In 1940, while much of Europe was at war, the United States had yet to enter. America was still going through the Great Depression. Many young people struggled to find work. 20-year-old Roddie Edmonds was one of the fortunate ones to find work as a clerk at a wallpaper store.
He was born and raised in Tennessee as a devout Christian, just like his parents before him. Like a lot of families during that time, they struggled, but always managed to provide for their children.
Knowing it was just a matter of time before the Americans went to war, he enlisted on March 17, 1941, in the army, almost a year before the Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor.
He stood out early as a leader and quickly climbed the enlisted ranks to become a master sergeant, one of the highest ranks for enlisted soldiers in the American army.
In December of 1944, Master Sergeant Edmonds fought with the 106th Infantry Division, 422nd Infantry Regiment, where he led new recruits to replace those who’d been killed, wounded or taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest part of the war for the Americans.
His unit was surrounded and forced to surrender. They were marched across the frozen countryside to a distant railway station. In typical Nazi fashion, anyone who couldn’t keep up was shot. Once they reached Gerolstein, they were jammed together in unmarked boxcars. The Germans never marked their trains to let anyone know POWs were on board.
En route to Stalag IX-B, the train pulled into Limburg train yard and Nazis fled as British bombed the site without every knowing there were POWs being killed from the bombing.
From Chabad, The American Soldier who stood up to the Nazis – and Won!:
“Later that night, the Germans fled, leaving the American POWs locked in the box cars as the British bombed the railyard. He wrote in his diary that that was his worst experience. They heard every bomb whistling their way and it seemed like each one would hit their boxcar. Several hundred Americans died, including Roddie’s chaplain.”
The train with surviving POWs arrived without further delay to Stalag IX-B. Stalag IX-A, B and C were the worst camps for American POWs. Severe overcrowding, lack of food, and lack of hygiene caused serious health problems to everyone sent to one of the Stalag’s IX.
NCOs (non-commissioned officers) and enlisted were sent to Stalag IX-A who was run by Major Siegmann who welcomed them to the camp by letting them watch dogs maul a Russian POW to death in order to serve as a lesson about doing what they were told to do. A brutal tactic that should have worked.
Siegmann gave the order that other camps gave when there were unknown Jewish soldiers among the POWs. He ordered the Jewish NCOs to fall out the next morning. The following morning, thanks to Edmonds as the highest-ranking NCO, every soldier, Jew and Gentile, fell out into formation. It was a tremendous act of courage that could have gotten them all murdered.
From the Jewish Foundation for the righteous, MASTER SGT. RODDIE EDMONDS / GERMANY:
“The next day, when Major Siegmann saw that all 1,000 GIs were standing in front of their barracks, he turned to Edmonds and demanded: “They cannot all be Jews!” To this, Master Sgt. Edmonds said, “We are all Jews.” Siegmann immediately drew his pistol and aimed it at Edmonds. Roddie Edmonds did not back down and replied: “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.”
Surprisingly, Siegmann backed down. There were between 200 and 300 Jewish soldiers who were among the gentiles who were never discovered. Not a single soldier gave anything away that could have led the Nazis to discover who they were. They all risked their lives to protect their fellow soldiers.
They all had courage, but Edmonds was the one with the loaded pistol pointed at his head. For over 100 days, until the camp was liberated, not a single Jewish soldier was discovered.
After he was released, Edmonds went on to serve with distinction in Korea and survived. He never spoken to anyone about what happened at the camp, not even to his family. None from the camp ever mentioned it during his lifetime.
He died in 1985 and never stopped being a Christian. By all accounts he was a humble and devout man until the day he died.
It was by nothing more than curiosity that led his son to discover the truth after he died, which led to Edmonds receiving Yad Vashem’s, ‘Righteous Amongst the Nations’ award on February 10, 2015.