Before I saw Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver over the weekend I knew nothing about the film’s 23-year-old star, Ansel Elgort, who has apparently been a young and widely talented heartthrob for a few years now. In the movie, Elgort plays Baby, a talented getaway driver who, in order to pay off a debt, becomes reluctantly involved with some bad guys (played by Kevin Spacey, John Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, to name a few). Altogether, the movie, with its expert soundtrack, thrilling action sequences, and fine acting, is a bloody good time at the movies. Elgort, however, steals the show. Soon, he’ll play JFK.
Ansel Elgort is one of three siblings (Warren, Sophie), and his parents, Arthur Elgort and Grethe Barrett Holby, are themselves involved in the arts. Arthur is a long-time photographer who shoots for a number of well-known international magazines, including Vogue, while Grethe has enjoyed a successful career in theater, particularly opera. It turns out that both of Ansel Elgort’s parents have connections to Judaism.
Elgort’s father is of Russian-Jewish descent, and he was born and raised in New York City. About his last name, Ansel Elgort, during press for Divergent, told New Orleans Public Radio, “I think it’s Russian. His father was a Russian Jew who fled and was an immigrant in New York City and grew up in Washington Heights. My dad grew up in Washington Heights. I grew up in New York in Manhattan. So we’re purebred New Yorkers.”
And even though it does not appear that Elgort’s mother is Jewish, her mother—Ansel’s grandmother—has a stunning connection to Norway’s Jews. According to her 2012 obituary in the New York Times, Aase-Grethe Holby, who was born in Oslo in 1921, served in the Norwegian Resistance to German occupation during World War II. “She assisted in her Austrian-Jewish brother-in-law’s escape from Norway and thereafter, posing as a young mother, she took Norwegian-Jewish children to safety over the border into neutral Sweden. While working for the Resistance in Trondheim in 1943, she was awoken in the middle of the night by the Germans and imprisoned in a concentration camp in Norway.” After 18 months, she was released, and escaped to Sweden.
When Aase-Grethe died in 2012, Elgort shared her photo—and a loving tribute—on Instagram:
A post shared by Ansel Elgort (@ansel) on Jul 7, 2012 at 4:27pm PDT
Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.