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American Named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem for Saving Fellow Jewish Soldiers

First American Soldier to be Recognized to Date

02 December 2015

The late Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, of the 422nd Infantry Regiment in the United States Armed Forces, has been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for rescuing Jewish servicemen at the Stalag IXA POW Camp in Germany. His son, Pastor Chris Edmonds, is currently in Israel participating in a seminar sponsored by the International School for Holocaust Studies for Christian leaders.

"Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds seemed like an ordinary American soldier, but he had an extraordinary sense of responsibility and dedication to his fellow human beings," said Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev. "These attributes form the common thread that binds members of this select group of Righteous Among the Nations. The choices and actions of Master Sergeant Edmonds set an example for his fellow American soldiers as they stood united against the barbaric evil of the Nazis." The Rescue Story Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, TN served as a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the US army, fighting in Europe during World War II. He participated in the landing of the American forces in Europe, and was taken prisoner by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. Edmonds was interned at Stalag IXA, a POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany.

The Wehrmacht had an anti-Jewish policy, singling out Jewish POWs from the rest of the POW population. On the Eastern Front, many Jewish POWs were sent to extermination camps or murdered. This policy was also applied in some cases in the West. In January 1945, the Germans announced that all Jewish POWs in Stalag IXA were to report the following morning. Edmonds, who was the highest ranking soldier in the American section of the camp ordered all his men, to fallout the following morning – Jews and non-Jews alike. When the German officer, Major Siegmann, saw that all the camp’s inmates were standing in front of their barracks, he turned to Edmonds and exclaimed: “They cannot all be Jews!” To this Edmonds replied: “We are all Jews.” Siegmann took out his pistol and threatened Edmonds, but the Master Sergeant did not waver and retorted: “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.” The officer turned around and left the scene. NCO Paul Stern retold this encounter to Yad Vashem. Stern, one of the Jewish POWs rescued by Edmonds, told Yad Vashem that he was taken prisoner on December 17, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. "Stern stood very close to Edmonds during the exchange with the German camp commander, which, he later recalled was conducted in English. “Although seventy years have passed,” said Stern, “I can still hear the words he said to the German Camp officer.”

Lester Tanner, another Jewish soldier captured during the Battle of the Bulge, witnessed this incident. Tanner had trained in Fort Jackson where Master Sergeant Edmonds was stationed. Tanner remembered Edmonds well from his training period. “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… We were in combat on the front lines for only a short period, but it was clear that Roddie Edmonds was a man of great courage who led his men with the same capacity we had come to know him in the States.” Tanner told Yad Vashem that they were well aware that the Germans were murdering the Jews, and that therefore they understood that the order to separate the Jews from the other POWs meant that the Jews were in great danger. “I would estimate that there were more than one thousand 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… There was no question in my mind, or that of Master Sergeant Edmonds, that the Germans were removing the Jewish prisoners from the general prisoner population at great risk to their survival. The US Army’s standing command to its ranking officers in POW camps is that you resist the enemy and care for the safety of your men to the greatest extent possible. Master Sergeant Edmonds, at the risk of his immediate death, defied the Germans with the unexpected consequences that the Jewish prisoners were saved.”

Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds passed away in 1985. In 2015, Yad Vashem posthumously recognized Edmonds as Righteous Among the Nations. He is the first American soldier, and only one of five Americans, to be recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, alongside Varian Fry, Waitstill and Martha Sharp, and Lois Gunden. To date, more than 26,000 individuals have received the honor.

More information about the Righteous Among the Nations, including background, stories and the Database of Righteous, can be found online here.

For more information contact: Simmy Allen, Head of the International Media Section, Communications Division phone +972 2 644 3412/0, cell +972 585098109, fax: +972 2 6443409 simmy.allen@yadvashem.org.il / www.yadvashem.org