Documentary on Jewish Rescuers Martha and Rev. Waitstill Sharp via Zoom

Two Who Dared: The Sharps Story, a documentary film about the Unitarian couple who rescued Jews in Prague and France during World War II will be shown on Zoom this Thursday, November 18 at 6:30 pm by the Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry, Illinois.  The film will be introduced by the congregation’s interim Minister, Rev. Jenn Gracen who has preached about the couple’s dangerous missions and will be available after the showing to answer questions and facilitate discussion.

In 1939 Rev. Waitstill Sharp, minister of the Unitarian Church of Wellesley Hills in Wellesley, Massachusetts responded to an urgent plea to go as quickly as possible to Prague, Czechoslovakiato help endangered writers, artists, intellectuals, and Jews out of the country before the Nazis occupied the city.  Dozens of other ministers had already turned down the dangerous assignment.  Not only did Waitstill agree but his young wife Martha determined to join her husband.  Not only did they leave their church, but they had to leave their 8-year old son and 3-year old daughterin the care of friends.

They arrived in Prague just in time for German troops to occupy the city.  Despite this as neutral Americans they established a Service Committee office and began work.  Waitstill navigated the Nazi bureaucracy to try to arrange travel documents and when he couldn’t obtain them lied to the authorities and had forged documents created.  Martha often played a cloak and dagger role dodging police to deliver documents and move endangered individual to safe house location.  Eventually she escorted 35 refugees—journalists, political leaders, and orphaned children—to England crossing occupied Poland and Germany in a sealed car.  Waitstill left Prague for Switzerland a few weeks later.  The couple returned to the U.S.

After a reunion with their children and a short respite, they accepted a new assignment to France as the newly established Unitarian Service Committee’s “ambassadors extraordinary.” But before they could arrive in Paris to set up an office, the Germans occupied the city. Instead, the Sharps opened an office in Lisbon, since thousands of refugees were escaping to neutral Portugal, hoping to find safety and a ship to take them to the United States or another destination outside of Europe.  Martha Sharp worked at a new Unitarian Service Committee office in Marseilles, which was the primary port in unoccupied Vichy France from which refugees could escape where she distributed milk and food to those crowding the port.  She doggedly battled numerous bureaucracies to secure exit visas, transit permits, and identity papers for 29 children and 10 adults then led them on a perilous trek by foot across the Pyrenees Mountains into Franco’s Spain and from their to Lisbon from which they sailed to New York.

For these lifesaving services both Waitstill and Martha were honored as The Righteous Among Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, for risking their lives to aid Jews during the Holocaust.  The were the second and third Americans so honored.

In 1944, Waitstill was appointed to a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) position in Cairo. Martha returned to Spain and Portugal, assisting refugees, mainly Spanish Republicans, to emigrate to South America.  In 1946, Martha ran for Congress, but lost, in part because of accusations that the USC was a leftist, communist-supporting organization. 

Although the couple divorced after the war, both continued to serve.  Marth continued to advocate for refugees and was a strong supporter of Israel.  Waitstill returned to parish ministry before retiring. He died at age 80 in 1983.  Martha was 94 when she died in 2099.

Two Who Dared: The Sharps Story was a years-long effort of the Sharp’s grandson Artemis Joukowskywho never knew anything about their war-time accomplishments until he literally stumbled on it while researching a class project in high school.  Neither grandparent had ever mentioned it.  He conducted hours of interviews, especially with Martha and uncovered various troves of documents and family photos.  Eventually he interviewed some of those who they saved and other witnesses.  He directed and co-wrote the documentary which was released in 2012.

The film so impressed Ken Burns that he signed on as a producer and co-director of an expanded version aired on PBS in 2016 as Defying the Nazis: Sharps’ War.  The main difference between the two versions was the addition of Tom Hanks as the voice of Waitstill.  Tree of Life will be sharing the original version.

The showing is free to the public but free-will donations can be made to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, the continuation of the Unitarian Service Committee.  It partners with local grass roots organizations around the world and in the US on social justice projects including refugee emergencies and immigration justice.

To join the Zoom program log into.

For more information contact Tree of Life at or visit the Facebook event.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *