Monday, March 1, 2021

Meditation on Saving Terror Targets—New Murfin Verse

Martha and Waitstill Sharp wave as they prepared to depart from New York to Europe in 1939.  They scarcely knew what they were in for.

Yesterday at our Tree of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation Sunday morning Zoom service the Reverend Jenn Gracen preached on the lessons of love to be learned from the story of a Unitarian minister and his wife who left a comfortable life to go to Europe as it was teetering on the edge of World War to rescue refugees.  The story of Rev. Waitstill Sharp and his wife Martha is fairly well known among U.U.’s but may be unfamiliar to you unless you saw the PBS film by Artemis Joukowsky and Ken Burns in 2016.

Defying the Nazi's: The Sharps War was featured on PBS in 2016.

I have written previously about the couple and the film.  For a summary of the Sharp’s lives and mission see this Blog post.

But Rev. Jenn’s sermon and my recent work with The Coalition to End the ICE Contract in McHenry County moved me to once again commit poetry.

Martha Sharp, far right, and twenty seven children she shepherded from France to New York in 1940.  Most would otherwise not have survived the war.

Meditation on Saving Terror Targets

Inspired by Rev. Waitstill and Martha Sharp

and Rev. Jenn Gracen Sermon

February 28, 2021


Those very nice New Englanders heeded a call

            ignored by many

            and left children and comfort

            for Prague on the edge of doom.

Before they quite knew what had happened

            they were doing un-Unitarian things—

            lying to authorities, forging documents,

            laundering money, consorting with outcasts,

            playing cloak and dagger on dark rainy streets.

He did most of the paper work and keeping accounts,

            spending money, working the phone

            and playing shell games with the Gestapo.

The demure Mrs. was the secret agent

            making rendezvous, shaking tails,

            using code names and passing notes

            in invisible ink.

At the very last possible moment

            she, using documents faked and fudged by him

            got thirty-seven marked men on a train

            out of Prague on a train that

            had to cross Germany

            to get to France

            batting her pretty, innocent eyelashes

            at Nazi agents.

Back in America by the skin of their teeth

            they played with the children

            who hardly knew them

            and then were sent back to Europe at war.

They made her way to Vichy France

            and she came out with twenty-seven Jewish girls,

            leading them on foot across the Pyrenees

            neutral but hostile Spain

            and eventually to New York

            on an ocean liner that narrowly avoided

            being sunk by a U-boat.


That’s the tale we’ve been told.

            We wonder if we could have done it.

            we wonder if we even should—

            their own children, after all,

            were scarred

            and their marriage shattered.


There is still plenty of horror in the world

            yet who is dashing off to Kurdistan

            to defy Syrians and Turks,

            to bloody Yemen where our drones rain death,

            or to a dozen other would-be holocausts

            in the making.


What if we didn’t even need to leave the county,

            our own warm beds,

            the bosoms of our families?


What if we sheltered the undocumented

            and despised,

            confronted ICE raids,

            freed children from cages,

            brick by brick             

and bar by bar

            tore down that

            concentration camp

            just down the street?


What if….


—Patrick Murfin 

Demonstrators surrounded this ICE immigrant detention center.  We have our very own in the McHenry County Jail.

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