In February 1939, Waitstill Sharp, a young Unitarian minister from Boston, and his wife Martha left for Czechoslovakia on a refugee mission. For months previously, the Unitarian Church had been receiving alarming reports from Prague over the plight of refugees. After having been turned down by seventeen other Unitarian ministers, Reverend Everett Baker, of the Unitarian Association, invited Waitstill and Martha to undertake the mission of providing relief to refugees in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
The Sharps arrived in Prague, home to Unitaria, the largest Unitarian church in the world, with $28,000 in monetary aid for rescue and relief. The task became even more difficult when, on March 15, 1939, the Nazis invaded the entirety of Czechoslovakia. For the next five months, the Sharps continued their work to help refugees in any way they could. In August 1939, the couple returned to the United States when they learned that they might be arrested.
Only 10 months later, the Sharps returned to Europe on their second mission. The two set up a refugee office in Lisbon, Portugal, which became a bustling sanctuary for desperate refugees. They then made their way to France to help a new wave of refugees after that country was occupied by the Nazis. In September, 1940, Waitstill Sharp personally escorted renowned German-Jewish author, Lion Feuchtwanger, and his wife, Marta, in a dramatic escape over the Pyrenees mountains and through Spain, into Lisbon and subsequently to the United States. In December 1940, Martha Sharp organized the rescue of 27 children and 9 adults from southern France to the United States. During the sixth months that they worked in France, the Sharps collaborated with many institutions and individuals; including the US government, Hiram Bingham, the International Rescue Committee, Varian Fry, the YMCA, Donald and Helen Lowrie, the International Red Cross, the Quakers, and many others.
Two Who Dared: The Sharps’ War tells this remarkable story of courage. The film shows that Martha and Waitstill bravely fought political and social injustice, ultimately breaking laws in order to get imperiled individuals exit visas. They did whatever they could to help people escape and reach safety. This included: laundering money on the black market, overseeing the clandestine transportation of refugees and at times, simply providing food and shelter for those in need. In light of the risks taken by the Sharps, and for their meritorious assistance to other Jewish fugitives of Nazi terror, Yad Vashem decided on September 9, 2005 to confer upon the late Waitstill and Martha Sharp the title of Righteous Among the Nations, the highest honor that can be accorded by the State of Israel to non-Jews.
The film features individual interviews with some of the children, now adults, who were rescued by Martha Sharp and brought to America. Their perspectives, in particular, highlight the generational impact of social change, particularly its effect on them personally and their families. In the decade it has taken to research, verify and document the Sharps’ war-time efforts in order to have their story told, the documentary has undergone a number of transformations. There are now three distinct versions of the film: 35 minutes, 56 minutes, and 76 minutes, in order to satisfy different audience needs. For example, the educational version, available online on the Facing History and Ourselves website, serves as an educational tool and resource for the curriculum developed with Facing History and Ourselves. Through the inspiring true story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, Two Who Dared: The Sharps’ War reveals a timeless lesson of personal sacrifice and courage to be shared with future generations.