PBS airing Ken Burns' docu on Righteous-Gentile, Holocaust rescuers; US Holocaust Museum Lecture tour details

Documentary Tells Untold Story of American Husband and Wife Who Spent Nearly Two Years on Life-Threatening Missions in Europe to Save Refugees and Dissidents from Nazi Occupation

DEFYING THE NAZIS: THE SHARPS’ WAR, a new documentary co-directed by Ken Burns and Artemis Joukowsky about a little-known but important mission by an American minister and his wife to rescue refugees and dissidents in Europe before and after the start of World War II, will air on September 20 at 9 pm (check local listings) on PBS. Join the conversation with #SharpsWarPBS. 

Artemis Joukowski and Ken Burns promote Defying the Nazis

The 90-minute film tells the story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who left their children behind in the care of their parish and boldly committed to multiple life-threatening missions in Europe. The couple provided relief to embattled groups, raised money for refugee aid and smuggled Nazi targets, including children, out of the country. They are two of the five Americans who have been inducted by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, as Righteous Among the Nations
Waitstill and Martha Sharp on grandson's bookcover

Over two dangerous years they helped to save hundreds of imperiled political dissidents and Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi occupation across Europe. “The story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp is one of the most incredible tales of compassion, sacrifice and heroism that I have ever heard, and I was completely unaware of it until five years ago when Artemis Joukowsky first shared it with me,” said Ken Burns. “Nearly three years before America as a nation became involved in the Second World War, these two unassuming, so-called ‘ordinary’ Americans gave up everything they knew and loved and risked their lives to become involved in a war 4,000 miles away because they knew there were people in grave danger who needed help.” 


On Oct. 7, 2015 the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum presented “Two Who Defied the Nazis” as the 7th annual, Linda and Tony Rubin Lecture The program, a timely reminder of what refugees endure, was held at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. The Sharps' remarkable actions are documented in a collection of personal papers that have been donated to the Museum. 

The Museum’s Western Regional Director, Steve Klappholz and the Defying's director and filmmaker (and Sharp grandson) Artemis Joukowsky appeared.  Mr. Klappholz (in a prepared statement) wrote “We are fortunate to have such a high-caliber film produced by Ken Burns to learn about the heroics of these two individuals and to better understand their challenges and struggles during what was the beginning of such a bleak time in Europe.” JewTube.Info spoke with him at the event.




Artemis Joukowsky- grandson of Sharp heroes
Artemis Joukowsky, a film producer and co-founder of No Limits Media, is the grandson of Waitstill and Martha Sharp and has spent decades researching their story. He is the author of a companion book to the film, featuring a foreword by Ken Burns, published by Beacon Press.
“Beyond the cloak-and-dagger suspense of my grandparents’ experience, it is a story of what America meant to refugees fleeing war-torn countries to build new lives. And it underscores what Waitstill would call ‘a collaborative effort’ of how a small but effective underground network of rescue workers saved as many lives as they could, and how important that lesson is for what is happening today,” said Mr. Joukowsky.




In January of 1939, as Americans remained mostly detached from news reports of the growing refugee crisis in the escalating war in Europe, Waitstill received a call from the Rev. Everett Baker, Vice President of the American Unitarian Association, asking if they would travel to Czechoslovakia to help provide relief to people trying to escape Nazi persecution. He invited Waitstill and Martha to take part in “the first intervention against evil by the denomination to be started immediately overseas.” The mission would involve secretly helping Jews, refugees and dissidents to escape the expanding Nazi threat in Europe. If they were discovered, they would face imprisonment, probable torture and death. Seventeen other members of the church had declined. With two young children at home, the Sharps accepted. They expected to be gone for several months. 

Instead, their mission would last almost two years. During this time, the Sharps would face harrowing encounters with Nazi police, narrowly escape arrest and watch as the Third Reich invaded Eastern Europe. Their marriage would be tested severely and the two children they left behind would be saddened by their parents’ absence. But dozens of Jewish scientists, journalists, doctors, powerful anti-Nazi activists and children would find their way to freedom and start new lives as a result of their efforts. To recognize their heroic sacrifice, Martha and Waitstill were honored at Yad Vashem in Israel and declared “Righteous Among the Nations.” Of the thousands so honored, there are only five Americans, including the Sharps. 

DEFYING THE NAZIS is cinematically told through the letters and journals of the Sharps, with Tom Hanks as the voice of Waitstill and Marina Goldman as the voice of Martha. It features firsthand interviews with the now adult children whom the Sharps saved, as well as leading historians, authors and Holocaust scholars, including William Schulz, Deborah Dwork, Modecai Paldiel, Ghanda DiFiglia and Yehuda Bauer. 

In conjunction with the broadcast, a wide range of organizations will participate in community outreach and engagement activities, creating screening events and conversations that focus on what it means to be “righteous,” both as it relates to the Holocaust and genocide across the globe today. These include The United States Memorial Holocaust Museum, Hillel House, The Anti-Defamation League, The Unitarian Universalist Association, The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Jewish Community Centers, The Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College, Brown University, Harvard University, No Limits Media and others (a full list is available at DefyingtheNazis.org). 
Sara Bloomfield, dir., US Holocaust Memorial Museum

“The Sharps’ early grasp of the true nature of the Nazi threat and their willingness to leave the safety of America and take action to help endangered refugees was a rare act at a time of widespread indifference,” said Sara J. Bloomfield, director, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. “Their courage and sacrifice should inspire us to reflect deeply on our own responsibilities in a world that also faces many challenges.”
The USHMM's 2016 Linda and Tony Rubin Lecture, "Fueling Extremism in a Wired World" will come to L.A. on Sept 20th, Scottsdale Sept 21st, and in Austin on Sept 28th. 
Nazis used radio; today’s extremists use social media. Then as now, new technology provides extremists with unchecked ability to spread hate and prey upon disenfranchised audiences to realize their deadly agenda. This event will explore the tension between protecting free speech and limiting incendiary propaganda. What responsibility do technology companies, governments, and individuals have to limit uses of technology to keep our world safe?
Speakers: Mouafac Harb, Independent Media and Political Consultant and former News Director, The Middle East Radio Network 

David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, United Nations, and Professor, University of California, Irvine, School of Law 

Dr. Steven Luckert, Senior Program Curator, Digital Learning and New Media 

Moderator: Janine Zacharia, Carlos Kelly McClatchy Visiting Lecturer, Stanford University.

For more information and free tickets, check their calendar for details.  

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