Israel honors US soldier who defied Nazi captors: 'We are all Jews here'
U.S. Army Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was captured with thousands of others during World War II's Battle of the Bulge in 1944. In all, he spent 100 days as a prisoner of war at Stalag IXA POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany.
As the highest ranking non-commissioned officer, he spoke for the group. When it came time for the Nazis to implement the policy of separating the Jewish prisoners and sending them off to labor camps where their survival was unlikely, Edmonds would have none of it. He ordered all his men to step forward and self-identify. The camp commander didn't believe it.
"We are all Jews here," he said.
Even when his captors put a gun to his head, the Tennessee native wouldn't budge. His will was stronger than the Nazi's threats. Edmonds continued, telling the Nazi camp commandant:
"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."
His defiant stand saved 200 Jewish lives. He posthumously received the highest honor Israel gives non-Jews who risked their lives to save those of Jewish people during WWII. He is one of four Americans, and the first GI, to receive this honor.
"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 Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial. "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."
The names of those who risked it all to save the Jewish people during the Holocaust are engraved down an avenue in a Jerusalem memorial called Yad Vashem. It is the Jewish people's living memorial to the Holocaust, safeguarding the memories of the past and teaching the importance of remembering to future generations.
The honor the Jewish nation bestows on such people is "Righteous Among the Nations," created to convey the gratitude of the State of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Edmonds joins the ranks of 25,685 others, including German industrialist Oskar Schindler and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.
Edmonds died in 1985. While in captivity, Master Sgt. Edmonds kept a couple of diaries of his thoughts, as well as the names and addresses of some of his fellow captors.