Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War (2016) - full transcript

When seventeen others turned down the Unitarian Association's request for relief volunteers, Waitstill and Martha Sharp committed to the dangerous mission. "Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War" is the story of their humanitarian work and the effect it had on their lives. The Sharp's left their two young children behind in Wellesley, Massachusetts and traveled to Czechoslovakia to aid refugees just as war was about to break out in Europe. While abroad, they combated political and social legislation, breaking laws in order to get imperiled individuals exit visas. From involvement with black market, money laundering, to the clandestine transportation of refugees, the Sharps played a vital role in the rescue of Jews and dissidents from persecution. The film features interviews with the refugees rescued as children, now adults, who were taken to America by Martha Sharp, and interviews with family members. These personal stories highlight the impact of social change and the effect of the Sharp's move to Europe during this turbulent time on their young children.

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Tom Hanks as Waitstill Sharp:

"February 23, 1946.

"My darling Martha,

"I hope and assume

this reaches you

"on your return

from what must have been

a very exacting

but very successful expedition."

"I must say that I would like

to begin having a home again.

The kids don't show

their feelings too much."

"I see nothing but men's things

in my wardrobe.

"I smell no perfumes.

"I have been

quite desperate at times.

I want to go on for what there

is left of life with you."

"7 years ago tonight,

we stepped off the train

"into Wilson Station,

and all our world

has been different ever since."

"Ever yours, Waitstill."


Crowd: Sieg Heil!

Sieg Heil!

[Hitler speaking German]

Man: Martha and Waitstill Sharp

left the comfort

of a peaceful, small

Massachusetts home

in order to go into Europe

on the verge of war.

They were motivated

from the beginning

to go out there

into the kingdom of hell

and try to get some people out.

Hanks as Waitstill: It was

the second Sunday night of 1939.

I had done a full day's work

at the church

and decided to spend an evening

in front of our fireplace.

[Telephone ringing]

The telephone rang,

and it was probably

the most momentous

telephone call

that I ever received.

"Hello, Waitstill."

I knew whose voice it was,

the voice of my closest

friend Everett Baker.

"Would you and Martha

come over to talk with me

at our house here?"


He said, "Waitstill, Martha,

I am inviting you

"to undertake the first

intervention against evil

by the denomination to be

started immediately overseas."

Goldman as Martha:

My husband and I felt

that something should be done.

Refugees in the Sudetenland

had been murdered,

and people had been

imprisoned and hurt.

Hanks as Waitstill:

We had two small kids,

including a very tiny daughter.

I said, "How many men

have you offered this to?"

"17," he said.

I said, "Do I understand they've

all turned you down?"

"Yes. They think a war

is definitely coming,

and they don't want

to be in danger."

I reassured Martha,

"Missionaries leave

their children.

"I'm sure ours can be

left in good hands.

I want to go,

but I won't go without you."

Goldman as Martha:

I knew I would miss

the children terribly,

but we would only be away

for a few months.

I was torn between my love

and duty to my children

and to my husband.

Hanks as Waitstill: As my wife

Martha and I went home

under the starry skies,

we went home

with a promise to do it.

[Bell tolling]

The core belief of movements

like the Unitarian

and Universalist movements,

belief in freedom--

freedom of thought--

in the use of reason,

and tolerance of difference.

Man: It's a faith that

very importantly stresses

that the shape of human history,

the future of history

is in human hands.

A Unitarian minister

with profound conviction,

a woman who had been deeply

committed all her life

to social justice,

two people very much aware

of the world around them,

were handed

an incredible invitation,

a very frightening invitation,

a very demanding invitation

because of its implications

for their family

and their church,

but an enormous opportunity

to actually change history.

Hanks as Waitstill: I had never

felt at home in law school.

I took my degree

with lasting gratitude

for its stern training

in analytical

and conceptual thinking,

but all that time,

I had felt a joy

in the conducting of service,

in work with children,

in the friendship and purpose

of the free church.

After graduating

from Harvard Law School,

I found my true calling.

Mendelsohn: Waitstill Sharp

was the kind of minister

I wanted to be.

That is, he wasn't just

the minister of a parish church.

He was a civic figure.

He was interested

in the community

in which he worked.

He was interested

in world affairs.

He was interested in the need

for peace in the world.

Hanks as Waitstill: Reason

and freedom are the guidelines

for our reverence.

We are working here

at a new adventure,

the organization of a church

under the government

of reason and freedom

with the democracy

of the American town meeting

as its form and spirit.

Woman: My mother was

Martha Sharp.

Her family fully expected

that when my mother

was going to graduate

from high school

she would enter the workforce,

doing whatever she could

to make money for the family.

When she was accepted

with a full scholarship

to college,

they threw all her belongings

out the window

and told her that she was

no longer welcome.

Goldman as Martha:

My high school yearbook calls me

"a good suffragist."

They claim I am progressive

and advanced.

I do believe a woman's place

is in the home

but only half the time.

After graduating

from Brown University,

I became a social worker.

She worked for about a year

in Chicago

at a settlement house

with people

from all kinds

of different backgrounds.

That was something that

she really took to.

I can just imagine her

with this diversity of people.

I think Martha and Waitstill had

a very compatible marriage.

He thought she was

quite unique, beautiful.

Goldman as Martha: Waitstill

looked very handsome

with strong, muscular shoulders

from building stone walls

with his father.

He had a beautiful,

light sense of humor

and a creative mind.

A carelessly knotted tie

and crushed felt hat

gave a casual touch

to what otherwise

might have suggested

a rather formal person.

Difiglia: They had the same

orientation toward life,

the same beliefs,

the same sense

of--of obligation,

of wanting to do things

for others.

[Crowd cheering]

Woman: Hitler came to power

January 30, 1933.

Within half a year,

the life of every single Jew

living in Germany--

that's half a million people--

was changed,

radically changed.

[Man shouts German]

Hitler was absolutely fixed

on the idea

of bringing home every person

with "German blood,"

and so for those who didn't

move back to the Reich,

his idea was that the Reich

would move out to them.

He was enormously successful.

[Airplanes flying overhead]

Woman: They were like flies

over Vienna, the Nazi planes,

and of course, people

didn't recognize the fact

that this was going to be

so lethal for--for any Jew

or anyone who opposed the Nazis.


Dwork: The Austrians greeted

him with great jubilation.

Man: I was only

15 1/2 years old at the time,

but I saw windows

of Jewish shops broken

and--and things just stolen.

[Glass breaks]

[Indistinct chatter]

First change I remember is

the fact that there was

this famous sign

about "No Jews in the park."

That was a huge thing for me

because the park

is where you met your friends,

the park is where you lived

in the summer,

and so there were big signs that

said, "No Jews in the park,"

and I remember

a general sense of anxiety.

I remember a general sens--

"Oh, did you hear that

so and so

was deported to Dachau?"

People talking about

that kind of thing.

We didn't realize how quickly

it was going to become

impossible to flee,

but at that point

if you wanted to leave,

they said, "Good luck. Go."

So that was my father.

Then my mother and I stayed

until my grandparents

were afraid to send me to school

because they were stoning

the Jewish children

on the way to school.


Braunfield: We lived right next

to the city hall,

so we were right in the middle

of where everything

was happening,

and I remember

the city hall being decked out

with flowers,

and I remember the cheering

people on the Ringstrasse.

I remember big lines

in front of the embassy,

and then the Gestapo

would come along

and pick people out of the lines

and send them away.

I knew that there was

something very wrong

because my parents

were very upset,

and I could tell that this was

a very bad situation.

We had, uh, originally

been living in Austria.

After the Germans

occupied Vienna,

then I managed to flee

to Prague.

Dwork: First was the Anschluss

in March 1938,

the annexation of Austria.

Then Hitler cast his eye

on the Sudetenland.

Germans predominated

in a border strip.

Czechoslovakia was, uh,

a free-thinking,

highly cultured,

relatively sophisticated place

in those interwar years.

Dwork: Hitler was eager

to incorporate

those Sudetenland Germans

into the Reich.

Hanks as Waitstill:

The immediate cause

of Unitarian intervention

in overseas evil

is the situation

in Czechoslovakia.

What are we going to do?

Their plight's desperate,

absolutely desperate.

It is too late to turn our back

on what we know is happening--

houses being rifled,

people being beaten up,

their lives made

intolerable, miserable,

with nobody to help them at all.

My friends, I stand before you

today and declare war

on Nazi Germany.

Face the evil that faces us.

[Bell tolling]

Goldman as Martha:

On the morning of our departure,

I was hit by the impact

of the long absence

from the children.

Our son Hastings had been

very brave about it,

though he was quite upset.

Martha Content, my baby girl,

was jumping up and down,

and chanting, "Mommy

and Daddy going bye-bye."

I gathered her up

in my arms,

trying to explain that

we would be gone for a while.


she didn't understand.

Brushing away tears in my eyes

that she had not seen,

I kissed her good-bye.

We sailed

from New York to London.

We learned many things

during that stopover.

At a secret meeting

with the Unitarian

and Quaker leadership,

we were given a course

in some of the techniques

of making memos which

cannot be easily deciphered,

and if we were not able

to make notes,

how to memorize key words

and remember important data.

We learned quickly that

we would have to do

much of our work

abroad in secret.

We also learned various methods

of destroying

incriminating papers,

how to ascertain

if we were shadowed,

and various ways

to elude followers.

We were warned that

we would be followed

and spied upon

throughout our mission.

Hanks as Waitstill:

On February 23,

we rode into Prague

on the Orient Express.

As the train ground

to a halt into the bitter cold

of Wilson Station,

we saw a strange sight.

The platforms were brimming

with women and children


on the concrete walkways.

We were met by Norbert Capek,

head of the Unitarian Church

in Prague.

He pointed out a large train

which was headed out

filled with men who were

fleeing the country.

It was clear we had come

to a nation in crisis.

Goldman as Martha:

The next morning,

Waitstill and I

opened our new office

and began sorting

through the hundreds

of case files

that were flooding in.

Hanks as Waitstill: We had to

select the classes

whom we would help.

These then were to be snatched

from the burning--

intellectuals, editors,

social workers, professors,

and clergymen,

whose political records made

it necessary for them to flee.

Dwork: Refugees

needed documents,

they needed money,

they needed assistance.

The Sharps stepped

into that vacuum.

Goldman as Martha: We had lists

of thousands of names,

all of them requesting

exit visas,

but it wasn't as easy

as simply requesting a visa

from a foreign country.

Through our contacts

in Boston, New York, London,

and other cities,

we had to arrange for jobs,

places to live.

We had to match refugees

in Prague with opportunities

to live and work abroad.

They knew that their mission

was material relief

and also to help those

in danger get out.

Goldman as Martha: We knew that

the Gestapo were monitoring

our mail.

Our letters had to be smuggled

onto transport planes

to ensure their delivery.

On March 14, I went

to the airport

with secret documents

and witnessed an event

that would have

a profound effect

on the rest of my life.

Nicholas Winton had arranged

a Kindertransport plane

that was to lead from Prague

an carry children,

as well as documents

I had brought to the airport.

The parents had brought sweets

and other small gifts,

while saying the mundane things

that are usually said

before parting,

"Be good.

We'll be together soon,"

all the while knowing

they might not see them again.

Woman: Times were so desperate.

People were very thankful

if they could get

their children

onto the transports.

I do remember at the airport

my mother was walking

up and down with my sister

arm in arm rather pensively,

then also that we had

our sort of last meal,

and, uh, my father

took photographs.

The plane was announced.

Goldman as Martha: As each child

stepped off the exit,

he or she waved

to their parents,

ran across

the snow-covered field,

waved again, and climbed

aboard the plane.

The parents' self-control

was incredible.

Smiling brightly,

eyes brimming with tears,

they waved back.

You know, they thought one

of us might be able to escape.

He was hoping

to come to England.

Goldman as Martha:

Suddenly, the engine raced,

the plane took off,

and it was lost

in the low clouds.

Well, my mother and the rest

of my family of course

didn't survive.

They would have died

in Auschwitz, yes.

Well, I--I'd rather not

go and dwell upon it,

if you don't mind.

Goldman as Martha: What madness

has brought us here?

Both Waitstill and I

were securely

and unconsciously American.

Perhaps it was

our free-thinking, democratic

New England Unitarianism

that now tied us to the Czechs.

Hanks as Waitstill:

On the morning of the next day,

the 15th of March, 1939,

we heard the news.

The German army was

crossing the border

and occupying the entirety

of Czechoslovakia.

Every trace of Czechoslovak

democracy vanished

as the gray troops poured in

through the falling snow.

Goldman as Martha: We found

a tremendous crowd waiting

in the snow outside our office.

The republic was dead.

Their hopes were dust,

and they had been betrayed

by their friends

France and Great Britain,

who had required the Czechs

to act morally

while they themselves

sold them out

for their own safety.

March the 15th, oh,

I shall never forget that.

It was snowing and raining,

and my mother said I didn't

have to get up

because the Germans invaded.

And my mother got

into the bed with me,

and there we were.

Instead of having a breakfast,

we were just lying in bed,

and my mother was very sad,

so that was March the 15th

through the eyes of a child.

Man: I found out that my father

died from a heart attack

because he was so taken

by the invasion of Prague,

and so that was my 15th

of March, 1939, experience.

Oestreicher: Thousands

of soldiers marching,

hundreds of tanks

in rows and so on.

I can only tell you

that the Czechs stood there

absolutely silent,

no cheering, no booing,

and of course, after the Germans

marched into Prague,

the Jewish people there--

and there were very many

living as refugees there--

were in an absolute

chaotic state.

Nobody knew what to do.

Hanks as Waitstill:

A nighttime curfew was clamped

on the city of Prague,

announced in both the Czech

and the German languages.

"Achtung! Achtung!"

And the people, threatened

with being shot on sight,

left the streets

and pulled down the shades

of their houses.

Goldman as Martha:

The night the Nazis invaded,

we found the furnace

at the Hotel Atlantic

and began to destroy

the documents

we'd kept on our work.

Even at 4 A.M.,

there was a queue of people

all waiting their turn

to approach the furnace.

It was a silent line.

From this night on,

nobody could be trusted.

Hanks as Waitstill: At 11 A.M.,

we stood in the town square

and saw Hitler standing

in the window of the palace.

He began to speak.

He sounded even wilder

than the broadcasts

we'd heard on the radio.

He was nearly ecstatic

I thought,

but he looks just as he does

in all those pictures.

[Crowd chanting, "Sieg Heil!"]

Goldman as Martha: We realized

that we were living

in the frontlines

against Nazism.

Waitstill looked at me

and, holding my hand tightly,

whispered, "Courage."

The whereabouts of many

of the most important refugees

were now unknown.

Some were said to have

reached temporary safety

in the embassies.

The British government

had given us 6 hours to bring

several anti-Nazi leaders

to British sanctuary

if they could be reached.

We began to divide up

the individuals to be found

and brought to safety.

I was to meet

an unnamed man--Mr. X--

and bring him to the embassy.

[Car engine starts]

Later that evening,

I found a Taxi

in the early darkness

and, noting that the driver

had a companion

in the front seat,

gave an address which was near

but not actually the one

which was my destination.

Arriving at the place,

I hastily paid the driver

and hurried around the corner,

hiding in the first doorway

to watch to see

whether I was being followed.

The companion came around

the same corner

and looked up and down

the street.

[Horn honks]

The driver honked.

My heart skipped a beat.

I realized that the driver's

associate must be

a Gestapo agent.

I flattened myself

against the darkness

of the entrance.

[Dog barks]

He walked right by.

After he passed,

I entered the building.

I climbed the stairs

to the fifth floor

and knocked on the door.

The door opened,

and a man stood before me.

He whispered, "I am Mr. X."

I told him

about the Gestapo agent

in the taxi,

and we dashed out

into the snow and wind.

On the walk, we passed no less

than 3 Gestapo patrolmen.

Each time, I spoke

in hurried, clear English

that we were on our way

to the British embassy.

Pretending that Mr. X

was my husband,

I insisted that Mr. Sharp

and myself were already delayed

and we were required

by the ambassador Mr. Swanson.

My heart was pounding

as the doors to the embassy

were in sight...

and the third patrolman

was holding us up,

looking over my passport.

He was skeptical of our story.

We were chilled

to the heart and bone.

Finally, he said, "Go!"

and waved us

to the embassy door.

Mr. X was one

of the lucky ones,

but there were still

thousands more

that desperately needed

to get out.

The next morning,

we were faced

with a flood of refugees

begging for any kind of visa.

Hanks as Waitstill:

With the public squares

under constant surveillance,

the churches became

the only places

where people could gather

in numbers.

Martha and I attended Unitaria,

the First Unitarian Church

of Prague,

and heard a sermon delivered

by Dr. Norbert Capek

that was particularly full

of double meanings.

After the service,

we met secretly

with Dr. Capek

and his board of trustees.

They needed us

to transmit a message.

They wanted the American church

to understand

that they would be faithful

unto death

to the ideals of democracy.

I shall never forget

their burning eyes,

clenched fists,

and fierce spirit as they spoke.

Franklin Roosevelt:

One remaining instrument

to meet the crisis.

Goldman as Martha:

For a fleeting moment,

we had the vain hope

that the urgent needs

of the check people

might move the U.S. Congress

to open the country's doors.

Martha and Waitstill Sharp

had to struggle

against the im--immigration


of their own government.

Goldman as Martha: Our requests

for special consideration

were being ignored

in Washington.

The old U.S. quota

for Czechoslovakia

allowed 2,800 Czechs

to enter the U.S. yearly

on immigration visas.

At that pace,

most refugees realized

that they might wait

several decades

to get an American visa,

but looking that far

into the future was a luxury.

For most refugees,

their greatest need

was finding a safe bed

for the night.

Dwork: There was an enormous

anti-immigrant sentiment,


and deep racism.

Oestreicher: No country,

literally no country

was prepared to take

Jewish refugees.

After the Nazis entered Prague,

we found out very quickly

that to get any further,

where we could live permanently,

was nearly impossible.

Goldman as Martha:

I shall never forget the shock

when I saw a Jewish man

being abused on the street.

I would have cried

aloud in anger

if Waitstill had not silenced

my spontaneous outburst.

All my life,

I hated unfairness,

and as I spoke to individual

Jewish refugees,

I felt their dignity

and recognized

their amazing capacity

to rise above Nazi mistreatment.

On March 24, I met

with Tessa Rowntree

from the Quaker underground.

She asked me to help smuggle

groups of refugee families

by train through the heart

of Nazi Germany.

Braunfield: So my father went

through a great deal

getting a permit to get out,

and so there was this problem

about how do you get

from Prague to London

without going through Germany.

It is essentially impossible.

[Whistle blows]

Goldman as Martha: The groups

included some of the most wanted

and well-known anti-Nazis

and their families,

including one of the most

famous surgeons in the world,

a female scientist,

and two journalists,

but of course, we had

to hide their identities.

They were to leave the country

under the guise

of household workers

so that if their papers

were checked

they would appear to be simple

gardeners, cooks, or farmers.

Once we made the arrangements

to take the refugees

on this perilous ride,

I didn't know

if I would ever see

Waitstill again.

The train was announced.

We got on board, everyone

deeply moved at parting,

for they were not sure if we

would reach our destination.

Braunfield: We were going

from Prauge, Dresden,

Leipzig, to the Dutch border.

Goldman as Martha:

If the Gestapo should charge us

with assisting

the refugees to escape,

prison would be

a light sentence.

Torture and death

were the usual punishments.

At the German border,

our passports and visas

were carefully examined.

My heart was pounding

as I thought

about Waitstill, Hastings,

and young Martha Content.

[Man speaking German]

Braunfield: When you got

to the border, and said,

"Alle Juden aussteigen."

All the Jews had to get out.

They separated

the men and the women.

We didn't know if we'd

ever see each other again.

They checked you,

and they really checked you.

I mean, they did

very careful examination,

every possible orifice

in your body.

At one point, the--one

of these German officers said,

"Is that all?"

and my father said, "Yes,"

and they said, uh,

"What's that on your finger?"

and he said, "Well, that's

a wedding ring,"

and they said, "No, that's not--

you can't take that with you."

So they took it off,

and that was the end

of his wedding ring.

And shortly after the train

pulled out of the station,

an SS man came,

and I remember that.

It was a very dramatic thing.

So we had the joy of riding

with an SS man for 6 hours.

I was sleeping most of the time,

and my mother was terrified.

You know, if I were to

kick him or something,

then that would be

the end of us all.

Oestreicher: We were traveling

all through Germany.

We weren't even allowed to look

out of the window, you see.

Uh, the windows had to be

blacked out all the time.

And I remember, see, these

long periods, you see,

when it wasn't moving at all.

Goldman as Martha:

At the final border crossing,

the customs officers came

aboard to check my list

against their documents.

Then I heard my name called.

Two of the journalists

in my party

were standing on the platform

with their luggage,

trembling with fear.

The officials had

ordered them off the train

and we're going to send

them back to Germany

because their names

did not appear on my list.

Quickly, I turned away and added

the men's names to the list.

"These two men are

in my party!"

Shaking his head, he OKed

their passports,

and we all climbed aboard

the train once again.

Braunfield: And then

we were in Holland,

and I remember my parents

being ecstatic.

Goldman as Martha:

We arrived in Holland

exhausted and relieved,

and then I took the group

by boat to London.

[Ship horn blows]

Oestreicher: I have

a picture showing us

when we first arrived

In England,

and it shows

the clothes we came in,

and they were the Austrian

national costume,

and those were literally

the only clothes we had.

We weren't allowed

to take anything else.

"Dear Mrs. Sharp,

we shall never forget

"what you have done for us

and wish to thank you

from the depth of our hearts."

Goldman as Martha: Every life

we touched had its own drama.

One can only manage

a miracle every so often,

but a series

of miracles can happen

when many people

become concerned

and are willing to act

at the right time.

The Germans ordered all refugee

aid and assistance operations

to cease.

Hanks as Waitstill: We fed

350 refugees 2 meals each day

at the Salvation Army.

One day, the Gestapo came

to our office,

lined the refugee men

facing the wall,

and an officer beat

the refugees' heads

with a revolver

until they fell senseless

in their own blood.

The Gestapo was looking

for refugees reported

to have eaten

at the Salvation Army.

Neither the refugees

nor the Gestapo knew

that I was the American source

of these meals.

Goldman as Martha: We found we

were being followed

everywhere we went.

The Nazis began to

close in on anybody

they thought was an enemy,

and they certainly thought

that we were enemies.

Hanks as Waitstill:

And in the meantime,

our hotel bedroom was

searched 3 times.

We have to assume

by the Gestapo,

trying to figure out

what these two crazy Americans

were doing here.

Goldman as Martha: I found

myself so disturbed

by the pressures

and serious consequences

of making

the slightest mistake.

I changed from a rather naive,

friendly, and outgoing person

who trusted everyone

to a self-contained

and increasingly wary individual

who began to consider

every word spoken.

Dwork: The Sharps had entered

Czechoslovakia on February 23,

which is before the Germans

had come in in mid-March.

That was very lucky

for both of them

because it meant that

the visas that they had obtained

allowed them to leave

and return to the country

on short visits.

Goldman as Martha: We decided

that in order to be

the most effective

we'd have to separate.

The operation desperately

needed financing,

and we were not getting

enough support.

I would continue dealing

with individual cases in Prague,

and Waitstill would go abroad

to raise money.

It was the first time

in our marriage

that we would be apart

for more than a few days.

Waitstill wrote to me

from Paris on April 29,

"You are not only beautiful

but a brick.

"That rare combination

spells out the perfect woman,

"the answer to the quest

of the ages.

"I really mean this.

"Venus and Minerva cast

in one blended statue

"of loveliness and wisdom.

"That's you,

ever my beloved madam.

Your most fortunate servant


Hanks as Waitstill:

"173 Boulevard Saint-Germain,

"Paris, France.

"Dearest Martha,

These long silences surely

"are trying.

"Why don't you write,

"even if you send no more

than a postal card?

"I shall certainly hope

for a word from you tomorrow.

"I think I shall have to try out

for the wounded love section

"at the Paris Opera.

"Now do, please, write me.

Ever yours, Waitstill."

Goldman as Martha:

"My darling Waitstill,

"I am terribly lonely

without you,

"and all today,

I've been wondering

"how I could possibly stand it

for another 10 days.

"The fact of thinking

of Hastings

"off in his little aloneness

"and Martha by herself

and you in Paris

"and of myself here

has been early too much.

"I think that the experience

has made me realize

"how much I love you

and how horrible it would be

if anything should

happen to you."

"I have been reading

Lady Chatterley's Lover,

"which I should like to discuss

with you when I get back.

"The parish would disown me

if they knew that book.

"And I've been thinking

about the things

"that we ought to do

that we don't.

"Somehow, we've got to begin

to tell the world

"where it gets off.

All my love, Martha."

Schulz: By then, the Sharps

had a significant impact.

They had also learned

to work the system.

Waitstill was particularly

good at the black market,

at exchanging Czech currency,

which was worthless

outside of Czechoslovakia

by that point,

for American currency.

He would pay about

10 cents on the dollar

for, uh, every Czech crown,

and he would provide

the refugees a handwritten note,

which indicated that

when they got to London

or when they got to Paris

they could go to a bank,

and they would exchange that

note for the local currency,

which was worth

a significant amount of money.

Hanks as Waitstill:

Desperate Czech people

approaching me

in increasing numbers

would in some way or another

open a briefcase

or a small trunk

and pull out bales

of Czechoslovak money.

I agreed to exchange

their Czech money

with U.S. currency

from what as left

of our operations funds.

There was a sliding scale,

the most needy getting

the best rate of exchange.

They couldn't cross the border

with foreign currency,

so I went in and out

of Prague 7 times

and placed the dollars

in banks strategically

in Geneva, London, and Paris

so that if they could escape

their money would be

waiting for them.

I knew it was illegal,

but I did it because

I had no other choice.

I was beyond the pale

of civilization.

I owed no ethics to anybody.

I owed no honesty

to anybody at all

if I could save

imperiled human lives.

Everything had to be

carried out in the head

and as a word of honor.

I had never been

a good bargainer,

but there was a sudden excess

of adrenaline born

of my hatred of the Nazis

and my intention,

which may qualify

as a Christian intention,

to do as much as I could

for these people.

Dwork: The Sharps carried on.

They kept putting off

the authorities

until they came to the office

and found the doors locked

and furniture thrown out

onto the street.

Goldman as Martha:

Waitstill had gone out

to a meeting in Geneva,

and finally, the Gestapo

tore up his return permission

so that he was not going to be

able to come back in again,

and then I received word

from my underground--

"The Nazis are going to arrest

you and take you to prison."

[Train whistle blows]

I packed everything I could,

got aboard a train,

and went straight up to London.

I met my husband,

and we both sailed back

to the United States

on the Queen Mary.

[Ship horn blowing]

Hanks as Waitstill: As we plowed

west through sunlit seas,

we were summoned

to the grand salon.

The radio crackled out the news,

and we heard the voice

of the prime minister of England

"The parliament of England

"declares that a state of war

"obtains now between

"the United Kingdom

and the imperial German


announcing the end

of peace in our time.

The order had been sent down

from the captain's bridge

"Give her the max."

The ship came alive.

She hit the great waves

of the North Atlantic

with such violence,

the sea came

right over the ship.

Goldman as Martha:

We were no longer

aboard a civilian ocean liner.

We had become a war target.

The course of our ship

was changed to run north,

for German submarines had

been reported due west,

waiting to sink this pride

of the British fleet.

Portholes were fastened

and painted black

to prevent the light

from showing,

and nobody was allowed

to smoke on deck at night.

Hanks as Waitstill: This was

the biggest ship in the world.

Of course, she was no match

for any German torpedoes.

Well, she made it.

We landed,

and the chapter was over.

Goldman as Martha:

We docked in New York

and were back

in another world.

Love, children's arms,

plentiful food,

and the only tension that

concerned Americans in September

seemed to be

which baseball team

would win the Series.

[Crowd cheering]

Most Americans were not

really concerned with the war.

Nor did they understand

why it was declared.

Life was still pretty secure

in the good, old

United States of America.

[Bell tolling]

Martha Content:

When my parents returned home,

I remember father would write

his sermons on Saturday,

he would preach on Sunday.

Lunch would be a Q&A

about the sermon.

I really wasn't terribly

excited about the sermons

at that point in time.

I was too young.

When we were in Lake Sunapee,

that definitely is a time

that we can remember

that we were together.

Schulz: The Sharps,

they've undertaken

this harrowing mission,

they've been successful,

but the situation

is worse than ever.

Many of the Czech refugees

whom the Sharps

had helped resettle in France

now of course were

under threat once again

because Germany was

threatening France.

Hanks as Waitstill:

In the late spring of 1940,

I was working in my office

when a telephone call came

from Frederick Eliot.

He said, "I want to inform you

that you and Martha

"have been chosen to return

to Europe this summer,

leaving as soon as you can."

I was taken aback

by this and said,

"Dr. Eliot, my family

has been broken up.

"We are eagerly counting

upon a vacation.

"My family needs reunion.

I have two young children

who need steady parenting."

"Europe is falling to pieces,

and you talk about vacation?

"I won't hear the word.

You must go.

There's no debating it."

I preceded home

and explained this to Martha.

Goldman as Martha:

And I said no.

We had just been away

months before,

and I had left my two children,

and I really didn't

want to go again.

And so I sat in the church

and was amazed

when Frederick Eliot announced

that Waitstill and Martha Sharp

would go back to Europe.

I thought we had decided

together not to go.

Hanks as Waitstill: We agreed,

with serious misgivings

about our children,

that we would go.

That was the beginning of when

they began to lose each other.

Martha went to Europe because

her husband wanted to go.

The wife was considered

to be the husband's right hand.

If you are a minister's wife,

you are doing

part of the ministry.

That was just the way it worked.

Was I angry at my mother?

Of course, I was angry

at my mother.

I must have been angry

at both of them.

The original idea had been

for a Unitarian office

and base of operations in Paris.

Man: And to the world's

absolute amazement and fear...

France fell.

The Germans in 6 weeks

conquered what was considered

to be the strongest army

other than Germany

on the continent.

Hanks as Waitstill: Because

the Germans had invaded Paris,

Portugal had become

our base of operations.

We established an office

at the Hotel Metropole

in Lisbon and made contact

with our network

of rescue workers

to assess the situation.

We learned that the Germans

had cut off all supplies

to the south of France.

Man: The north of France

was blocked by the German army,

so nothing could travel,

so of course, there was

a lack of meat,

lack of vegetable,

of fruits, of milk.

Goldman as Martha: Milk was

the one thing they needed

to keep the babies alive.

Waitstill and I

began negotiating

with the Nestle Company

to arrange a complicated

delivery by train.

6 weeks later after many delays,

we were finally able to present

a 13-ton trainload

of powdered milk

to the local midwives,

who then distributed it

to the hungry children.

The situation was still dire.

Everyone was affected

by the occupation of France,

and there was a mass evacuation

to the south.

That's when really

the refugee problem begins.

People got panicky

and started to leave

into the countryside south.

It was incredible

to see the exodus.

You have to visualize

hundred thousands of people

on the roads.

Woman: My father left Paris

on a bicycle,

uh, taking just what he--

what he could carry,

which was really very sensible

because people who had

cars and dogs and canaries

and mattresses and so on

got stuck on the road.

My mother said,

"We're going to leave,"

and we put everything

into an automobile

that belonged to, uh, one

of the medics at the hospital,

and he was to drive us

out of the city,

going toward

the south of France.

The car overheated.

We left all our goods

in the middle of the street.

We were strafed by aircraft,

and a French farmer

pushed me down into the ground.

I thought it was a game.

"This is just fun,"

and my mother started to cry.

Slowly you get--

you get the message

that something is

drastically wrong.

Goldman as Martha:

A million French along

with thousands of Belgians

and other foreigners

fled to the south.

They were all full of fear.

Therefore, the big question

is "How do you people

get out of France?"

And one way was to get

them out illegally.

I became the courier of

the American Rescue Committee.

I looked very young.

I looked very Aryan,

and, believe it or not,

very innocent.

One interesting case is that

of the writer Lion Feuchtwanger.

Lion Feuchtwanger had a been

a very successful

German-Jewish writer.

He had taken refuge

to France, also.

Paldiel: He's a Jew,

an anti-Nazi,

so when the Germans,

uh, entered France,

they--they really wanted

to lay their hands on him,

so Feuchtwanger was

quite in jeopardy.

Dwork: The Germans,

they had a list

of particular

German-Jewish refugees

whom they wanted to incarcerate.

Feuchtwanger was on that list.

The clock was ticking.


And since he's German,

he's put

in a concentration camp,

in a French concentration camp.

Paldiel: People had appealed

to Eleanor Roosevelt,

the wife of the president,

to have this very famed author

brought to the United States,

and it had to be done

very quickly

before the French turned

him over to the Germans,

and so a certain man

in the American consulate

actually went out by himself

in a diplomatic car

to that French camp

outside of the city of Nimes.

They stole him out of the camp,

and they brought him

to Marseille.

Rosenberg: He was spirited

out and hidden first

in the villa of Hiram Bingham.

Now the problem was to get

him out of France.

The French police

were looking for him.

Hanks as Waitstill:

In the early morning darkness,

I boarded the train

with a group

of endangered intellectuals,

including Feuchtwanger

and his wife Marta,

and we began our escape.

We were on the train

for only a half-hour

when a man knocked on the door

to our compartment.

I stepped outside,

and he said,

"Mr. Sharp, you and your party

must get off at the next stop.

This train is going to be

searched by French agents."

I did not know

how he knew my name.

I had to assume he was

an operative sent

by the U.S. consulate.

In the next few minutes,

as we neared Narbonne, I faced

the most difficult decision

of my life because I figured

that this might be a trap...

but in times of war,

you have to trust some people.

The operative said that

Vichy French agents acting

at the behest of the Nazis

knew that we were headed

towards the border.

I had to take responsibility

in the next few minutes

and decide what to do.

I went down the length

of the train

and quietly informed the group

that we would be getting off

at the next stop.

I instructed them to scatter

when we disembarked

as though we were tourists

visiting Narbonne.

This was very important.

We would have to hide out

for several hours

until we could catch

the next train.

We stepped off the train,

and I stayed with Feuchtwanger,

the most wanted man

in the group.

We nervously strolled

through Narbonne.

The hours finally passed,

and the group boarded

the next train

to our destination.

I was surprised to see

the agent again.

He gave more instructions

to disembark at Cerbere,

where the group would

rest for the night.

I was also told to visit

Dr. Otto Meyerhof,

a Jewish Nobel-prize-winning

biochemist who was hiding out

in a small coastal village

north of Cerbere.

He was in a desperate state,

convinced that he would be

captured by the Nazis.

As we walked along the beach,

I begged him to join our party.

[Water lapping]

He would not commit.

Woman: If you didn't have

that French exit visa,

really the way to get out

of France was actually

to walk on foot

over the mountains.

They used a route that

smugglers had used.

Hanks as Waitstill:

We were ready to

make our escape.

This was a complicated mission,

and I was not alone.

It was a collaborative effort

with Varian Fry's

Emergency Rescue Committee

and Leon Ball, a brave American

who helped guide

refugees across the border.

We took the group to the start

of the smugglers' path,

and the order

of events was this.

Those crossing would depart

in half-hour increments.

The least likely

to be recognized would go first,

carrying cigarettes and money

to bribe the border guards.

I would take all

their luggage by train,

planning to meet them

on the other side of the border.

This is an extremely

taxing climb.

The mountains are unforgiving.

This is no man's land

between France and Spain,

and I was not certain

if they would encounter

armed guards or no one at all,

but the charm of cigarettes

and money held fast,

and the border guards

stayed corrupted.

The group made it through,

and we assembled

at a rail station

on the Spanish side

of the border,

waiting for the train to Madrid.

4 hours later,

we arrived in Madrid,

where we could catch

a train to Lisbon

to make our final journey

across the Atlantic.

[Ship horn blows]

Lion Feuchtwanger came home

in the lower berth

of my little stateroom,

which was to have been occupied

by Martha Sharp.

The first evening on the boat,

he looked at me

and, smiling inquisitively,

said, "May I address you, sir,

"as though you are a character

in one of my novels?

"Why are you here

doing what you are doing?

"How much are you paid?

Is there a payoff here

from some agency?"

I said, "I'm not paid

any salary at all.

"I think something frightful

in addition

"to what has befallen Europe

is going to befall now.

"I'm not a saint.

"I'm just as capable

of the many sins of human nature

"as anyone else,

"but I believe the will of God

is to be interpreted

by the liberty

of the human spirit."

"Well, this is a surprising

answer," he said.

"You get enough reward

out of that?"

I said, "Yes, I do.

"Our lives, including my life

and certainly my liberties,

"are in the hands

of somebody,

and I don't like to see

guys get pushed around."

Finally, we arrived

in New York Harbor,

steamed past

the Statue of Liberty,

and it had never meant

as much to me as it did then...

but my elation was short-lived.

I knew that Martha

was still in peril.

How would I tell our children

that their mother

hadn't come home?

This is the letter I received

when I was 8 years old.

"Dear Hastings, I am sending

you this letter by clipper.

"I love you,

and I miss you very much.

"Now I have some

very important news from you.

"Here in France today,

the children do not have

"enough food.

"I shall not return home

with Dad.

"I must wait until I can

make all the arrangements

"for the children,

so I must give up seeing you

until about your birthday."

"Now I send you my love

and many kisses,

loving Mommy."

Goldman as Martha: I had chosen

the welfare of children

as my project

for this tour of duty.

Hundreds of families

had appealed to send

their children

to the United States.

That is how the Children's

Immigration Project began.

I felt I could not abandon them.

If we could arrange for one

group of children to leave,

others would follow.

It was my moral duty

to lead the first group myself.

Feigl: My father went

from consulate to consulate,

trying to get visas to go

anywhere that was plausible.

That's how he met Martha Sharp,

who saved my life.

Chvany: And my father said

to Mrs. Sharp,

"Oh, if you could just

include my girls

in the group of children

to go to America,"

and she said,

"Well, the group is full,"

and as it turned out

at the last minute,

two boys who were going to go

with the group did not show up,

and so my sister and I

were included.

And this is--was, uh,

the paper that obviously

was, uh, filled out so that

we could start our journey...

and, uh, it must have been

very painful for my mother

to do this.

Heartbreaking as it was

for the parents,

uh, they wanted to rescue their

children first and foremost,

so they handed them

over to strangers

rather than, uh, endanger them

by keeping them with them.

There's a tendency to--

to think that

you can protect your children

by holding them close, you know,

and keeping them

under your arms,

but in a circumstance

such as that war,

that instinctive reaction

may not be the wise one.

Man: My mother had died

somewhere along the way.

It was very difficult

for my father to talk

about his wife's death.

The Vichy French would not

let parents leave.

They couldn't take us out.

Here you are, 8 years old.

You don't have your mom and dad.

Uh, come on now.

I mean, you know, this is

very difficult for a child,

and it has different effects.

It had a different effect

on my brother as it did on me.

I can see that--how

difficult it would be

for a parent, a father

who lost his wife,

to put his two children

on a boat with the likelihood

that he would

never see them again.

Joseph: And my brother,

he was torn up,

and so was I,

but somebody had to stand up,

so I stood up

as best as I could.

You go to a new land,

new language.

It's devastating

for a child that age.

Father said, "Read, write,

and study and become a doctor.

"They can take

everything from you

but not your memory."

Feigl: I must have not wanted

to go to America,

so I don't think I was told

very much ahead of time.

My mother just packed my things.

Martha gave us

all beige berets,

and there are pictures

of us in--in those beige berets.

Whitaker: Mrs. Sharp had decided

on the berets as a way

of recognizing all the children.

Yeah. I'm--I'm the tallest.

Heh heh.

I haven't undone that

in 66 years.

That may be--may be--

all right.

Feigl: And we were on a boat

called the Excambion,

which was later sunk,

fortunately not with us on it.

What they did was make

the ballroom into a dormitory.

They just put mattresses

on the floor.

The boys and girls

were separated by a curtain.

I do remember

being told

that we were called

when arrived

the two tigers

on that ship.

We apparently

misbehaved on the ship.

I remember seeing

the Statue of Liberty.

The best Christmas gift I ever

got was being brought here

in this country.

[Bell ringing]

Chvany: We arrived in New York,

and some Red Cross ladies

had a table with cocoa,

and that was really

very welcome.

It made us feel that America

must be a great place.

Newsreel announcer:

The American liner Excambion

arrives with child refugees

from Europe,

youngsters scarcely able

to believe they're free

from the terrors of war.

Triply joyous are

the 13-year-old

Diamante triplets.

Dear American,

we are very happy

that we are here,

and we are very grateful

that we was

coming to America.

Newsreel announcer:

Where do you come

from, Therese?

From Koeln.

Were you there

during the war?


Tell us about it,


Uh, it was

very bad.

We had not enough

to eat,

and my parents sent

me to America

for my health.

I come from France,

and I saw lots of misery.

There wasn't

anything to eat,

and there was lots

of bombardment in Marseille,

and I--and I saw lots

of people killed.

What I owe Martha is

my life in America,

uh, perhaps my life itself.

The--the Strasser

family would not

exist if we hadn't

been on that ship.

She said that anybody

would have done that.

I--I don't think so.

No, no, no. No.

Only a special person

would have done that,

would have left

their own children

and gone and taken care

of other children.

[Indistinct chatter]

[Airplanes flying]

Roosevelt: December 7, 1941...

a date which will live

in infamy.



Martha Content: My mother was

drafted by the Democratic Party

to run for Congress.

Difiglia: It was something

he didn't want,

he absolutely did not want.

She really spent a lot

of time away from home.

Martha Content: She ran

for Congress alone.

I mean, that takes guts.

She lost the election

against the person

who became Speaker of the House

Joe Martin.

Several people who'd known them

had told me that they

really felt

that she started to grow

in her own self

and no longer needed to be

partnered with him.

Uh, she went back to Europe.

They went to Europe

together twice,

but the third time

she went alone.

Hanks as Waitstill:

"February 23, 1946.

"My darling Martha,

"I hope and assume

this reaches you

"on your return

from what must have been

"a very exacting

but very successful expedition.

"I must say that I would like

to begin having a home again

"with travel the exception

"instead of counting those days

on the calendar

"when Mother is at home

and of finding them few.

"The kids don't show

their feelings too much,

"but we finally could not

count on any time

"that you wouldn't be off

to a talk or a tea

"or a committee meeting.

"I see nothing but men's things

in my wardrobe.

"I smell no perfumes.

"I have been

quite desperate at times.

I want to go on for what there

is left of life with you."

"7 years ago tonight,

we stepped off the train

"into Wilson Station,

and all our world

has been different ever since."

I don't think they

ever really told me

that they were

going to separate,

and I was living at that time

with my father alone.

I know that I had

to go to court,

and I had to declare which

parent I wanted to live with,

and I said, "Neither one."

Difiglia: Martha did mention

how disruptive it was

for Martha Jr.

when she came back.

I do know that she was

regretful about the effect

that it had on her children,

leaving them for such

a very long time.

I remember Waitstill telling me

that the work in Europe

had destroyed his marriage.

I also remember him

telling me that it was

the most extraordinary

experience of his life,

so I'm not sure he would have

not done it over again.

[Man singing in Hebrew]

Martha Content:

It is a singular honor

for me and my family

to represent my parents

Martha and Waitstill Sharp

as they are honored today

as Righteous Among the Nations.

They were modest

and ordinary people.

They responded to the suffering

and needs around them

as they would have expected

everyone to do

in a similar situation.

They never viewed

what they did as extraordinary.

Feigl: Martha Joukowsky and I

lit the eternal flame.

That was very moving to me

and very scary

because I looked

at that fire,

and of course, I thought

of my grandparents,

who were burnt to death

in Auschwitz.

I know that if I asked you

to do something

that you knew just

a little of your effort

and a little

of your contribution

would make it possible

for you to really aid a family

to live, let's say, for a week,

I'll bet you'd do it.