“Unorthodox” fans, rejoice! Show co-creator Anna Winger is back with a new Netflix show this April 7 — and it tells an incredible tale of Holocaust heroes.
Based on Julie Orringer’s “The Flight Portfolio,” “Transatlantic, a 7-episode miniseries, will tell the story of Varian Fry, an American journalist who co-founded the Emergency Rescue Committee in order to get refugees out of Vichy France.
Along with collaborators like wealthy heiress MayJayne Gold, Jewish German economist Albert Hirschman, Fry and ERC helped bring over 2000 Jews and anti-Nazi dissidents into the United States. Most of them were prominent artists, writers and thought leaders — they include Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, André Breton, Jacques Lipchitz and artist Max Ernst.
The new series, which will debut on Netflix on April 7 of this year, has a pretty amazing cast. Cory Michael Smith, who played a phenomenal Riddler in the TV series “Gotham,” will play Fry, who was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Mary Jayne Gold, who helped fund ERC’s efforts, will be played by “Love” and “Community” star Gillian Jacobs. Lucas Englander will play Hirschman, who was an an enterprising academic at the time.
The series also stars handsome Jewish actor Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) and beloved “Unorthodox” star Amit Rahav (who will also appear in another much-anticipated Holocaust series, Hulu’s “We Were the Lucky Ones.”)
Fry first encountered the horrors of the Holocaust when he reported on the Nazi regime from Germany in 1935, where he saw Jews brutalized on the streets with no repercussions; he wrote about what he witnessed for The New York Times.
It was in the city of Marseilles that Fry began his rescue efforts. His trip to the town in Vichy France was funded by the Emergency Rescue Committee, and. he first helped Jewish writer Franz Werfel and relatives of novelist Thomas Mann escape in 1940.
Fry rented the “Villa Bel Air” outside of the city, where he housed the refugees until he could help them escape France and make their way to America; he was aided by fellow Americans and other enterprising local spirits. Despite pressure from both local leadership and American authorities, who felt that Fry’s illegal efforts got in the way of America’s then neutrality in the war, Fry and his collaborators continued in their smuggling efforts until he was arrested in August 1941 and kicked out of France.
Even after leaving Marseilles, Fry continued to write about the plight of the Jews, publishing “The Massacre of the Jews” for The New Republic back in 1942. It was one of the first stories about the horrors of the Holocaust to appear in an American publication.
As for the Emergency Rescue Committee, it became a part of the New York Branch of the International Relief Association, which was founded at the request of Albert Einstein in 1933 to assist refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. It then changed its name to the International Rescue Committee, or IRC. IRC continues its work to this day, and has helped over 20 million refugees in about 40 countries since its founding.
For Englander, an Austrian actor best known for his role in “Witcher” and an IRC ambassador, the story of “Transatlantic” is one that he relates to intimately. His Czechoslovakian grandfather, Děda, escaped the Nazi-occupied country and made it to New York in the 1940s. There, he joined an aid organization for Austrian Jewish refugees. He both used his connections and also physically housed and fed new refugees in his home.
You can watch Lucas and his mother Juno (named after UNO — the United Nations Organization) discussing his story and its relevance to “Transatlantic” in a video they shot for the IRC back in the summer of 2022:
This series about Holocaust heroes promises to be just as glamorous and diverting as it is serious. The novel it is based on is more a work of fiction than a reliable biography; this makes Orringer’s work perfect source material for Winger, whom we came to adore as the creator of the very fictionalized TV adaptation of the very factual autobiography of Deborah Feldman.
In “The Flight Portfolio,” the fictionalized Fry, like the actor who plays him in this new series, is queer (not something that has ever been revealed about the real-life Fry), and the book centers on his illicit love interest. According to a Netflix press release, in the Marseilles villa, “the threat of mortal danger gives way to unexpected collaborations and intense love affairs.”
“The human ability to live fully, find joy and keep a sense of humor even in the darkest of times lies at the heart of Transatlantic,” Winger said in a Netflix press release. “I can’t wait to bring audiences into this story.”
We can’t wait, either.