Roddie Edmonds was a U.S. Army Master Sergeant who put his life on the line in a German POW camp to protect the Jewish soldiers under his command.
Roddie was a devout Christian from Tennessee who enlisted in the army in 1941 and was sent overseas. In 1944 he fought at the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive campaign of the war. At that battle, Roddie and over a thousand of his men were captured and sent to a German POW camp, Stalag IX-A. In the camp, he was the senior noncommissioned officer and was responsible for 1275 American POWs.
On their first day at Stalag IX-A, the German commandant told Roddie that the next morning, all the Jewish soldiers should assemble outside their barracks. Roddie had heard rumors that European Jews were being sent to death camps, and he was determined to protect the Jewish servicemen under his command. Instead of following the Nazi’s orders, Roddie issued his own: ALL 1275 American POWs would assemble outside the barracks in the morning.
The next day, when the Nazi officer saw that all the soldiers were outside, he angrily demanded that Roddie identify the Jews. Roddie told his men that they would not obey the order. Then he turned to the commander and said, “We are all Jews here.”
Furious, the Nazi officer took out his pistol and threatened to shoot Roddie. “They cannot all be Jews!” he said, insisting again that Roddie identify the Jewish soldiers.
Even with a gun to his head, Roddie did not back down.
“WE ARE ALL JEWS,” he repeated. “If you shoot me, you’ll have to shoot all of us and after the war, you’ll be tried for war crimes.”
The Nazi backed down and the 200 Jewish soldiers in the group remained with their comrades until they were liberated.
Incredibly, Roddie never told anybody about his wartime heroism.
It wasn’t until long after Roddie’s death in 1985 that the story came out. His children, curious about their father’s wartime experiences, started reading the diary he’d kept in Stalag IX-A. Mostly it contained the names and addresses of the soldiers under his command.
Roddie’s son Chris started searching the names online and found an old article about Lester Tanner, who became a prominent lawyer in New York. In the article, Tanner said that he and many other Jewish soldiers owed their lives to Sergeant Roddie Edmonds. Amazed, Chris contacted other soldiers from Roddie’s unit, and pieced together the story of his father’s stubborn heroism in Stalag IX-A.
In 2015, Roddie Edmonds was honored by the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. 26,000 non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust have been so honored, but Sgt. Roddie Edmonds is the only U.S. serviceman on that list.
For bravely defying the orders of a Nazi officer to protect the Jewish soldiers in his care, we honor Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds as this week’s Thursday Hero.
Get the best of Accidental Talmudist in your inbox: sign up for our monthly newsletter.