JERUSALEM – An American couple was posthumously honored Tuesday at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial for saving almost 2,000 Jews from the Nazis during World War II.
In a ceremony at the memorial, Martha and Waitstill Sharp became only the second and third Americans to be inducted into the memorial's "Righteous Among the Nations" group for non-Jews who saved Jews.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators, part of the Nazi "final solution" aimed at wiping out the Jews of Europe.
The Sharps left their home in Boston — and their two small children — to travel to Prague in 1939, where they helped hundreds of refugees escape the Nazi occupiers of Czechoslovakia. There they had to burn evidence of their work when they fled the country six months later as the Nazis marched into Prague.
Later, they traveled to Lisbon, where they helped refugees flee Nazi-occupied France into Spain, then Portugal and then to the United States.
A grandson of the Sharps, Artemis Joukowski III, said it was their ability to work well with little funds and their social skills that made them good at sneaking people out of Europe to the United States. Joukowski accepted the honor for his grandparents at the Yad Vashem ceremony.
Waitstill Sharp, a minister, and Martha Sharp, a social worker, were sent by the Unitarian Service Committee to try to save people during the war. As part of their work, the couple had to bribe Spanish border guards with cigarettes, build connections with U.S. missions to obtain visas — sometimes without State Department approval — and find Americans to adopt refugee children.
In one of her missions, Martha Sharp managed to sneak 29 endangered children between the ages of three and 16, nine of them Jewish, out of Europe to homes in the United States. Rosemarie Feigl from New York City, who was 14 at the time she was smuggled out by Martha Sharp, spoke at the ceremony Tuesday.
About 20,000 non-Jews have received the "Righteous Among the Nations" honor. Few of them are Americans since not many dared to risk traveling so far during the war, said Stanlee Stahl, executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.
The other American recognized by the Israeli memorial authority was Varian Fry, who worked in France in 1940-41, smuggling about 1,000 people out of the country, according to the Yad Vashem Web site. Fry, from New York, was honored in 1996.