The date: January 27, 1945
The setting: German POW camp Stalag IXA, near Ziegenhain, Germany.
What happened: 1000 American POW’s stand at attention. The German commander of the camp, speaking in English, orders Jewish American soldiers to step forward. It is late in the war – by now the American troops know what is at stake. They know their Jewish comrades will be whisked to an uncertain fate, most likely death in a slave labor camp. At that moment Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, the highest ranking noncommissioned officer held in the camp, turns to the rest of the POW’s, and says, “We are not doing that, we are all falling out.”
We are not doing that, we are all falling out.
The German commander turns to Edmonds and says, “They can not all be Jews.”
Edmonds replies, “We are all Jews here.”
The Nazi Officer presses his pistol to Edmonds’ head and offers him one last chance to give up the approximately 200 Jews in his group.
What does Edmonds do? This is it. The moment when Edmonds can choose to live or die. He holds his fate in his hands. Does he know any of the 200 Jews in the camp? Does it matter? Does the thought of his own brains being splattered in some desolate, miserable camp far from home outweigh whatever sense of humanity he harbors in his heart and mind?
Edmonds merely gives the German his name, rank and serial number as required by the Geneva Conventions.
According to Edmonds’ son, the Reverend Chris Edmonds, “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.'”
Witnesses said the German officer then withdrew, and with that, Roddie Edmonds saved 200 lives – intentionally – and, perhaps – unintentionally – 201.
For his actions, which only came to light accidentally, the Knoxville, Tennessee native is being posthumously recognized with Israel’s highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during WWII.
Last Wednesday he was named by Yad Vashem “Righteous Among The Nations,” joining a list which includes luminaries such as Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg, two more “ordinary” men who did extraordinary things when fate came calling.
Roddie, who died in 1985, told his son Chris nothing of his heroics. He was captured in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944 and spent 100 days in captivity, including that fateful day in January. Chris only found out about his father’s actions while poking around on the internet and coming across an article about Richard Nixon buying a home from Lester Tanner, a Jewish POW in Stalag IXA, one of Roddie’s comrades, who mentioned in passing that he owed his life to Edmonds.
So add modesty to Roddie’s already otherworldly CV.
There’s a reason they are called The Greatest Generation.