11 June 2006
A ceremony posthumously honoring Martha and Waitstill Sharp, of the United States, as Righteous Among the Nations will be held in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem on Tuesday, June 13, 2006 at 11:30 a.m. The couple frequently placed their lives in jeopardy during the Holocaust to assist persecuted Jews. Martha and Waitstill’s daughter, Mrs. Martha Sharp Joukowsky, will receive the certificate and medal on her parents’ behalf. The Sharps are the second and third Americans, after Varian Fry, to receive the Yad Vashem recognition.
The ceremony will be conducted in English in the presence of US Ambassador to Israel Richard H. Jones, Stanlee J. Stahl, Executive Vice President, The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev. Also present will be Mrs. Eva Esther Feigl, whom the Sharps helped escape Europe, Mrs. Martha Sharp Joukowsky, daughter of the late Waitstill and Martha Sharp, and family and friends including some 40 people who flew in from New York.
Waitstill Sharp, a minister in the Unitarian church, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and his wife Martha, a noted social worker, accepted an invitation by the Unitarian Service Committee to aid members of the Unitarian church in Czechoslovakia in 1939. Arriving in Prague in February 1939, the Sharps helped a number of Jews leave the country, which had come under Nazi control. The Sharps continued their charitable work until August 1939, when they left Prague following warnings of their possible arrest by the Gestapo. On June 20, 1940, they landed in Lisbon, Portugal, on a mission to help refugees from war-torn France. Making their way to Vichy controlled France, which had allied itself with Nazi Germany, they sought ways to help fugitives from Nazi terror.
While in France they helped Lion Feuchtwanger, a world famous German-Jewish author of historical fiction escape France. The Nazi regime had listed him number 6 on a list of persons whose German citizenship was annulled for their anti-Nazi stance. Learning of Feuchtwanger’s plight, Waitstill and Martha took it upon themselves to organize Feuchtwanger’s escape. At great risk, they organized forged identity cards, rented rooms, bribed French border guards, purchased first-class tickets, and Martha Sharp disguised as a native peasant woman, to accompany the Feuchtwangers by train to Cerbere, on the Franco-Spanish border, where Waitstill Sharp was waiting for them. Eventually, the Sharps arranged for the Feuchtwangers to board a ship heading for New York, and they sailed in September 1940.
Having accomplished this, Martha Sharp returned to France, and journeyed to Vichy to plead for permits for a group of children, among them 9 Jews, to leave the country, which after many efforts she received. On November 26, 1940 this group - which included Eva Esther Feigl - left France, armed with US visas thanks to Martha Sharp’s efforts. After the war, Martha Sharp was involved in many efforts to assist Israel and Jews around the world. She died in 1999; Waitstill had passed away in 1984.
The event is open to the press in coordination with the Media Relations Department.
More information about the Righteous Among the Nations program, and the Sharps, click here