government’s intensive monitoring of his actions. Similarly, Gold was forced to depart France because of the situation. Couraud, her lover, was able to flee across Spain and eventually became a war hero in the Special Air Service because of his heroic actions.

After the War: Memoir: Crossroads Marseilles, 1940

Immediately during the war, Mary Jayne Gold split her time between a New York City flat and a property she had constructed in Gassin, Var, which was close to Saint-Tropez. Her story, “Crossroads Marseilles, 1940,” was published by Doubleday in 1980 and translated into French by Alice Seelow in 2001. In the memoir, she detailed her experiences during the war for the first time. Pierre Sauvage was given the literary estate as a responsible party.

End of a Legacy

When Mary Jayne Gold passed away on October 5, 1997, at her property in Gassin, France, she had never been married and did not have any children. She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pilgrim Home Cemetery in Michigan is where she will be laid to rest for all eternity.

Representation in Other Media: Novels and Adaptations

The historical novel “The Flight Portfolio” (2019) written by Julie Orringer and its adaptation, the limited television series “Transatlantic” (2023) produced by Netflix, bring to life the activities of the Emergency Rescue Committee. Gillian Jacobs portrays Gold in the series. “The Postmistress of Paris” (2021), written by Meg Waite Clayton, is another novel that includes a fictionalized version of Gold’s story called “Nanée.”


Mary Jayne Gold might have died in 1997, but the consequences of her actions remain. Her extraordinary adherence to selfless service amid an imaginary doom she maintains serves as the wellspring of hope. Her memoir, “Crossroads Marseilles, 1940,” and the recreated stories in books and other media are the ones that will guarantee that the story of the likes of her will never be forgotten, as long as the world remembers the sacrifices made by the resistance fighters in WW2.

Mary Jayne Gold is put to rest in Gassin, France. Still, throughout history, she is always remembered because she became a part of history and forever served as a reminder that amid chaos, one kind person may change the course of thousands of lives through their example and inspire the following generations. By leaving her mark, she encourages us to seek out our moments of courage in times of turmoil and acknowledge our privileges. The life of Mary Jane Gold is an ever-lasting story of kindness, resilience, and the immortal power of a human mind that’s not even a historical chapter.


How many lives were saved by Mary Jayne Gold?

It is estimated that Mary Jayne Gold saved some 2,000 migrants; among them were well-known individuals like Marc Chagall and Hannah Arendt.

In the Emergency Rescue Committee, what function did Mary Jayne Gold assume?

As a member of the Emergency Rescue Committee, Gold was instrumental in providing sanctuary and orchestrating the flight of Jewish and anti-Nazi intellectuals and artists from Nazi-occupied France.

What portrayal does Mary Jayne Gold have in other media?

The character Mary Jayne Gold appears in Julie Orringer’s novel “The Flight Portfolio” and in Netflix’s limited series “Transatlantic” (2023). A fictitious account of Gold’s story may be found in Meg Waite Clayton’s novel “The Postmistress of Paris” (2021).

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