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,
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
confronted ICE raids,
freed children from cages,
brick by brick
and bar by bar
tore down that
just down the street?