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Martha Ingham Dickie Sharp-Cogan (1905 - 1999) was an American philanthropist who, along with her husband Waitstill Sharp, helped hundreds of Jews to escape Nazi persecution by sending them off through Czechoslovakia.

The daughter of British-American immigrants, her family worshiped at historic First Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island, where she attended starting at the age of three.


Social Work

She attended Pembroke College, the women's college of Brown University, and later studied in the field of Social Work at Northwestern University’s Recreation Training School centered in Hull House, a Chicago settlement. When her training was complete, she earned the position Director of Girls’ Work where she acted as social worker to over 500 girls. Her devotion to service and helping others is often cited as the reason she entered the field.

In 1927, she married Waitstill Hastings Sharp taking temporary leave, although she would never return to the profession. The two lived in Wellesley, Massachusetts.

When Waitstill was ordained a Unitarian minister in 1933, he was assigned to a small church in Meadville, Pennsylvania where his wife followed. She acted almost as a second minister, organizing most of the youth work, education activities, and women's meetings, as well as church suppers. As her husband was often difficult to talk to, church members would go to Martha, who was always happy to lend an ear. [1]

Foreign Affairs

Watching the events of early-World War II unfold in southern Europe, she and her husband started an "International Relations Club". In November 1938, following the Munich Pact which ceded the Sudetenland to Hitler, the Sharps led a discussion titled "The Rape of Czechoslovakia."

Dr. Robert Dexter, head of the Department of Social Relations for the Executive Committee of the AUA, along with Quaker representative Richard Wood traveled to Europe to start contacts in Geneva, London and Paris, to create a network of relief workers and sympathetic politicians. In November 1938, they sent back a report that over 20,000 people would need immediate emigration assistance.

Martha and her husband were the first chosen to go, and the Unitarian leadership set up fundraising to assist in their accommodations and relief effort. Later Martha and Waitstill recalled grave misgivings about leaving their children of seven and two, but they were convinced they would be well taken care of living with family friends inside the parsonage. Their church would be headed by Dr. Baker in their absence, and they headed for London on 4 February 1939.

Both Martha and her husband worked for six years on local relief and assisting in the emigration of hundreds of Jews to America, Britain, and France. Often, she worked on the "case-by-case" scenarios, learning the details and reasoning behind each individual that required an escape. Martha also worked alongside, and sometimes traveled with those she helped ferry out. On one case, she joined 35 refugees, ranging from politicians to children whose parents had committed suicide, to the United Kingdom. On a different occasion, she arranged for children to leave in accordance with local narrowing-law, by the "Care of Children from Germany", a British organization.

On 14 March 1939, the Nazis were quickly advancing on Prague, so Martha and Waitstill burned all their notes and records of those they'd already helped emigrate. From this point on, they stopped keeping records. Eventually, the Gestapo shut down their building, but they continued with their underground activities. Soon after however, Waitstill left for Switzerland for a conference, but was not allowed to return to Nazi-controlled Czechoslovakia. Within a week of this, Martha quickly left Prague, and later it was found that the Gestapo had planned to arrest her the very next day. Martha met up with Waitstill in Paris, and the two headed back to America in August.

In May 1940, the president of the A.U.A. asked Martha and Waitstill to go to France as their "ambassadors extraordinary", to which the Sharps gladly agreed again. Unfortunately, before their office in Paris could open, the Nazis had taken the city. So the two of them instead went to Portugal (which was neutral at the time) and set up an office in Lisbon.

From this office, Martha, Waitstill, and the Dexters were able to help several thousand more people to escape the Nazi regime. One of the best known people they helped was German-Jewish novelist Lion Feuchtwanger. Feuchtwanger, who was to escape to New York with his wife (accompanied by Martha and Waitstill) encountered problems, so Martha gave up her ticket.

While working at another office in Marseilles, which served as a main hub of free France, they worked with Varian Fry, who was sent to Europe by the new Emergency Rescue Committee. One of Martha's goals there, apart from her husband and the rest of the organization, was to focus on the children. She singlehandedly argued through bureaucratic tape and often temperamental governments to secure exit visas, transit permits, and identity papers for 29 children and 10 adults.

On one occasion, she traveled from Lisbon with two emigrating children and four adults in late 1940. One of several Jewish children to be transported, was 14-year-old Eva Rosemary Feigl.

Post World War II

In 1950, Martha accepted a position in the National Security Resources Board, which would mobilize resources in the event of a Soviet attack. She resigned as President Dwight Eisenhower was inaugurated, and moved back to New York. By then, her marriage with Waitstill had degraded, and the two mutually separated, believing the hardships they'd gone through during World War II were just too much. She eventually remarried, and took the name Cogan.

Martha Sharp died in 1999, at the age of 94. She is survived by her daughter, Martha Sharp Joukowsky, a retired Brown University archaeology professor.

In the summer of 2006, Martha's and Waitstill's names were added to the list of "Righteous Among the Nations", a wall in Israel for Gentiles who risked their own lives in helping as many escape the Holocaust as they could. Eva Feigl gave a speech in 2005, describing how she never forgot the day she saw Martha Sharp when they got to America, the day she saw freedom.

Artemis and Clements Joukowsky (the Sharps' grandchildren) having been meeting with movie producers interested in turning their story into a film. They are also already in the early stages of turning their grandparents' story into a documentary. [2]




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