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Founders: Martha and Rev. Waitstill Sharp
Martha and Rev. Waitstill Sharp depart for their mission to Czechoslovakia on February 4, 1939.
UUSC's origins during the early days of World War II received international recognition when two of our founders, Martha and Waitstill Sharp, were officially honored for their wartime heroism in 2006 by the governments of both Israel and the United States.
In ceremonies and official public statements, the Sharps were showered posthumously with the highest accolades, including "Righteous Among the Nations."
President George W. Bush praised "these remarkable citizens and their bold efforts to save others during the Holocaust." The U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved resolutions honoring the Sharps as "genuine American heroes."
"During World War II, the brave efforts of Martha and Waitstill Sharp helped many people escape cruelty and injustice and brought hope in the midst of violence and persecution," wrote the president. "Their story of strength and sacrifice continues to inspire people around the world and reminds us of our responsibility to oppose hatred, aggression, and murderous ambitions wherever they exist."
In June 2006, the Sharps were posthumously memorialized in the Garden of the Righteous as their names were engraved in the Wall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. In September 2006, they were similarly honored with a plaque on the Rescuers Wall at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in our nation's capital.
"Few people found it within themselves to risk danger by helping their neighbors during the Holocaust," said Sara J. Bloomfield, director of the Holocaust Memorial Museum. "That the Sharps were willing to leave the safety of the United States to save strangers in Europe speaks to their character, and serves as an inspiration to us today, particularly as we continue to witness atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere."
More than 21,000 people have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed on non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews. The Sharps are only the second and third United States citizens to be so recognized, and Martha is the first U.S. woman.
"They left the peaceful environment and the serenity of the United States to go to a continent torn by war and strife to get people out, Jews as well as non-Jews. And they had already two children of their own," said Mordecai Paldiel, director of Yad Vashem's Department of the Righteous.
The Rev. Waitstill Sharp and his wife, Martha, a professional social worker, agreed to go to Europe at a time of U.S. isolationism, leaving their congregation in Wellesley, Mass., and two young children to rescue refugees and anti-Nazi dissidents.
The Sharps' daughter, Martha Sharp Joukowsky, who was two years old when her parents left her and her seven-year-old brother Hastings with church and community caretakers, accepted a medal on her parents' behalf at the Jerusalem ceremony.
Joukowsky pointed out that her parents were not alone in their rescue work. "This medal not only reflects their determination and courage... it is about the efforts of a much wider circle of people who made their work possible — the people who sent donations to the Unitarian Service Committee, the secretaries who maintained detailed case files abroad and at headquarters, the families who signed affidavits of sponsorship for refugees... and many unseen others."
Modern forms of genocide
The ceremony in Jerusalem also served as a call to action to challenge present day genocide. The Sharps' grandson Artemis Joukowsky III said he hopes his grandparents' legacy inspires others to confront humanitarian crises such as the dire situation in Darfur, where armed conflict has resulted in more than 200,000 deaths and 3 million civilians being forced to flee their homes since 2003. "I really want to connect this story to the larger issues that are going on in the world today," he said.
UUSC President Charlie Clements said he hopes that the Sharps' story will inspire "today's righteous" to remain committed to ending genocide. "Not every one of us can set out for war-torn Europe. All of us can't visit refugee camps in Darfur or U.S. detention camps in Iraq or Afghanistan. But we can all be a part of the lives of those who do. Every one of us can participate in institutions that make such heroism possible," Clements said.
|Roots and Visions: Chapters 1-2||8.58 MB|
|Celebrating the Work of the Sharps (PDF)||1.99 MB|