Ethics Hero Emeritus: Roddie W. Edmonds (1919-1985)

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.


Sources: Daily Mirror, NPR

21 thoughts on “Ethics Hero Emeritus: Roddie W. Edmonds (1919-1985)

  1. Two hundred out of a thousand of the GIs were Jews? Twenty percent? Amazing. And this from three percent of the U.S. population? Amazing. There must be a story there. Analogous to all the black guys in Vietnam and all the Hispanic guys in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unappreciated.

    • Other Bill said, “There must be a story there. Analogous to all the black guys in Vietnam and all the Hispanic guys in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unappreciated.”

      Maybe there is a story to be found in there, but “unappreciated”, I really don’t think so, at least not any more unappreciated than an other person who served.

      • My point is that will all the latent, low-grade anti-semitism bubbling beneath the surface of the anti-big bank Occupy stuff, the subtle suggestion that European Jews somehow laid down to be slaughtered by the Nazis, the anti-Israel/pro-Palestinian thrust in so many sectors of American society, to outright racism (Jesse Jackson’s calling NYC “Hymie Town”), it seems remarkable to me that it appears the Jewish participation in the Army during WWII was way beyond the Jewish percentage of the population. Demographics (a bunch of young Jewish guys all at one time)? More volunteers? More patriotic? Just worth noting, I think. Certainly striking.

    • It was relatively well known, especially among the Jewish community, what Hitler`s Nazi party meant for Judaism, Jews punched above their weight class in conscription because they realized that were the allies to fall, they would be the most effected. They saw it as their duty to their families and friends. It was… What is the word I`m looking for… I don`t have it. Amazingly brave, but also completely rational.

  2. I hope I’d be like Sgt Edwards.

    Or at the least, like the Nazi officer who didn’t shoot. That I’m fairly confident of. Being like Sgt Edwards… I won’t know till I’m in that situation.

  3. Standing up for your beliefs, for the human rights of others, knowing and doing what’s right even when faced with imminent death as a result of your actions is one of the most heroic things any person can do; then for SGT Edmonds not to wear that event on his shoulder for the world to see for the rest of his life shows a humbling to his root morals and a fortitude of personal character.

    SGT Edmonds actions represent the standard of heroic actions that we should all strive to equal! This soldier deserves to be nationally honored with the Medal of Honor for his selfless actions looking certain death eye-to-eye.


  4. Edmonds’ story is being told around the internet. A brave act, indeed. As the senior man among the prisoners, it was ambient upon him to do what he did. It was still no less an act of courage. Many others would have faltered.

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