Israeli government designates Unitarians as “Righteous Among the Nations” for rescue work during Holocaust

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee announced on December 6, 2005 that the Israeli government has designated the late Rev. Waitstill Sharp Martha Sharp Cogan as “Righteous Among the Nations,” an honor conferred to individuals who extended aid to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. To date, over 20,000 individuals have been named as “Righteous Among the Nations,” but until the Sharps were so designated, the honor had only been bestowed on one American, Varian Fry.

In February of 1939, Martha Sharp and the Rev. Waitstill Sharp (minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Wellesley Hills, MA ) sailed for Europe as representatives of the American Unitarian Association on what was described as an ‘exploratory visit.’ They arrived in Prague as Nazi troops were marching into the city, which held 250,000 refugees. Working independently, Martha interacted primarily with refugees; her persistent efforts enabled many to cross borders safely. Meanwhile Waitstill set up an underground escape route from the city about which little is known to this day.

The Sharp’s rescue list focused on intellectuals and anti-Nazi political leaders as well as children. In August l940, the Sharps returned to the US from Europe, barely escaping arrest and detention. Later, after the fall of almost all of Europe, they sailed again for Marseilles and then, Lisbon. There, Martha Sharp arranged for 29 children and 10 adults, refugees from Nazi-occupied countries, to set sail for the US. They thus escaped internment under the Vichy French government, which later deported hundreds of thousands to Nazi death camps.

The numbers of people rescued by the Unitarian Service Committee during and after the war years (often in collaboration with other agencies) has been estimated to be between 1,000 and 3,000.

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