All these years later, and we are still learning about heroic acts of World War II that missed the pages of history.
Roddie W. Edmonds of Knoxville, Tennessee just became the first U.S. soldier to be named Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed by Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance and Research Center to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Edmonds, who died 30 years ago, never even told his son about the dramatic episode that earned him the posthumous honor, and his story only came to light in the past few years when two men who he saved came forward to tell a tale that could have been crafted in Hollywood. ( As you will see, long after the true event, it was.). He had been captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and was one of about a thousand U.S. soldiers taken to the Stalag IXA camp in Ziegenhain, Germany in 1945. There were 200 Jewish soldiers in the group, and the Nazi officers in charge of the camp announced that the Jewish soldiers were to assemble outside their barracks to be taken to labor camps, and probably killed.
Sgt. Edmonds, who was the highest ranking U.S. soldier, ordered the entire contingent of U.S. servicemen to join their Jewish comrades. When the German camp commander saw all the prisoners reporting, he said, “They cannot all be Jews!”
“We are all Jews,” Edmonds replied. This is known as a Full Spartacus. He cited the Geneva Conventions and refused to identify any prisoners by religion. According to witnesses, the Nazi officer became enraged, pulled his Luger out, pressed it into the Edmonds’ forehead and said, “I’ll give you one more chance. Have the Jewish men step forward or I will shoot you on the spot.”
Edmonds didn’t flinch. “You’ll have to shoot us all, then,” he said. One of the Jewish POWs, Paul Stern, told Israel’s Holocaust center, “Although 70 years have passed, I can still hear the words he said to the German camp commander.”
The German officer backed down.
Roddie Edmonds, like so many other World War II veterans, didn’t regard this remarkable act of bravery worthy of boasting about or even relating. What is important is that we know about it now, and that his actions are memorialized to they can serve as inspiration to future generations. Edmonds didn’t plan on being a hero, but when fate placed him in a position where he could either risk his life to try to save two hundred, or just stand aside as so many people do, every day, reasoning that their job is to look out for #1 in a crisis, and everyone else can fend for themselves, he did the right thing.
May all of us aspire to do the same, when our moment of truth arrives.