(Guest post by (((Greg Forster))))
“They cannot all be Jews!”
The Battle of the Bulge, one of the largest battles in the largest war in world history, produced thousands of prisoners. Among the prisoners in the Stalag IXA camp were about one thousand men of the U.S. 422nd Infantry Regiment, who found themselves under the command of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds – a non-com, but still the regiment’s most senior surviving member.
Last year, his son, Rev. Chris Edmonds, had his first full opportunity to share his father’s story with the world – by dumb luck, just a month too late for his father to participate in last year’s Al Copeland Humanitarian of the Year Award process.
But The Al has a long memory, and it will take more than a little time to make it forget Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.
By standing German policy, Jewish POWs were to be separated from the rest of the POW population. By this time, the largest of the death camps in the western theater were no longer in business, so most of these POWs were taken away to slave labor camps where they were, with less efficiency but no less contempt for their humanity, worked to death.
Speaking in English, the German camp commander – a Major Siegmann – approached the POWs of the 422nd. He ordered that all Jewish men were to fall out and stand in formation in front of the barracks, then went to await them.
Whereupon Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds ordered every man under his command to fall out and stand in formation in front of the barracks.
“I would estimate that there were more than 1,000 Americans standing in wide formation in front of the barracks with Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds standing in front, with several senior non-coms beside him, of which I was one,” recalls Lester Tanner, a Jewish member of the regiment.
Siegmann protested: “They cannot all be Jews!”
Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds replied: “We are all Jews here.”
Siegmann drew his sidearm and held it to Edmonds’ head.
Edmonds said: “According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.”
Siegmann, having been (in the words of the Jerusalem Post) “outfaced by Edmonds,” turned and walked away.
More than 200 of the prisoners were Jewish (all the time, that is, not just when Nazis were asking). Edmonds saved them all from near-certain death.
Chris Edmonds knew his father had spent 100 days in captivity, but had no idea anything like this had happened until he read a newspaper story a couple years ago about Richard Nixon’s post-presidency search for a New York home. The article mentioned Tanner, who sold Nixon his house, and included the story about his father. Chris Edmonds began tracking down Tanner and other corroborating evidence, culminating in Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds being named “righteous among the nations” by Yad Vashem last December. He is only the fifth American, and the first American serviceman, thus honored.
Just two weeks later, a more contemporary headline showed that the spirit of Roddie Edmonds lives on: “Muslims Protect Christians from Extremists in Kenya Bus Attack.” About a dozen heavily armed Somali terrorists captured a bus in El Wak, Kenya and demanded that the passengers disembark, with all Muslims moving to one side of the bus while Christians moved to the other side. But the Muslim passengers refused to cooperate, preventing a massacre. “These Muslims sent a very important message of the unity of purpose, that we are all Kenyans and that we are not separated by religion,” said Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery. “Everybody can profess their own religion, but we are still one country and one people.”
Tanner recalls of Edmonds: “He did not throw his rank around. You knew he knew his stuff and he got across to you without being arrogant or inconsiderate. I admired him for his command.”
Now, so do we all.