A U.S. Army soldier who fought in against the Nazis is now the first American soldier to be recognized by Yad VaShem as “Righteous among the Nations” for rescuing Jewish soldiers.
Four other Americans, all of them civilians, have been recognized with the same honor.
The late Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds fought in the 422nd Infantry Regiment and was captured in the Battle of the Bulge. He was sent to the Stalag POW camp in Germany.
The Wehrmacht had an anti-Jewish policy, singling out Jewish POWs from the rest of the POW population, and many Jewish POWs were sent to extermination camps or murdered.
In January 1945, the Germans announced that all Jewish POWs in Stalag IXA were to report the following morning. Edmonds, who was the highest ranking solider in the American section of the camp ordered all his men, to fallout the following morning – Jews and non-Jews alike.
When the German camp commander, Major Siegmann, saw that all the camp’s inmates were standing in front of their barracks, he turned to Edmonds and exclaimed: “They cannot all be Jews!”
Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews.” After Siegmann took out his pistol and threatened Edmonds, the soldier declared:
According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.
The Commandant turned around and left the scene.
NCO Paul Stern, who was stood near Edmonds during the exchange and who was Netanyahu of those saved by his action, recounted the story to Yad VaShem
Stern, who was taken prisoner on December 17, 1944, added, “Although seventy years have passed, I can still hear the words he said to the German Camp Commander.”
Another Jewish soldier who was witness to the incident is Lester Tanner, who had trained in Fort Jackson where Master Sergeant Edmonds was stationed. Tanner recalled:
He did not throw his rank around. You knew he knew his stuff and he got across to you without being arrogant or inconsiderate. I admired him for his command… We were in combat on the front lines for only a short period, but it was clear that Roddie Edmonds was a man of great courage who led his men with the same capacity we had come to know him in the States
I would estimate that there were more than one thousand Americans standing in wide formation in front of the barracks with Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds standing in front with several senior non-coms beside him, of which I was one… Edmonds, at the risk of his immediate death, defied the Germans with the unexpected consequences that the Jewish prisoners were saved.
Edmonds died in 1985.
Yad VaShem chairman Avner Shalev said, “Edmonds seemed like an ordinary American soldier, but he had an extraordinary sense of responsibility and dedication to his fellow human beings….The choices and actions of Master Sergeant Edmonds set an example for his fellow American soldiers as they stood united against the barbaric evil of the Nazis.”
Edmonds’ son, Pastor Chris Edmonds, is currently in Israel participating in a seminar sponsored by the International School for Holocaust Studies for Christian leaders.