Photo Credit: Courtesy Chris Edmonds via Wikimedia
Roddie Edmonds

Senators Bob Corker (R-TN), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Monday introduced a bill to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Master Sergeant Rodrick “Roddie” Edmonds, a lifelong Tennessean, in recognition of his heroic actions during World War II.

As the senior noncommissioned officer responsible for 1,275 members of the Armed Forces at a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, Edmonds orchestrated a remarkable show of unity when the Nazis ordered him to identify and separate out the Jewish-American soldiers under his command. Disregarding the orders, Edmonds and all 1,275 soldiers stood together. Upon seeing the soldiers united as one, a German officer angrily shouted, “They cannot all be Jews!” – to which Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews here.” The German officer eventually turned away and left the scene. The actions taken by Edmonds saved the lives of approximately 200 Jewish-American members that day.


Senator Corker said, “The courage and foresight Master Sergeant Edmonds showed that day to save the lives of approximately 200 Jewish-American soldiers is truly remarkable. Even when faced with death himself, Master Sergeant Edmonds and the men under his command stood united to protect their fellow soldiers. His moral fortitude and humility serve as an example for us all, and I am pleased to join my colleagues to honor his life in this way.”

Senator Cardin said, “When I learned of Master Sergeant Edmonds’ valiant actions that saved Jewish-American prisoners of war in Germany, I was reminded of the Talmud’s teaching that, ‘whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.’ At a dark time in humanity’s history, Master Sergeant Edmonds was a bright light and did what his heart told him was the right thing to do. There are families alive today who can be thankful that their very existence is due in no small part to Roddie’s service and sacrifice. I’m pleased to join my colleagues in an effort to have Congress honor this proud son of Tennessee.”

Senator Alexander said, “Master Sgt. Edmonds’ bold statement, ‘We are all Jews here,’ saved hundreds of Jewish-American soldiers who were captured after the Battle of the Bulge. It is one of the most inspiring stories I know. The heroism of this 20-year-old East Tennessee soldier is an example for every one of us.”

Senator Kaine said, “Master Sergeant Edmonds was a true American hero and the embodiment of everything our nation was fighting for against the Nazis in World War II. In the face of death, his enormous courage and will to stand up for humanity saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish-American soldiers. I’m proud and humbled to support this bipartisan effort to award him the Congressional Gold Medal.”

The German officer took out his pistol and pointed the gun at the head of Edmonds, according to the Congressional record, but Edmonds refused to identify the Jewish soldiers. Instead, Edmonds responded, “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 German officer turned away from Edmonds and the other soldiers and left the scene. The actions taken by Edmonds saved the lives of approximately 200 Jewish-American members of the Armed Forces.

Lester Tanner, a Jewish-American member of the Armed Forces also captured during the Battle of the Bulge, witnessed the incident and stated that, “There was no question in my mind, or that of Master Sergeant Edmonds, that the Germans were removing the Jewish prisoners from the general population at great risk to their survival. The U.S. Army’s standing command to its ranking officers in POW camps is that you resist the enemy and care for the safety of your men to the greatest extent possible. Master Sergeant Edmonds, at the risk of his immediate death, defied the Germans with the unexpected consequences that the Jewish prisoners were saved”.

Edmonds survived 100 days in captivity and returned home after the war. Later, Edmonds served the United States in Korea as a member of the National Guard. Edmonds died in 1985, but never told his family or anyone else of his brave actions outside the barracks of Stalag IX–A during World War II.

Edmonds was posthumously recognized by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, as “Righteous Among the Nations”, the first member of the Armed Forces and 1 of only 5 people of the United States to be so recognized. Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem, announced the selection of Edmonds by saying, “Master Sergeant Roddie 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.”


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