Defying the Nazis: The Sharps' War (2016) Script

Help everyone explore new worlds and ideas.

Support your PBS station.

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.

Fortunately, 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 weeping 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 restrictions 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, anti-Semitism, 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 Waitstill."

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 government," 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, Therese.

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.