First American Soldier Honored for Saving Jews from Nazis

By Faye Higbee

First U.S. Soldier honored by Israel for saving Jews

U.S. Army Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was posthumously added to Israel’s “Righteous Among the Nations” for  saving 200 American Jews from death during World War II. He is only the 4th American to be awarded that honor, and is the first U.S. soldier to receive it.

MSgt Edmonds has been posthumously nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions. A ceremony for his placement in the Righteous of all Nations is planned for next year.

“Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds seemed like an ordinary American soldier, but he had an extraordinary sense of responsibility and dedication to his fellow human beings…The choices and actions of Master Sgt. Edmonds set an example for his fellow American soldiers as they stood united against the barbaric evil of the Nazis.” Avner Shalev, chairman, of Yad Vashem

 first american soldier

MSgt Roddie Edmonds (WWII photo via Chris Edmonds)

Captured but not broken

Master Sgt Edmonds was captured at the Battle of the Bulge. He was taken to Stalag 9A, a prison camp in Ziegenhain, Germany  along with about 1,000 others.

The Nazis attempted to sort the prisoners by Jew and non-Jew. Edmonds realized that would mean certain death for those who were Jewish, so he ordered his men to defy their orders.

“We’re not doing that.” Roddie Edmonds

AZFamily reported,

The Wehrmacht had a strict anti-Jew policy and segregated Jewish POWs from non-Jews. On the eastern front, captured Jewish soldiers in the Russian army had been sent to extermination camps.

At the time of Edmonds’ capture, the most infamous Nazi death camps were no longer fully operational, so Jewish American POWs were instead sent to slave labor camps where their chances of survival were low. U.S. soldiers had been warned that Jewish fighters among them would be in danger if captured and were told to destroy dog tags or any other evidence identifying them as Jewish.

So when the German camp commander, speaking in English, ordered the Jews to identify themselves, Edmonds knew what was at stake.

Edmonds ordered all his men to fall out, as he stood unflinchingly before the Nazi commander, who said, “They cannot all be Jews.”

Edmonds looked him straight in the  eye and stated, “We’re all Jews here.”

Courage in the face of death

The man put a gun to the MSgt’s head, but he remained firm. Eventually, the Nazi commander backed down.

Edmonds had been captured in late 1944. He and his fellow prisoners spent 100 days in the camp before they were liberated.

Piecing together a story

The MSgt’s son, Rev. Chris Edmonds, has worked hard to piece together this soldier’s story. As he was surfing the web, he came across some men who remembered his father and the words spoken that day. Those words would be hard to forget.

“It’s a matter of five minutes and that is it. When he tells the German, ‘No,’ that is something that can kill him. It is something very dangerous that is happening in one moment. … But it is very heroic.” Irena Steinfeldt, director of the Holocaust memorial’s Righteous Among the Nations

Heroic indeed.