Nota bene

Righteous among the nations: Waitstill Sharp ’26

For a quiet hero, a posthumous honor

Waitstill Sharp

In 1939, Boston-area minister Waitstill Sharp ’26 and his wife, Martha, crossed the Atlantic to help others flee war-torn Europe.

Hiding from the Gestapo, falsifying an identity card and bribing border guards are just some of the skills Waitstill Sharp ’26 perfected as he rescued Jews, intellectuals, artists and children from the Nazis during World War II. The cloak-and-dagger heroics of Sharp and his wife, Martha, are credited with saving hundreds of people and arranging their safe passage from war-torn Europe.

In June, Waitstill and Martha Sharp became the second and third Americans to be honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Israel. The award recognizes non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Waitstill Sharp was minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley Hills in Massachusetts. His wife was a social worker. When representatives from the American Unitarian Association asked them if they would travel to Czechoslovakia to assist refugees, they said yes, and in 1939 they left their two young children in the care of parishioners. In one daring rescue in France, they freed Lion Feuchtwanger, a renowned German-Jewish author and dissident, and arranged for him to sail to New York.

Waitstill Sharp died in 1984; Martha Sharp, in 1999. Their daughter, Martha Sharp Joukowsky, a Brown University archaeology professor, accepted a medal on her parents’ behalf and spoke at the Yad Vashem ceremony. “It is good that this memorial we stand in today does not use the term ‘heroes,’” she said. “My mother, trained as a social worker in Hull House in Chicago, and my father, a Sunday school teacher inspired to become a minister and lawyer, would be embarrassed by those labels. They were modest and ordinary people who responded to the suffering and needs around them. ... They never viewed what they did as extraordinary.”

— Michelle Bates Deakin


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