A Year That Mattered (work-in-progress) — Pierre Sauvage documentaries (2023)

About A Year That Mattered

Sponsored initially by the Emergency Rescue Committee in New York, the Fry mission was the most ambitious and most successful private American rescue operation of the Nazi era. Indeed, Fry, who died in 1967, was to become posthumously the first American to be honored as a Righteous Gentile.

Filming began for this documentary in 1998, allowing the mission to be chronicled now—at last!—through the testimony of those who participated in it, either as rescuers or as the beneficiaries of the rescue effort. Virtually all of these witnesses are now gone, but recount these events for posterity..

Among these witnesses are several remarkable and colorful Americans who joined with Fry in Marseille, France: the beautiful heiress Mary Jayne Gold, the intellectual art scholar Miriam Davenport Ebel, and the swashbuckling moral adventurer Charles Fawcett.

The full documentary also draws on Fry's voluminous correspondence from that time, from his other relevant writings, and from the many photographs that he took and that are now part of the Varian Fry Institute archives.

With the help of the leading historians in the field, the documentary also does not shirk providing the indispensable—and not widely understood—historical context for the rescue mission: the Nazis embarked on the Final Solution after unsuccessful efforts to expel Jews from Nazi-occupied lands.

While defying the Nazis and its collaborators in Vichy France, the Fry mission was the major challenge during that time to the closed-doors policies of the West.

About Transatlantic, the Netflix series purporting to be about Varian Fry and Mary Jayne Gold.

in reverse chronological order

Anna Winger (Transatlantic co-creator) on balancing World War II "melodrama" with touches of "screwball" comedy
(Exclusive Video Interview), by David Buchanan, Yahoo Life, May 3, 2023
"It provided this window into the inner life of the characters," shares Transatlantic co-creator, writer, and executive producer Anna Winger on what appealed to her about Julie Orringer'snovel The Flight Portfolio, whichserved as the basis for the Netflix limited series. [PS: The novel's characterizations of the "inner life" of its hero Varian Fry, notably a gay romance during Fry's rescue effort in Marseille, are mostly fabrications.]

How Netflix Blew the Real Story of Varian Fry,
video by Sabine Kieselbach (Deutsche Welle), May 2, 2023
"They've done this very unfortunate pairing of portraying [Varian Fry] as homosexual—and making him seem weak, and cowardly, and less important than he was." (James D. Fry, son of Varian Fry)
"Varian Fry was a brilliantman—that is missing.All his staff looked up to him with admiration,with adoration—that is missing.So to my mind,absolutely crucial aspects of the story are not present" (Pierre Sauvage, Varian Fry Institute)

The Love Song of Varian Fryby Phyllis Chesler,Tablet, May 1, 2023
[T]he series is one more example of education via entertainment, perhaps for those who no longer prefer books. Unfortunately, providing contemporary and politically correct, revisionist characterizations of historical figures is what getssuch projects funded and attracts an audience that sees nothing questionable about fictionalizing history. (..)Here is what Pierre Sauvage, the world's leading expert on Fry, has to say on the subject of Fry's sexual identity. Fry was a "natty dresser, he had a passion for Latin and Greek and bird watching. He could be stuffy and pedantic, but he also loved naughty limericks and had an antic, screwball sense of humor."
Sauvage also comments on Andy Marino, who in his book A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry, "speculated that aspects of Fry's sexual life and history may have been a major factor in creating in him the sense of being an outsider." Sauvage writes: "Whatever Fry's sexual nature may have been—and it is hard [or was hard in 2,000 when these words were written] to decide to what extent speculations about such matters in relevant—the stress that Marino puts on Fry not being an 'organization man' seems appropriate."

The Banality of Evil on TV by Jonah Raskin, Tablet, May 1, 2023
Transatlantic offers a view of the resistance to fascism through the prism of Black Lives Matter and #MeToo. It will likely be met with applause from members of those movements who might want to raise their fists and cry, along with the cast, "Viva La Resistance." But to those who feel uncomfortable when the historical record is bent and twisted often beyond recognition, Transatlantic might go over like the proverbial lead balloon.

Transatlantic Misses the Boat by Letting the Bottom-line Trump Truth
by Vincent Brook, Babbling Brook Substack, May 1, 2023
Even when its docudramas are based on a nonfiction source, Hollywood has been known, if not expected, to play fast and loose with the truth. So, given that Netflix’s 2023 miniseriesTransatlanticwas adapted from an historical novel, Julie Orringer’s 2019The Flight Portfolio, it’s no great surprise how far the show has strayed from historical fact.

Varian Fry—"the American Schindler"—has been betrayed by Netflix
by Tom Fordy,The Telegraph, April 28, 2023. Ifbehind paywall, see attached pdf.

Sauvage’s Jewish refugee parents had sought help, albeit unsuccessfully, fromFry. Sauvage has spent many years working on a documentary aboutFry’s mission – A Year That Mattered – which he hopes will be released in the nextyear. Sauvage corresponded with [producer Anna] Winger while she was writing the series in 2020and warned that showing Fry as distracted from his mission [by a homosexual liaison] would “vandalize thememory of a great man”. (...)Changing historical events is hardly new – and often necessary when distillingreal-life events into streamlined narrative fiction – but Transatlantic feels moretwo-star farce than factually based.

Not "Holocaust distortion" but creativity, says creator of Netflix's Transatlantic
by Renee Ghert-Zand, The Times of Israel, April 17, 2023
Anna Winger's series is based on Varian Fry's real-life rescue of thousands of European artists and intellectuals; critics warn of historical inaccuracies caused by dramatization
Anna Winger makes no apologies for the creative liberties she takes with her new Netflix miniseries Transatlantic about Varian Fry and the Emergency Rescue Committee. (...)"I made a series for Netflix. It's not a documentary," Winger toldthe Times of Israel in a recent interview.
She said that the story of the heroism of Fry and his small team of American expats, European refugees, and sympathetic French in Vichy-controlled Marseille in 1940-1941 should be shared with a wide, mainstream audience. If that means blurring, embellishing, omitting, and eliding historical facts, so be it.
(...)“You cannot defame the dead legally," [Pierre Sauvage said]. But there are moral issues here, too. Can you really take real people and portray them in a way that would make them turn over in their graves?”
Sauvage worries not only about Holocaust denial but also about what he terms “Holocaust distortion.”
“If you trivialize real stories, and embroider them in a thousand different ways, then you make that whole period seem vulnerable to similar accounts. That is the risk,” he warned.

The Jewish history behind Netflix's Transatlantic and WWII mission that inspiredit.The degree of fictionalize has angered some people close to the real history,
by Shira Li Bartov, JTA, The Jerusalem Post, and The Times of Israel, April 6, 2023
[Before getting a chance to see the series,] Pierre Sauvage, president of the Varian Fry Institute, called the show’s trailer “shocking.” Born in 1944, Sauvage survived the end of the Holocaust in the French village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, although his Jewish parents were turned down by Fry’s overwhelmed committee. He became close friends with some of Fry’s fellow rescuers in their later years, including the late {Mary Jayne] Gold, [Albert] Hirschman and [Lisa] Fittko.
“Are there any red lines?” he said. “Can one fictionalize at will, with no concern for the reality of the story, for the false impression that people will get — and for the way it affects the private lives of the families of people portrayed?”
Sheila Isenberg, who documented Fry’s operation in her book A Hero of Our Own has described the series as a “travesty.”

Netflix's Glossy but Superficial Account of a World War II Rescue Network, review by Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, April 5, 2023
I can credit Transatlantic for its digestibility, while lamenting the great series that could have been made about this moment and this setting. This is not it.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Barbera Armstrong

Last Updated: 02/08/2023

Views: 6277

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (79 voted)

Reviews: 94% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Barbera Armstrong

Birthday: 1992-09-12

Address: Suite 993 99852 Daugherty Causeway, Ritchiehaven, VT 49630

Phone: +5026838435397

Job: National Engineer

Hobby: Listening to music, Board games, Photography, Ice skating, LARPing, Kite flying, Rugby

Introduction: My name is Barbera Armstrong, I am a lovely, delightful, cooperative, funny, enchanting, vivacious, tender person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.