At the tail end of 1944, Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, along with thousands of other American soldiers, was captured by the Nazis in the Battle of Bulge. He would be held captive in a German POW camp for approximately 100 days.
As the Associated Press reports, Edmonds, originally from Knoxville, Tenn., was the highest-ranking soldier in the camp, where Nazi protocol was to separate the Jewish soldiers from the non-Jewish ones.
As the end of the war was already near at this point, many Nazi death camps were no longer fully operational, so the Jewish POWs would be sent to slave labour camps, a fact that Edmonds, and other American soldiers, were well aware of. So when the camp’s German commander, speaking in English, asked Edmonds to identify the Jewish members of his platoon, he said to his troops, “We are not doing that, we are all falling out,” according to his son Rev. Chris Edmonds.
Stunned, with the POWs standing defiantly together, the German commander drew his pistol and pointed it at Edmonds’ head, saying, “They cannot all be Jews.”
“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds replied.
“And then my dad said: ‘If you are going to shoot, you are going to have to shoot all of us because we know who you are and you’ll be tried for war crimes when we win this war,’” Chris Edmonds, who is currently in Israel for a Christian leaders seminar at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies, said.
Eventually, the German commander backed down, and Edmonds was later released. He died in 1985.
Now, the U.S. sergeant is being posthumously recognized with Israel’s highest honour for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews by the Yad Vashem World Centre for Holocaust Research. It is a feat some seventy years in the making.
According to the Associated Press, Chris Edmonds learned about his father’s heroism long after his death, thanks in part to a news article he read about a New York lawyer, Lester Tanner, who cited Roddie Edmonds as the man who saved his life, and the lives of other Jewish-American soldiers, during World War II.
After embarking on a search for Tanner, Edmonds found another Jewish POW, Paul Stern, who confirmed his father’s actions on Jan. 27, 1945, at the Stalag IXA POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany.
Before Edmonds, only four Americans were declared as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem. Edmonds, however, is the first-ever serviceman to be honoured. According to his son, his bravery saved the lives of over 200 Jewish-American soldiers.
“Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds seemed like an ordinary American soldier, but he had an extraordinary sense of responsibility and dedication to his fellow human beings,” said Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev. “The choices and actions of Master Sgt. Edmonds set an example for his fellow American soldiers as they stood united against the barbaric evil of the Nazis.”