Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War

Inspire your students with the untold story of American upstanders who risked their lives to help desperate refugees.

Ken Burns’ new documentary Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War tells Martha and Waitstill Sharps’ extraordinary story. Our 3 lesson plans use excerpts of the film, personal letters, photographs, and thought-provoking questions to help you to explore what motivated the Sharps’ mission, the dilemmas they faced, and the impact of their courageous actions.


Bring the courageous and compelling story of Martha and Waitstill Sharp to life in your classroom.

The Sharps' story can be integrated into many different courses and units of study. If you're teaching a unit on the Holocaust (or a Holocaust and Human Behavior elective), use it to examine rescue and the diverse experiences of victims, survivors, and rescuers. This story can also be used:

  • In US history courses, to help students understand America’s relationship to Europe as World War II unfolded
  • In Civics courses, as a case study on the choices of two extraordinary upstanders
  • To help facilitate classroom discussion around the ongoing refugee crisis

Get started.

An American minister and his wife undertook a rescue mission to help save Jews and refugees fleeing Nazi occupation.
Motivate your students to think about their responsibility toward others in light of the Sharps' work in Czechoslovakia.
Discover the complexities of Martha Sharp's rescue project by analyzing letters and other primary sources.

Get to know the Sharps

Find family photos, letters, and other primary sources that reveal the political landscape when the Sharps planned their rescue. The lessons draw upon many of the primary sources in this collection.

About the Project

Facing History is the lead educational partner for Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War, a multimedia project that includes a documentary film and companion book. Learn more about the project and watch a special message from filmmaker Ken Burns inviting you to tune into the premiere on PBS on September 20!

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