Netflix Mixes a Riveting Tale of Holocaust Rescue with Bromides of Identity Politics

In its seven-part series Transatlantic, Netflix dramatizes the story of Varian Fry, an American patrician who spent the years from 1940 to 1942 trying to get artists and intellectuals—most but not all Jewish—out of Europe before they fell into the hands of the Nazis. Despite the efforts of the U.S. State Department to thwart his activities, Fry and his collaborators rescued roughly 2,000 people, among them Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, and Arthur Koestler. Phyllis Chesler finds the series riveting, and a cinematic treatment of the subject matter “long overdue.” She nonetheless takes the show to task for molding the story to faddish ideas:

Varian Fry, a twice heterosexually married man and father of three, is presented by Netflix as a closeted and tortured gay man. The real Fry was a Protestant who risked his life to save Jews and others due to his ethical revulsion against the Nazi regime; the series adds, as a fictional motivation, his affection for a Jewish male lover who grew up on a kibbutz in Palestine and who has been working with the British underground in order to get Jews into the Holy Land. This rescue mission is romance enough for me.

But we unfortunately live in an age ruled by identity politics. And still, I must ask: is Fry’s sexuality or the identity of his lovers anywhere near as important as what he accomplished? The thousands of European geniuses he saved came to America, changing both American and world culture.

People want their protagonists to resemble the latest victim-hero, especially if they are members of a demonized or marginalized group. But really, who most deserves to claim Fry as one of their own? The increasingly vilified white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, a group to which Fry surely belonged?

The real Fry was likely gay—or at least bisexual. [But as Dara] Horn puts it, “Varian Fry’s oddness was not that of Marcel Duchamp. It was that of an Ezekiel. The real reason no one today has heard of Varian Fry is because the gift he had is not one that we value.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Holocaust rescue, Homosexuality, Television


Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy