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Meet the founders of the UU Service Committee

A new book shares the stories of the founders of the UUSC.
By Kenneth Sutton
Fall 2010 9.1.10

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Rescue and Flight: American Relief Workers Who Defied the Nazis documents the stories of some of the individuals central to the creation and early work of the Unitarian (now Unitarian Univer­salist) Service Committee. Susan Subak’s connection to this history is deeply personal: Her father, Carl Subak, a Jewish Austrian refugee, was able to immigrate to the United States in 1938 because of an affidavit written by two of the book’s subjects, Robert and Elisabeth Dexter.

Robert Dexter was on the staff of the American Unitarian Association, and his travels in Czechoslovakia in 1938 led to his successful efforts to convince the AUA to address the plight of refugees there. By early 1939, Martha Sharp and the Rev. Waitstill Sharp were in Prague aiding refugees. (The Sharps were named “Righteous Among the Nations” by Israel’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in 2006 for their efforts to save Jews from the Nazis. See UU World, Summer 2006, for their story.)

Subak writes, “I was surprised to come across records that showed that the Unitarians had tried to help at least two other families that were related to me. . . . That all these people relied on the Unitarians in some way struck me at first as a remarkable coincidence, but eventually it drove home how small the world of rescue really was.” Subak estimates that sixteen American Unitarians and collaborators worked in Europe, and later back in the United States, to help several thousand refugees escape. Rescue and Flight focuses on Elisabeth and Robert Dexter, Varian Fry, Charles Joy, Martha and Waitstill Sharp, and Herta and Noel Field, starting with work in Prague in 1939, proceeding to Lisbon and Marseille, and on to Geneva and elsewhere through 1945. The story of their heroic work includes not only bravery and narrow escapes, but also personality conflicts, professional jealousy, extramarital affairs, and accusations of communism, all carefully documented in the heavily annotated text.

Subak has written for the New Republic and Climatic Change. Rescue and Flight includes an afterword by the Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz.

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