The 90-minute films explores the lives of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, a Unitarian minister and his wife from Wellesley, Massachusetts, who left their children behind in 1939 to help refuges and dissidents escape from Nazis in Easter Europe. The film is told through letters and journals of the Sharps with Tom Hanks providing the voice of Waitstill and Marina Goldman as the voice of Martha. The film also features commentary from some of the leading Holocaust scholars.
Thinking they would only be away for a couple of months, the couple ended up lasting nearly two years saving the lives of hundreds of people—including scientists, doctors, intellectuals, and numerous children–who went on to build new lives, many in America.
“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.”
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.
“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,” said Joukowsky. “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.”
“Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War” will air on September 20 on PBS.