April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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At Jewish Foundation for the Righteous Event, Pastor Details His Father’s Act of Bravery And Defiance to Save Jewish POWs

“We are all Jews,” said Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds to the German commander holding a Luger pistol to his head. Edmonds, a non-Jew, was the highest ranking American soldier in the Staling IXA prisoner of war camp in Ziegenhain, Germany.

That simple act of bravery and defiance, without regard to his own life after being ordered to give up his Jewish men, saved the lives of more than 200 Jewish-American soldiers held as POWs. In 2016, Edmonds posthumously earned the designation by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial as “Righteous Among the Nations,” only one of five Americans and the only American soldier to have the honor bestowed on them.

In a Nov. 15 program honoring veterans sponsored by Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, at the Jewish Community Center of Middlesex County in Edison, New Jersey his son, Pastor Chris Edmonds, spoke about his father’s daring exploits. The pastor only learned about his father’s bravery from the diary his father kept in a desk drawer; his mother gave him the diary after his father’s 1985 death. It resulted in the Baptist minister’s years-long journey to learn more.

“We need people to stand up for what is right in this world and that is what my dad did,” said Pastor Edmonds, noting his father never spoke of his wartime experience but lived his life by a set of rules he called “Roddie’s Code”: to respect and treat others well regardless of race or religion and to live an ethical and moral life.

In fact, Roddie never talked to any of the Jews he saved after they were liberated although Pastor Edmonds met with some, although most of those have since died. One of those Jewish soldiers, Lester Tanner, pointed out that the elder Edmonds didn’t just save those 200-plus soldiers but is also responsible for their thousands of descendants being alive.

Pastor Edmonds used a Talmudic reference comparing a person who saves one life as if they saved an entire world.

On that day in January 1945, when ordered by the commandant to produce the Jewish soldiers, Sgt. Edmonds instead told all the troops to appear at morning assembly. As the Nazi cocked his gun, he bellowed, “They can’t all be Jews. Give me the Jews or I will shoot you.”

Edmonds, however, knew Allied forces were closing in and told the commandment that in accordance with the Geneva Convention the captives only had to give their name, rank and serial number. He also added a warning: “There will be witnesses to what you did. We all know your name and when this war is over you will be tried as a war criminal” for violating the convention terms on the treatment of POWs.

The commandant’s face turned white and his arm began to shake as he lowered the pistol and stormed off.

The program took place before a packed crowd featuring local government officials, interfaith leaders and veterans. Pastor Edmonds, a religious leader from Maryville, Tennessee was presented with a proclamation honoring his father from the New Jersey General Assembly and a cache, an envelope imprinted with Sgt. Edmonds’ image, issued by the Post Office.

“You know the old expression ‘You don’t choose to be a hero,’” said State Sen. Patrick Diegnan (D-18). “He (Edmonds) is the very definition of a hero. He showed by example what it means to be a righteous person.”

Edmonds was captured at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 and he and his men suffered a days-long march through the bitter cold from Belgium to Germany to the camp for non- commissioned officers. The men were starved, suffered from frostbite and dysentery, and were covered with lice. He had been shot, kicked and hit with rifle butts, yet he never wavered. The Germans had been singling out Jewish POWs, sending them to concentration camps rather than POW camps, where most died. Therefore, Jewish soldiers were instructed by the military to destroy or bury their dog tags to hide their religion if captured.

Pastor Edmond noted his father defied the Nazis a second time. With American troops about to overrun the camp, the German commanders ordered all prisoners to leave because they wanted no witnesses of their barbarity left behind. Sgt. Edmonds instead instructed his men to remain and had them fall in outside of their barracks until the exasperated Germans finally fled.

When American tanks rolled into the camp—which coincided with the second day of Passover—the astonished troops found only the contingent of about 1,200 emaciated Americans, all still alive.

Pastor Edmonds said he wanted to see the Master Sergeant Roddie Edmond Gold Medal Act now in Congress be passed. The Gold Medal is Congress’ highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions by individuals or institutions. He would also like to see his father awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was previously denied him because the elder Edmonds’ bravery above and beyond the call of duty did not occur while in action. Nelson Melitz, a retired Air Force colonel and national commander of the Jewish War Veterans, was among those attending the event to honor Roddie for his bravery. He said he and the organization were committed to getting Edmonds awarded both medals.

What Pastor Edmonds described as “one of the proudest moments of my life” occurred during the Yad Vashem ceremony held at the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Jan. 27, 2016 and attended by President Barack Obama and director Steven Spielberg. Pastor Edmonds was presented with his father’s medal by Israel’s Ambassador Ron Dermer and Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Yad Vashem council chair and chief rabbi of Tel Aviv.

Pastor Edmonds said he speaks to honor the legacy of his father and “to bear witness to my Six Million brothers and sisters brutally murdered by the Nazis, including 1.5 million precious children who never had the chance to grow up.

“Rescuers like my father remind us life is precious and love always wins,” he said. “My dad was just a humble soldier who stood up for what was right. One person can make a difference.”

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