On Sept. 20, the Night Owl Cafe featured Ken Burn’s documentary, “Defying the Nazis: The Sharp’s War.” Much of the research on the Sharp’s for this documentary was done by Larry Benaquist, Tom Durnford and Paul Vincent, professors here at Keene State College.
The documentary followed the courageous acts of married couple Martha and Waitstill Sharp during World War II, as they work for the American Unitarian Association in Czechoslovakia, helping Jewish people, refugees and dissidents escape the increasing Nazi threat in Europe.
The story is told through interviews with the now adult children whom the Sharp’s saved during the war with Tom Hanks narrating as Waitstill Sharp and Marina Goldman narrating as Martha Sharp.
Dr. Durnford, professor of Modern Languages and Cultures, said, “We [himself and Dr. Benaquist] followed all the travels of the Sharp’s in Europe and have been working on this for fifteen years.”
Dr. Benaquist, a professor of film studies at KSC, obtained resources throughout the years, including previously classified FBI documents on Martha Sharp, multiple photographs of the couple, newspaper clippings on them and a book that contained many facts and details about their two year journey in Europe.
As for how this documentary can relate to the world today, Benaquist said, “We’re in the second largest refugee crisis since WWII.
The Republicans are making the political campaign about building walls and not allowing people in. We’ve never been a country like that. We’re all in the same boat, or airplane or whatever. It’s a story of courage.”
Benaquist stressed how America should be able to learn from the mistakes they made during the last refugee crisis to help guide them through the one occurring today.
Durnford offered a similar perspective and said, “I think there are a lot of parallels in the migrant situation happening right now, to the migrants coming into Western Europe from Eastern Europe and other countries that were invaded by Nazis.”
Dr. Paul Vincent, a professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said, “People today should watch the film and then look in the mirror and ask, “Do you have the compassion to help one or more strangers in need?”
The one thing Dr. Vincent, Dr. Durnford and Dr. Benaquist all unanimously hope for, is students viewing this story to see the importance of helping others.
Dr. Vincent said, “As a historian, I want students to appreciate this piece of their country’s history, I also want them to reflect on their own role in our troubled world. The words ‘enter to learn, go forth to serve’, Keene State’s motto, should mean something—perhaps something profound.”
Rachel Vitello can be contacted at rvitello@kscequinox