Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War | Facing History & Ourselves
Picture of Martha and Waitstill Sharp

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War

These lesson plans use the Ken Burns’ documentary "Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War" to explore what motivated Waitstill and Martha Sharp to help refugees.


At a Glance

unit copy


English — US


  • History




Three or more 50-min class periods
  • The Holocaust


About This Unit

Ken Burns’ documentary Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War tells Martha and Waitstill Sharps’ extraordinary story. Our 3 lesson-unit uses 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.

Watch the trailer here.

This unit supports a 3 day exploration of Martha's and Waitstill Sharp's story. It includes:

  • 3 lessons
  • Videos, readings, and handouts that correspond with activities

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War is a multimedia project, including a documentary film and companion book. This robust collection tells the extraordinary true story of an American couple who risked their lives to save scores of imperiled Jews and refugees fleeing Nazi occupation across Europe.

Artemis Joukowsky, the film’s co-director and producer and co-founder of No Limits Media, is the grandson of Waitstill and Martha Sharp and has spent decades researching their story. He is the author of the companion book, featuring a foreword by Ken Burns, published by Beacon Press.

Facing History and Ourselves is the lead educational partner for Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War. Facing History has created educational materials for the film that bring the story alive for students as they engage with materials from the Sharps and the people they rescued.

Read PBS’s official press release on the film premiere.

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