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The real Jewish history behind Netflix’s ‘Transatlantic’ and the WWII rescue mission that inspired it

(JTA) — While the United States swung its door shut to most refugees during World War II, a young American in France saved thousands, including some of the 20th century’s defining artists and thinkers — such as Marc Chagall and Hannah Arendt — from the Nazis. 

The rescue mission of Varian Fry, which went largely unrecognized during his life, is the subject of Netflix’s new drama “Transatlantic,” launching Friday from “Unorthodox” creator Anna Winger.

Starring Cory Michael Smith as Fry, the seven-episode “Transatlantic” aims to recreate his operation in Marseille after the Nazis defeated France and before the United States entered the war. Winger has injected several imagined romances, war efforts and characters into the fictionalized series, including one posed as Fry’s lover, named Thomas Lovegrove (played by Israeli Amit Rahav). Although Fry’s son has said that he was a “closeted homosexual,” no such person is known to have existed. 

Winger believes these inventions will invite Netflix viewers to learn more about the true story.

“The people who lived through these stories are dying out,” she told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “My job is to bring this to a wide audience, to people who don’t know anything about it.”

The story behind the series

The real Varian Fry, a 32-year-old journalist and suit-clad Harvard graduate, showed up in Marseille with $3,000 taped to his leg and a list of 200 names in August 1940. 

After France surrendered to Germany, Fry was among 200 Americans — including journalists, artists, museum curators, university presidents and Jewish refugees — to create the Emergency Rescue Committee at the Hotel Commodore in New York. This group was concerned with Article 19 in France’s armistice with Germany, which required French authorities to surrender any individuals demanded by the Germans. 

The private relief organization drew up frenzied lists of anti-Nazi intellectuals who were trapped in France. With the help of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the ERC obtained some emergency visas and sent Fry to lead the rescue efforts in Marseille, a port city in the southern, unoccupied part of France.

What he found there was impossible to manage alone. His mission began in his room at the Hotel Splendide, where long lines of refugees waited in the morning before he woke up and at night after he went to bed. They sometimes walked straight into his bedroom without knocking, Fry wrote in a letter to his wife shortly after he arrived.

Gathering a small devoted staff, including Frenchmen, refugees and American expatriates, Fry moved his office to Rue Grignan and later Boulevard Garibaldi. Outside of Marseille he rented the Villa Air-Bel — colorfully recreated in “Transatlantic” — to house eminent writers and eccentric Surrealist artists waiting for visas.

The group developed legal and illegal branches, with the cover organization offering humanitarian relief while a behind-the-scenes operation flouted the law to help refugees escape. Using Marseille’s lively black market, the staff found hiding places, forged documents and bribed officials. Bil Spira, a Jewish Austrian-born cartoonist, forged passports for the ERC. (He was caught and deported to Auschwitz, but survived.) Resistance fighters Hans and Lisa Fittko devised an escape route to Spain, guiding refugees across the Pyrenees mountains on foot.  

By the time he was forced out in October 1941, Fry’s shoestring operation had enabled 2,000 Jewish and other anti-Nazi refugees to flee Europe, including such towering artists as Chagall, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp, and intellects such as Arendt, Heinrich Mann and André Breton. It has been estimated that 20,000 refugees made contact with the rescue center in Marseille.

Fry’s illegal efforts made him plenty of enemies from his own country, who accused him of interfering with American neutrality in the war. He angered the state department, officials at the American consulate in Marseille and ERC members in New York. In August 1941, he was arrested by Vichy police and sent back to New York. 

Fry died in 1967 at the age of 59. Only a few months earlier, he had received the Croix de Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration of merit — and the only official recognition in his lifetime. In 1994, he became the first American honored by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and history authority, as Righteous Among the Nations.

The Emergency Rescue Committee merged with another relief organization and became the International Rescue Committee in 1942. It is still in operation today and currently led by a Jewish CEO, former British politician David Miliband.

What’s in the show, and why some are against it

Some of Fry’s colleagues are fictionalized in “Transatlantic,” including the Jewish Berliner Albert Hirschman (Lucas Englander), who would become an economist in the United States; the Chicago heiress Mary Jayne Gold (Gillian Jacobs); and the Jewish Austro-Hungarian activist Lisa Fittko (Deleila Piasko). American diplomat Hiram Bigham, who gave Fry crucial help and even hid writer Lion Feuchtwanger in his home, is also a character in the show. 

Throughout the seven episodes, rescue missions swirl around a series of fictional love affairs. In addition to Fry’s relationship, a triangle unfolds between Hirschman, Gold and the fictional American Consul Graham Patterson. (There is no evidence that Gold romanced either with her comrade or with any American consul in Marseille.) Lisa Fittko has an affair with the fictional character Paul Kandjo, who organizes armed resistance to Vichy. 

Gillian Jacobs as heiress Mary Jayne Gold. (Anika Molnar/Netflix)

Several wartime plot points are also invented, including a prison break at Camp de Mille and Gold’s collaboration with British intelligence.

The degree of fictionalization has angered some people close to the real history. 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 Gold, Hirschman and 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.” Thomas Fischer Weiss, a child survivor who attempted Fry’s escape route through the Pyrenees at 5 years old, also said the historical events needed no embellishment. 

“I think you should tell it straight,” he told the JTA. 

The legacy of the ‘troublemakers’

Sauvage believes that if Fry and his associates were alive today, they would like to be remembered for their convictions. 

“These were people who were sort of in your face,” he said. “People who knew clearly what they felt and expressed it. They would often describe themselves as troublemakers. Mary Jayne [Gold] said about Varian that he was an ‘ornery cuss’ — it took orneriness to stick to your guns.”

That orneriness was critical at a time when many Americans were apathetic to the plight of European Jews — a 1938 poll in Fortune magazine found that fewer than 5% believed the United States should raise its immigration quotas for refugees. By the summer of 1941, it was too late to open the doors. The German policy of expelling Jews had changed into extermination.

According to Sauvage, America’s refusal to accept more refugees had something to do with that shift.

“The Nazis could legitimately come to the conclusion that the world wouldn’t do anything about the murders and wouldn’t really care all that much,” he said. “What the Varian Fry mission symbolizes is people who cared.”

Varian Fry with Miriam Davenport in the first offices of the Centre Américain de Secours in Marseille in 1940. Davenport, a friend of Mary Jayne Gold, also worked in the rescue effort but is omitted from “Transatlantic.” (Varian Fry Institute)

After their year in Marseille, the rescuers settled into more ordinary lives. Hirschman became an economist with appointments at Yale, Columbia and Harvard. Lisa Fittko ended up in Chicago, where she worked hard in import-export, translation and clerical jobs to earn money, eventually joining protests against the Vietnam War. Gold divided her time between New York City and a villa on the French Riviera. 

They all remembered the rescue mission as their finest hour. Speaking with Sauvage, Gold called that year “the only one in her life that really mattered.”

A refugee story for troubled times

Fry’s rescue mission inspired Julie Orringer to write “The Flight Portfolio,” a 2019 novel that became the basis for “Transatlantic. Orringer was captivated by the image of a young man arriving in Marseille, idealistic and unprepared for the depth of anguish he would find. 

“The task was way too big,” she told the JTA. “He realized quite early on that he was going to ask for help, that he was going to have to turn to others who had deeper experience. And in collecting this group of incredible individuals around him, he assembled a kind of collective mind that really could make a difference under the very difficult circumstances that he faced.”

She believed that Fry left an example for the inexperienced. “If you‘re the kind of person who wants to take action on behalf of refugees, but doesn’t know how to do it, ask for help,” she said. 

Winger, a Jewish Massachusetts native who has lived in Berlin for two decades, conceived of making a series about Fry in 2015. Germany saw an influx of more than a million migrants that year, most of them fleeing Syria’s horrific civil war. She optioned Orringer’s book in 2020.

“​​I thought a lot about the fact that people like us — artists, Jews, both — had to leave Berlin as refugees, but now there were so many people coming to Berlin as refugees,” said Winger. 

Then, just as she started filming “Transatlantic” on location in Marseille, a new war broke out in Europe.

“The war in Ukraine started three days into the production and there was a whole other wave of refugees coming to Berlin,” she said. “Suddenly we were making it in another refugee crisis.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine hit close to the show, whose cast and crew hail from across the continent. Winger’s cinematographer is married to a Ukrainian woman. In Berlin, she saw thousands of refugees crowding into the central train station, some without shoes, food or plans for shelter. 

“I think it gave us all a strong sense of purpose,” said Winger.

The post The real Jewish history behind Netflix’s ‘Transatlantic’ and the WWII rescue mission that inspired it appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Canada’s economic growth projected to be about 1% in the first half of 2024

Canada is a country with a thriving Jewish community and has traditionally offered the security of a strong economy for residents. The national economic outlook is naturally something that everyone in Canada’s Jewish community keeps track of – especially those involved in business in the various provinces.

With this in mind, the July 2023 Monetary Policy Report from the Bank of Canada made for interesting reading, projecting a moderate economic growth figure of around 1% for the first half of 2024. This is in line with growth figures that had been forecast for the second half of 2023, and sees the country’s economy remain on a stable footing.

Steady projected growth for first half of 2024

Although projected economic growth of around 1% in early 2024 is not as impressive as figures of around 3.4% in 2022 and 1.8% in 2023, it is certainly no cause for alarm. But what might be behind it?

Higher interest rates are one major factor to consider and have had a negative impact on household spending nationally. This has effectively seen people with less spending power and businesses in Canada generating less revenue as a result.

Interest rate rises have also hit business investments nationally, and less money is being channelled into this area to fuel Canada’s economic growth. When you also factor in how the weak foreign demand for Canadian goods and services has hit export growth lately, the projected GDP growth figure for early 2024 is understandable.

Growth in second half of 2024 expected

Although the above may make for interesting reading for early 2024, the Bank of Canada’s report does show that economic growth is expected to pick up in the second half of the year. This is projected to be due to the decreasing effect of high interest rates on the Canadian economy and a stronger foreign demand for the country’s exports.

Moving forward from this period, it is predicted that inflation will remain at around 3% as we head into 2025, and hit the Bank of Canada’s inflation target of 2% come the middle of 2025. All of this should help the country’s financial status remain stable and prove encouraging for business leaders in the Jewish community.

Canada’s economic growth mirrors iGaming’s rise

When you take a look at the previous growth figures Canada has seen and also consider the growth predicted for 2024 (especially in the second half of the year), it is clear that the country has a vibrant, thriving economy.

This economic growth is something that can be compared with iGaming’s recent rise as an industry around the country. In the same way as Canada has steadily built a strong economy over time, iGaming has transformed itself into a powerful, flourishing sector.

This becomes even clearer when you consider that Canadian iGaming has been a major contributor to the sustained growth seen in the country’s arts, entertainment and recreation industry, which rose by around 1.9% in Q2 of 2023. The healthy state of online casino play in Canada is also evidenced by how many customers the most popular casino platforms attract and how the user experience these operators offer has enabled iGaming in the country to take off.

This, of course, is also something that translates to the world stage, where global iGaming revenues in 2023 hit an estimated $95 billion. iGaming’s global market volume is also pegged to rise to around $130 billion by 2027. These kinds of figures represent a sharp jump for iGaming worldwide and show how the sector is on the ascent.

Future economic outlook for Canada in line with global expectations

When considering the Canadian economic outlook for 2024, it is often useful to look at how this compares with global financial predictions. In addition to the rude health of iGaming in Canada being reflected in global online casino gaming, the positive economic outlook for the country is also broadly in line with expectations for many global economies.

Global growth is also predicted to rise steadily in the second half of 2024 before becoming stronger in 2025. This should be driven by the weakening effects of high interest rates on worldwide economic prosperity. With rate cuts in Canada already expected after Feb 2024’s inflation report, this could happen in the near future.

The performance of the US economy is always of interest in Canada, as this is the country’s biggest trading partner. Positive US Q2 performances in 2023, powered by a strong labor market, good consumer spending levels and robust business investments, were therefore a cause for optimism. As a US economy that continues to grow is something that Canadian businesses welcome, this can only be a healthy sign.

Canada set for further growth in 2024

Local news around Canada can cover many topics but the economy is arguably one of the most popular. A projected GDP growth figure of around 1% for Canada’s economy shows that the financial state of the country is heading in the right direction. An improved financial outlook heading into the latter half of 2024/2025 would make for even better reading, and the national economy should become even stronger.

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The Legal Landscape of Online Gambling in Canada

Online gambling has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years. While many jurisdictions have legalized land-based gambling, it hasn’t applied to online platforms. Nonetheless, Canada is one nation that has legalized online gambling with their provinces’ licensing and regulating sites.

Nonetheless, Canadians of legal age can enjoy playing their favourite online games where available. So many games like slots, blackjack, and roulette still maintain their popularity even in the digital sense.  Want to learn about what’s legal in Canada for online gambling? Let’s take a look.

What is legal for online gambling in Canada?

What is the best online casino in Canada? The list we provide you here should be a good start. It’s also important to note that most Canadian provinces do not have laws that prohibit offshore online casinos.

Many provinces provide licensing to online casinos. They even regulate them as well. For example, Alberta and British Columbia have sites regulated by their respective governing bodies. The Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) allows legal online gambling and oversees the services it offers to Maritime provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

However, there are some caveats to address. In Newfoundland and Labrador, online gambling that is not offered by the ALC is considered illegal. Therefore, it is the only Canadian province as of 2024 that prohibits offshore options.

In terms of the legal age, there are three provinces where the legal age is 18: Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec. The remaining provinces establish 19 as the legal age for gambling including online.

Who are the regulatory bodies for gambling in Canada?

At the Federal level, the Canadian Gaming Association is the regulatory body for gambling in Canada. Thus, they cover both land-based and online gambling in the country. There are also provincial and regional regulatory bodies such as the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) – which covers the provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador.  

The Western Canada Lottery Corporation covers Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, and the Yukon Territory. A handful of provinces also have their regulatory bodies covering lottery and gaming.

Canada requires online casinos that wish to accept players from the country to adhere to regulations and licensing. These licenses are provided by provincial regulatory bodies. When licensed, online casinos must follow the regulations and security standards.

However, there is the belief that many of the laws about gambling in Canada may be outdated. This could be because these laws were created long before the advent of the Internet. Therefore, such laws may need to be modernized. Nonetheless, online gambling for the most part is legal, just dependent on the province.

Are there any legal grey areas to discuss?

The grey area that is considered a concern pertains to the use of offshore sites. As mentioned earlier, Newfoundland and Labrador is believed to be the only province that prohibits it. Even online casinos with no licensing by Canadian or provincial authorities accept residents of the country.

On the players’ end, many Canadians are allowed to play at online casinos. However, they may be restricted from certain platforms. This is to ensure that the players themselves are protected from unknowingly playing on platforms that may be illegal. 

What are the other laws and regulations about online gambling in Canada?

Online casinos have implemented measures for responsible gambling. This includes providing support and resources to problem gamblers on their site. They are also restricted regarding the marketing and advertising aspects of promoting their platform. 

One restriction of note is that marketing that is targeted at minors is prohibited. Another prohibits professional athletes from appearing in online casino ads in Ontario.

Even offshore casinos must adhere to these laws and regulations. Especially if they have obtained a license from the provincial bodies that allow them to operate.

Canada’s online gambling is legal – but will things change

As it stands right now, the legality of online gambling in Canada seems to fall under the purview of provincial laws and regulations. Canadian citizens must perform their due diligence further to see which online casinos are allowed by their respective provinces. Just because it may be legal in one province, it may not be the same in others.

Nonetheless, the question is: will any laws relax certain restrictions? Will Newfoundland and Labrador change their tune regarding offshore casinos? It’s unclear what the future holds – but watch this space for any changes about online gambling in Canada.  

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Wiseman, Nathan Elliot
1944 – 2023
Nathan, our beloved husband, Dad, and Zaida, died unexpectedly on December 13, 2023. Nathan was born on December 16, 1944, in Winnipeg, MB, the eldest of Sam and Cissie Wiseman’s three children.
He is survived by his loving wife Eva; children Sam (Natalie) and Marni (Shane); grandchildren Jacob, Jonah, Molly, Isabel, Nicole, and Poppy; brother David (Sherrill); sister Barbara (Ron); sister-in-law Agi (Sam) and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Nathan grew up in the north end of Winnipeg surrounded by his loving family. He received his MD from the University of Manitoba in 1968, subsequently completed his General Surgery residency at the University of Manitoba and went on to complete a fellowship in Paediatric Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital of Harvard University. His surgeon teachers and mentors were world renowned experts in the specialty, and even included a Nobel prize winner.
His practice of Paediatric Surgery at Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg spanned almost half a century. He loved his profession and helping patients, even decades later often recounting details about the many kiddies on whom he had operated. Patients and their family members would commonly approach him on the street and say, “Remember me Dr. Wiseman?”. And he did! His true joy was caring for his patients with compassion, patience, unwavering commitment, and excellence. He was a gifted surgeon and leaves a profound legacy. He had no intention of ever fully retiring and operated until his very last day. He felt privileged to have the opportunity to mentor, support and work with colleagues, trainees, nurses, and others health care workers that enriched his day-to-day life and brought him much happiness and fulfillment. He was recognized with many awards and honors throughout his career including serving as Chief of Surgery of Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, President of the Canadian Association of Pediatric Surgeons, and as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons. Most importantly of all he helped and saved the lives of thousands and thousands of Manitoba children. His impact on the generations of children he cared for, and their families, is truly immeasurable.
Nathan’s passion for golf was ignited during his childhood summers spent at the Winnipeg Beach Golf Course. Southwood Golf and Country Club has been his second home since 1980. His game was excellent and even in his last year he shot under his age twice! He played an honest “play as it lies” game. His golf buddies were true friends and provided him much happiness both on and off the course for over forty years. However, his passion for golf extended well beyond the eighteenth hole. He immersed himself in all aspects of the golf including collecting golf books, antiques, and memorabilia. He was a true scholar of the game, reading golf literature, writing golf poetry, and even rebuilding and repairing antique golf clubs. Unquestionably, his knowledge and passion for the game was limitless.
Nathan approached his many woodworking and workshop projects with zeal and creativity, and he always had many on the go. During the winter he was an avid curler, and in recent years he also enjoyed the study of Yiddish. Nathan never wasted any time and lived his life to the fullest.
Above all, Nathan was a loving husband, father, grandfather, son, father-in-law, son-in-law, uncle, brother, brother-in-law, cousin, and granduncle. He loved his family and lived for them, and this love was reciprocated. He met his wife Eva when he was a 20-year-old medical student, and she was 18 years old. They were happily married for 56 years. They loved each other deeply and limitlessly and were proud of each other’s accomplishments. He loved the life and the family they created together. Nathan was truly the family patriarch, an inspiration and a mentor to his children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and many others. He shared his passion for surgery and collecting with his son and was very proud to join his daughter’s medical practice (he loved Thursdays). His six grandchildren were his pride and joy and the centre of his world.
Throughout his life Nathan lived up to the credo “May his memory be a blessing.” His life was a blessing for the countless newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers who he cared for, for his colleagues, for his friends and especially for his family. We love him so much and there are no words to describe how much he will be missed.
A graveside funeral was held at the Shaarey Zedek cemetery on December 15, 2023. Pallbearers were his loving grandchildren. The family would like to extend their gratitude to Rabbi Yosef Benarroch of Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Congregation.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Manitoba, in the name of Dr. Nathan Wiseman.

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