Thursday, March 28, 2013

UU Congregation to Premier Story of a Couple Who Saved Thousands from the Nazis

On Saturday, April 6 at 7 pm the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry (Tree of Life), 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry, will join dozens of other venues around the world in premiering Two Who Dared: The Sharps’ War, a documentary about courage and sacrifice by a young couple fighting to save Jews and other potential victims of the Nazis at the onset of World War II

After seventeen ministers declined the American Unitarian Association’s request for relief volunteers in Europe, the Rev. Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha committed to the dangerous undertaking. They left their two young children in Wellesley, Massachusetts and traveled to Czechoslovakia. In order to enable the clandestine transportation of refugees, they battled political and social blockades, broke laws to get imperiled individuals exit visas and laundered money on the black market. Over the course of two missions—Prague in 1939 and Southern France in 1940, the Sharps, and their underground confederates played a vital role in saving thousands from persecution.

The letters of transit which were the McGuffin in the film Casablanca did not really exist, but those were the kind of documents that the Sharps begged, borrowed, stole, or forged at great risk to help refugees escape war torn Europe.

Because of their actions to save Jews, the Sharps were named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum. They are two of only three Americans to be so honored. The official premier release of the film in April coincides with Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The film, which has already won honors at film festivals, was conceived, co-produced and directed by Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a grandson of the Sharps.  He is an experienced documentary film maker, non-profit activist, and venture capitalist.  Joukowsky and his associates spent more than two years gathering documentation including letters and diaries as well interviewing experts on the war, the Holocaust, surviving witnesses, and family members of the Sharps and those they saved.  Rare film footage and never before seen photographs were used throughout the film. 

The screening at the church will be followed by an open discussion period.  The program is co-sponsored by the Social Justice Committee and the Fellowship CommitteePopcorn and refreshments will be available.

The program is open to the public.  A voluntary $10 per family donation is requested to defer the cost of the program, but no one will be turned away.

For more information contact Patrick Murfin at 815 814-5645 or e-mail him at

1 comment:

  1. I am the author of a book called "Rescue and Flight: American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis" (University of Nebraska Press), which happens to be the only book published about the activities of the Sharps and the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II. I wrote this book because I had a vital desire to know what the Unitarians did and did not do to rescue refugees, one of whom was my father. I hope that your audience views the occasion of the film as a chance to learn more about the people and events of the Unitarian Service Committee during the war.

    Unfortunately Two Who Dared and its publicity materials are likely to leave a misleading impression of the scale of the Sharps’ rescue work, which was small in the number of people that they directly helped with emigration. In Prague and in Vichy France Waitstill Sharp was chiefly concerned with other matters, financially supporting the Czech Unitarian congregation and, later, helping to evacuate Czech soldiers’ families from southern France. Martha Sharp had a greater focus on helping refugees and had some success in that regard, working primarily under the leadership of volunteers with the BCRC in Czechoslovakia and the World YMCA in France. I view her project of bringing 27 people -- some of whom were Jewish and endangered -- out of Vichy France in 1940 to the United States, as a tangible achievement, although the Quaker’s children’s project that followed was of a much larger scale.

    Martha Sharp was, in my mind, a dedicated volunteer, but the summary numbers and period clips offered in the film conflates the achievements of many (unnamed) people who worked in Europe during the war. In the case of the Unitarian Service Committee, the person with the most effective, far-reaching refugee rescue program was another Unitarian minister named Charles Joy.

    I’d like to recommend to you some highly readable books about the events in this episode of history, please be in touch if you have related questions.

    - Susan Subak, Ph.D.

    Czechoslovakia: Gentiles based in Prague who were instrumental in refugee rescue were Doreen Warriner, Beatrice Wellington, Trevor Chadwick, and a number of Quaker women.

    • William Chadwick, The Rescue of the Prague Refugees 1938/39, Troubador, 2010.

    • Muriel Emanuel and Vera Gissing, Nicholas Winton and the Rescued Generation, Valentine Mitchell, 2001.

    Vichy France: Gentiles working out of Marseille who were instrumental in refugee rescue and relief were Varian Fry, Donald Lowrie, Charles Joy and Noel Field.

    • Andy Marino, A Quiet American: The Secret War of Varian Fry, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2000.

    • Susan Elisabeth Subak, Rescue and Flight: American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis, University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

    • Donald A. Lowrie, The Hunted Children, Norton, 1963.