JERUSALEM (JTA) – An American soldier has been recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations for rescuing fellow Jewish soldiers in a German POW camp.
The late Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds rescued Jewish servicemen at the Stalag IXA POW Camp in Germany in January 1945, Yad Vashem said in an announcement of the honour on Wednesday.
Edmonds, of Knoxville, Tennessee, died in 1985. In 2015, Yad Vashem posthumously recognized him as a righteous gentile. He is the first American soldier, and only one of five Americans, to be granted such recognition, alongside Varian Fry, Waitstill and Martha Sharp, and Lois Gunden. More than 26,000 individuals have received the honour to date. Edmonds is now also being considered for a U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, according to the Associated Press.
Edmonds’ son, Pastor Chris Edmonds, who heads a Baptist congregation in Maryville, Tennessee, is currently in Israel participating in a seminar sponsored by Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies for Christian leaders.
“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. “These attributes form the common thread that binds members of this select group of Righteous Among the Nations. 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.”
Edmonds was taken prisoner by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. In January 1945, the Germans announced that all Jewish POWs in Stalag IXA were to report the following morning, likely to be sent to Nazi extermination camps or murdered.
Edmonds, who was the highest ranking solider in the American section of the camp, ordered all his men to fallout the following morning – both Jews and non-Jews. When the German camp commander 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.”
The German camp commander took out his pistol and threatened Edmonds, who only gave his name, rank and serial number as required by the Geneva Convention. “If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes,” Edmonds said. The commander turned around and left the scene.
U.S. soldier and Jewish POW Paul Stern retold this encounter, which he said occurred in English, to Yad Vashem, “Although seventy years have passed,” Stern told Yad Vashem, “I can still hear the words he said to the German Camp Commander.”
The encounter also was verified by Lester Tanner, another Jewish soldier who was captured at the Battle of the Bulge. He told Yad Vashem that there were more than 1,000 American soldiers standing in wide formation in front of the barracks with Edmonds.
“There was no question in my mind, or that of Master Sgt. Edmonds, that the Germans were removing the Jewish prisoners from the general prisoner population at great risk to their survival,” Tanner said. “Master Sgt Edmonds, at the risk of his immediate death, defied the Germans with the unexpected consequences that the Jewish prisoners were saved.”