“We are all Jews here” -MSG Roddie Edmunds when ordered to separate Jewish POWs out for extermination.
POW Stalag IXa Ziegenhain, NAZI Germany
Roddie Edmunds was a large man, and not just his sense of honor and courage. He wasn’t terribly tall but he had hands like ham-hocks. Without that teddy bear smile and gentle eyes, he would have been one scary sombisch. Promoted to Master Sergeant E-8, at the age of 22, Edmunds is believed to be the youngest man to achieve that rank.
On D-Day, MSG Edmunds led his men up the dunes and off the beach then fought shoulder to shoulder with them until the day late in 1944 when he was taken prisoner by the SS during the Battle of the Bulge.
Things got worse for the big Tennessean when he was informed that he was the highest-ranking prisoner and therefore, designated as “Prisoner Commander.” He was now personally responsible for every prisoner of war in the group.
POW Commander could be a cushy very comfortable position if you were co-operative and willing to help the enemy. Better food, good quarters, and gentle treatment could be had by any senior prisoner without honor. It was a temptation many men could not resist. Edmunds was NOT such a man.
In January 1945, Edmunds was ordered to make a list of Jewish prisoners under his command, and have them fall in a separate formation ready for transport at the next day’s Roll Call. Edmunds knew the SS had taken to separating Jewish POWs out for summary execution or transport to the KZ[i]. He decided that was simply not going to happen.
MSG Edmunds discretely ordered his men to get rid of anything that would identify them as Jews. Dog tags, Yarmulkes, Stars of David, anything that could reveal they were Jews. Edmunds then ordered all POWs, Jew and Gentile alike to assemble together at Roll Call.
Infuriated, the SS Commandant was livid. He screamed obscenties at Edmunds demanding to know whay his orders were disobeyed; to which Edmunds replied proudly – “We are all Jews here.” The German demanded Edmunds separate the Jewish prisoners out – Roddie Edmunds refused.
The SS Commandant drew his pistol and stuck it in MSG Edmunds’ mouth. He told Edmunds he would ask him one more time then, simply shoot him and promote the next man. If the next man refused, the process would be repeated until someone wanted to live.
Roddie Edmunds gave that little grin he was known for, then pushed the pistol out of his mouth and asked the Commandant, “How many bullets you got there, Sir?” Startled by the question, the red-faced SS Officer didn’t have a chance to respond before Edmunds continued, “Cause, yer gonna need a bunch more bullets – we’re winning this war, if you shoot me, and even one of these men lives long enough to testify – you will die at the end of a rope, as a war criminal.”
The Commandant apparently didn’t like that prospect and changed his mind.
At war’s end Edmunds was released and returned to Tennessee wherenhe lived a quiet life unit he was again called upon to serve in the Korean War, He did not hesitate to respond.
His story was largely unknown until his son discovered MSG Edmunds POW diary with the names and home addresses of every prisoner Edmunds was responsible for. Included in the names was Ernest Kinoy, the famous playwright who won an Emmy for his efforts on “Roots.”
Several Jewish soldiers who fought with and were POWs with Edmunds then submitted his story to Yad Vashem. On February 10, 2015, Yad Vashem recognized Master Sargent Roddie Edmonds as “Righteous Among the Nations” – The highest honor a non-Jew can receive from the Nation of Israel.
On January 27, 2016 – 71 years after his time as a POW and 31 years after his death, a ceremony was held at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. Israeli ambassador, Ron Dermer and Yad Vashem Council Chairman, Rabbi Lau, presented the Righteous Medal and Certificate of Honor to Edmund’s son.
יהי זכרו ברוך
[i] KZ: Konzentrationslager – WW2 Concentration camp