Hiram Bingham: Transatlantic character explained

In Transatlantic, Hiram Bingham is the only person in the US consulate in Marseille who is willing to help the ERC, but he has to pay the price for it. Luke Thompson plays Hiram “Harry” Bingham.

When Germany invades France in the Second World War, the American Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) operates in the south of France in Marseille to get artists and intellectuals, who are on the Nazis’ most-wanted list, out of France before it is too late.

It soon becomes clear that the US consul, Graham Patterson, does not care much about the refugees, but all hope is not lost, as the vice-consul, Hiram “Harry” Bingham, offers to help as much as possible.

Bingham and Fry’s partnership

Bingham introduces himself to Varian Fry, the man who is leading the ERC, and tells him that Fry should come directly to him to get the visas for the refugees, as Patterson is not sympathetic to ERC’s cause.

Patterson had clearly asked Bingham not to issue visas to people with left-wing views, to POWs, and to Jews, who were at the highest risk. This is also the attitude of the state; the state is not willing to take in refugee children. 

Later, Patterson gets Fry fired and replaces him with one of his men. Fry does not leave France and continues helping people. He then seeks Bingham’s help because he knows that he cannot rely on Patterson.

Fry needs Bingham to get visas for people like Hannah Arendt, who was a Jewish historian and philosopher. Fry manages to get a spot for several refugees on Captain DuBois’ ship to the Caribbean, but he still needs visas for them.

It is not easy for Bingham to get these visas, as the top brass of the State Department has been sending them memos that reflect the state’s indifference to the suffering of millions of innocent Jews.

Transatlantic Hiram Bingham
Bingham tells Fry about the memos from the top brass

They are asked to accept only old Jews who cannot reproduce and would do no harm to the US. Additionally, boats are being turned away from the New York Harbor due to the fear of German spies. 

However, Fry is not ready to take no for an answer. He convinces Bingham to disobey direct orders and do whatever he can to help. Bingham gives in and agrees to issue three visas a week without Patterson’s knowledge.

Bingham’s defiance

After Mary Jayne breaks into Camp des Milles to rescue the British POWs, Patterson asks Bingham to find any foreigner who has applied for a US visa and pin this on them. 

Bingham is not willing to frame an innocent person like this, but Patterson leaves no scope for discussion. Bingham does not follow his orders, and it is Madame Letoret who does it in his stead.

When Fry discovers that Captain DuBois’ ship is leaving the next day and that they do not have weeks to prepare as they had expected, he seeks Bingham’s help again, as he does not have enough time to get hundreds of visas.  

Each passenger on the ship needs some kind of off-continent entry visa, and Fry, who does not have any other option, implores Bingham to help him. 

Bingham is already in trouble because he helped a Jewish writer, Golo Mann, who was on the Nazis’ list, and the news got published in the newspaper. Patterson warns him and tells him that he will be watching him from now onwards.

Transatlantic Hiram Bingham
Bingham forges visas

Despite that, Bingham breaks into his office at night to get Fry what he needs. He forges 200 visas, stamps them, and signs them using Patterson’s pen. The next day, he hands them over to Fry, and the refugees are able to leave France on Captain DuBois’ ship.

Fry thanks Bingham, but unfortunately, Patterson finds out about Bingham’s actions. Patterson wants to stop the refugees from leaving, but he fails to do so. Patterson then fires Bingham.

However, even after getting fired, Bingham decides to help the refugees. The Chagalls already have visas, but they do not have identity papers or a means of transportation. 

Bingham comes up with a plan to steal a car, which has diplomatic plates and will be allowed to cross the border unchecked. He helps Fry steal the car from outside the consulate, and Fry is able to smuggle the Chagalls out of France safely.

It is not known what happened to Bingham after this, but since Commissaire Frot decided not to catch Fry and the Chagalls, it is safe to assume that he was also unharmed and must have gone back to the US.

Also Read: All the historical figures in Transatlantic

More from The Envoy Web