The little-known story of the Sharps whose rescue and relief missions across Europe during World War II saved the lives of countless Jews, refugees, and political dissidents. Official companion to the Ken Burns PBS film.
For readers captivated by the story of Antonina Zabinski as told in The Zookeeper's Wife and other stories of rescue missions during WWII, Defying the Nazis is an essential read.
In 1939, the Reverend Waitstill Sharp, a young Unitarian minister, and his wife, Martha, a social worker, accepted a mission from the American Unitarian Association: they were to leave their home and young children in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and travel to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to help address the mounting refugee crisis. Seventeen ministers had been asked to undertake this mission and had declined; Rev. Sharp was the first to accept the call for volunteers in Europe.
Armed with only $40,000, Waitstill and Martha quickly learned the art of spy craft and undertook dangerous rescue and relief missions across war-torn Europe, saving refugees, political dissidents, and Jews on the eve of World War II. After narrowly avoiding the Gestapo themselves, the Sharps returned to Europe in 1940 as representatives of the newly formed Unitarian Service Committee and continued their relief efforts in Vichy France.
A fascinating portrait of resistance as told through the story of one courageous couple, Defying the Nazis offers a rare glimpse at high-stakes international relief efforts during WWII and tells the remarkable true story of a couple whose faith and commitment to social justice inspired them to risk their lives to save countless others.
About the Author
Artemis Joukowsky is an author, filmmaker, and socially conscious venture capitalist. He is the grandson of Waitstill and Martha Sharp and has spent decades researching his grandparents’ heroic rescue missions in Europe. He is also codirector, with Ken Burns, of the companion PBS documentary film Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War.
“A clear, unpretentious volume that justly celebrates a couple who risked all for others.”
“Defying the Nazis hooks you, catches you up in the narrative, and pulls you along by all the elements of great storytelling...It reads like a spy novel, but it’s all true.”
“This gripping tale of intrigue and courage, of love’s power and its loss, is both entertaining and inspiring. Heroes are often thought to be super-human. But Defying the Nazis proves that true heroes emerge not from the pages of comic books but the halls of everyday life. The common denominator is a stubborn faith in humanity and a conviction that the shape of history is ultimately in each of our hands.”
—William F. Schulz, president of the UUA, 1985–1993; executive director of Amnesty International USA, 1994–2006; and president of the UUSC, 2010–2016