A message from Mark Silverberg, Jewish Federation NEPA Executive Director
Over the weekend, David Fallk, our CRC Chairman, brought to my attention a documentary titled “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War “ that will be airing on WVIA on Tuesday evening, September 20th at 9:00 pm.
I encourage each of you to tune in to this remarkable film.
The documentary is directed by Ken Burns and is an account of a daring rescue mission that occurred on the eve of World War II. According to reviews, it tells the story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who left their children behind in the care of their parish and boldly committed to multiple life-threatening missions in Europe that saved hundreds of imperiled political dissidents and Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation across Europe.
The summary of the documentary reads as follows:
In January of 1939, as Americans remained mostly detached from news reports of the growing refugee crisis in the escalating war in Europe, Waitstill received a call from the Rev. Everett Baker, Vice President of the American Unitarian Association, asking if they would travel to Czechoslovakia to help provide relief to people trying to escape Nazi persecution.
He invited Waitstill and Martha to take part in “the first intervention against evil by the denomination to be started immediately overseas.”
The mission would involve secretly helping Jews, refugees and dissidents to escape the expanding Nazi threat in Europe. If they were discovered, they would face imprisonment, probable torture and death. Seventeen other members of the church had declined. Nevertheless, with two young children at home, the Sharps accepted. They expected to be gone for two months. Instead, their mission would last almost two years.
During this time, the Sharps would face harrowing encounters with Nazi police, narrowly escaped arrest, and watched as the Third Reich invaded Eastern Europe. Their marriage would be tested severely and the two children they left behind would be saddened by their parents’ absence. But dozens of Jewish scientists, journalists, doctors, powerful anti-Nazi activists and children would find their way to freedom and start new lives as a result of their efforts.
In recognition of their heroic sacrifice, Martha and Waitstill were honored at Yad Vashem in Israel and declared “Righteous among the Nations.”
Of the thousands so honored, there are only five Americans …….. and this includes the Sharps.
DEFYING THE NAZIS is cinematically told through the letters and journals of the Sharps, with Tom Hanks as the voice of Waitstill and Marina Goldman as the voice of Martha.
It features first-hand interviews with the now adult children whom the Sharps saved, as well as leading historians, authors and Holocaust scholars.
I sincerely hope that each of you can find the time to watch this film, and I wish you and your family a Happy Rosh Hashanah.