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PBS doc looks at social worker, minister couple who saved Jews during World War II

Martha and Waitstill Sharp. Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.

Martha and Waitstill Sharp. Photo courtesy of The Washington Post.

The PBS documentary “Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War” looks at the little-known story of Unitarian Minister Waitstill Sharp and his social worker wife Martha, who left their children and comfortable home in Massachusetts to help 125 Jews in Europe escape from death at the hands of the Nazis.

Waitstill and Martha Sharp are two of only five Americans honored at Yad Vashem, a Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem.

According to this article in the Washington Post, the couple used a variety of aid networks to smuggle Jews out of Czechoslavakia and France. For instance, Martha managed to persuade officials from Nazi-occupied Vichy France to let Jewish children Alex and Joseph Strasser board a ship to the United States.

Alex, who was six years old at the time and is now 82, became a doctor and lives in Rochester, N.Y.

“The world should know,” he said, that the refugees simply wanted β€œto escape persecution and to start a new life. We became Americans.”

After the war the couple divorced and spoke little about their experiences, possibly because they felt remorse for not helping more people, including the six Jewish people who worked in their Czechoslovakia office who were murdered in concentration camps.

Their grandson Artemis Joukowsky wrote a paper about his grandparents, uncovered documents related to their heroism, and later decided to do a film with the help of college classmate and renowned documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

Actor Tom Hanks and actress, health care provider and global activist Marina Goldman provide the voices of Waitstill and Martha in the film.

“Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War” will air on PBS channels beginning September 20. Check local listings for airing times.

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