Some days it is difficult to find inspiration in the actions of others. In an age of “safe spaces” and “microaggressions, ” we recognize a sense of entitlement, of “me first” and “my feelings matter.” So it is not surprising that one of the most inspiring stories to come to light in recent days happened over 70 years ago. What is surprising is that the hero of this story, the man whose actions saved the lives of over 200 men, never spoke of his deed. Not to his friends, his family, his wife, or his children. Not to a single living soul before his death in 1985.
The story of Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds only came to light when his granddaughter “was working on a college assignment that required her to make a video about a family member.” I am quoting freely from the Nov 30 article published in the Times of Israel by Cathryn J. Prince. Link at www.timesofisrael.com.
Edmonds and the men serving under him were captured by the Germans on December 19, 1943, during the Battle of the Bulge, but not before holding off the Germans long enough to allow Patton’s Third Army to break through. After being marched several days without provisions, Edmonds, and his men arrived at a POW camp. As the highest-ranking officer, Master Sgt. Edmonds was responsible for the 1,292 American POWs being held there. Among their number were about 200 Jewish soldiers.
When the commandant of the prison ordered that all Jewish soldiers fall out the following morning, Edmonds knew what would happen to those soldiers. It was near the end of the war. People knew what the Nazis did to Jews. So he decided to resist. He ordered that ALL his men fall out the next morning. Not one of them disobeyed his order.
When the commandant saw what was occurring, he approached Edmonds and ordered him to identify the Jewish soldiers.
“We are all Jews here.” was Edmonds’ response.
The commandant put a pistol to Edmonds’ head and repeated the order. Edmonds again refused. According to one of the men whose life he saved, Edmonds replied “According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give you 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 commandant relented.
There were actually 1,273 heroes that day. Any one of the men could have refused to obey Edmonds’ order. Any one of the men could have identified the Jewish soldiers. Instead, it was like the scene from the movie “Spartacus.” After defeating the slave rebellion, the Roman commander demanded that the leader Spartacus identify himself. One by one, each of the remaining men shouted out “I am Spartacus.” “I am Spartacus.”
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous posthumously recognized Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds with its “Yehi Or” (Let There Be Light) Award. Last year he “became the only American soldier, and one of just five Americans named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. He is also the only Righteous Among the Nations to have saved American Jewish lives.”
Edmonds was a man known for his strong faith – his Christian faith. Perhaps, when the pistol was being held to his head, he heard the words “Greater love hath no man, but that he lay it down for his brother.”
In a time when our country is so fractured along racial, political, and religious lines, perhaps it is now that we stand together and tell the world “We are all Jews here” and individually proclaim “I am Spartacus.”
[Author’s Note: This article was originally published in November, 2016. In light of the tragic shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue this week, we are re-publishing it.]