“We are all Jews” – How One Man’s Gentle Christian Faith Saved Jewish GIs from Nazi Death Camps
A lifetime ago, American fighting men experienced one of the most humiliating defeats an army can endure.
A lifetime ago, American fighting men gained one of the greatest victories in the history of arms.
What is the proper view of the Battle of the Bulge – military disaster, or glorious triumph? Both are correct in some fashion, but each by itself is incomplete. By the time the great battle drew to a close, the heroic defense of Bastogne by the 101st Airborne Division had already become the stuff of legend. Second only to that was the astounding winter counteroffensive by General George Patton’s 3rd Army. The exploits of men and women who were just doing their duty dealt a crushing blow to Germany’s warmaking ability.
Yet the heights of these great deeds cannot be appreciated apart from the depths of defeat suffered by the United States Army in the early days of the battle. When the German attack began on December 16, 1944, the troops thinly spread across Belgium and Luxembourg had little warning, and little chance of standing firm against Hitler’s last great offensive in the West.
I first learned of the Battle of the Bulge as a child, when it was still a vivid memory to veterans who fought through it. Yet it was not until I had been a soldier for many years that I finally read Charles MacDonald’s A Time for Trumpets, a comprehensive account of the Bulge. That was where I learned how serious the situation had been.
Nothing conveyed that lesson more vividly than the story of the 106th Infantry Division. Newly assigned to the sector, the men had hardly become familiar with the terrain of the Schnee Eifel in Belgium when they were pressed to defend it. The task proved beyond them; after two days the 106th was encircled and quite literally cut to pieces. Most of those who had survived the initial onslaught surrendered on December 19, including the bulk of the 442nd and 443rd Infantry Regiments. From that point on, the 106th ceased to exist as an effective fighting force.
Such clinical descriptions say nothing of the horrendous human cost. One statistic helps put it in perspective. The 442nd Infantry Regiment began the battle on December 16 with nearly 1,000 men. Less than a week later, only 79 of them had eluded death or capture.
Since learning the battlefield story of the 106th Division, I have given the unit little thought. They were, after all, the losers; the unfortunate sacrifices to the gods of war. It is not that they were poor soldiers or cowards, but that they just happened to be in the way when forces beyond their ability fell upon them. As I studied the battle, the soldier in me took note of the loss, but quickly went on to assess the mission still at hand, the resources left to accomplish it, and the best way to apply those resources to achieve success. The men of the 106th Division became for me just another footnote in history.
It seems that the story of the 106th, and specifically the 442nd Infantry Regiment, did not end in the bitter cold of the Schnee Eifel. It carried on in the prison camps where the soldiers found the true test of their courage, and where some of them achieved far greater feats of glory than anything they could have done on the battlefield.
Among those heroes was Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds. The test of courage he passed was surely something he did not expect when his nation called him to be a soldier, but it was fundamental to his identity as a follower of Jesus Christ, the One I now call by His Hebrew name and title, Yeshua haMashiach. In 1944, Roddie Edmonds only knew his Savior by the name of Jesus, and that was enough. He knew that Jesus required him to be loving to others, although he may not have known that Jesus asked nothing different from what Moses had required of Israel. In the cruel winter of 1944, obeying that command meant looking out for the welfare of his Jewish comrades – without first asking them what they thought of Jesus. And in the quiet resolve born of his identity in Messiah, Roddie Edmonds became a hero in the eyes of his God and of the few who witnessed what he did.
The story is told here by my Jewish friend Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz. It is a tale of two peoples – Christians and Jews – who realize they have more in common than the differences that kept them apart. Both live by aspects of the eternal Truth revealed to them and handed down through the ages, but the glory they separately bear for the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob pales in comparison to the glory they will impart to Him when at last they are united in brotherly love.
Seventy-two years ago, Roddie Edmonds gave us a glimpse of that glory.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:12-14 NKJV)
Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
Published in Breaking Israel News on December 13, 2016
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” Psalms 23:4 (The Israel Bible™)
In a remarkable World War II story that almost went untold, a devoutly Christian US Army sergeant refused to turn over his Jewish soldiers to the Nazis, even after a gun was placed to his head. Now, 30 years after his death, the Jewish people are showing their appreciation for his bravery.
Roddie Edmonds was a humble man and didn’t speak about his experiences in World War II, even when his children inquired. When he passed away over 30 years ago, his widow gave his wartime diaries to their son, Baptist Pastor Chris Edmonds, in Maryville, Tennessee.
A few years ago, one of the pastor’s daughters read through the diaries for a college project and was amazed at what she found. Despite being taken prisoner of war shortly after arriving in Europe, her grandfather was a hero. He had saved hundreds of Jewish soldiers, motivated only by his Christian belief.
Edmonds was a Master Sergeant with the 422nd Infantry Regiment in the US Army. On December 16, 1944, just a few months after arriving in Europe, Edmonds found himself fighting in the disastrous Battle of the Bulge. The last major German offensive campaign of World War II, it caught the Allied Forces by surprise, resulting in 89,000 casualties. On December 19, Edmonds and an estimated 23,000 other American soldiers were taken prisoner by the Germans.
“We surrendered to avoid slaughter. We were marched without food and water, except for the few sugar beets we found along the road and puddles,” Edmonds wrote in his diary.
Taken to the Stalag IXA POW camp near Ziegenhain, Germany, Edmonds was the highest-ranking officer and responsible for the American prisoners of war (POWs) in the camp. One evening in January, Major Siegmann, the camp’s commandant, told Edmonds that he wanted the Jewish POWs to line up outside the barracks the following morning. The commandant said that any Jewish soldier who didn’t report would be shot on sight.
“They weren’t killing the Jewish soldiers outright, but they were taking them to Berga,” explained Pastor Edmonds to Breaking Israel News. “It was a labor camp, but they really just worked them to death. The Nazi commandants had orders in all the POW camps to eliminate all Jewish soldiers, up until the very end of the war.”
When they were first captured, many of the Jewish prisoners were segregated and sent to Berga. Of the 350 Jewish soldiers taken to Berga, over 70 died from brutal labor and horrible conditions. The fatality rate in Berga was nearly 20 percent, the highest of any POW camp where Americans were held.
When he was given the order, Sergeant Edmonds made a decision. He told all of the soldiers, Christian and Jew alike, to report outside the next morning.
“What my dad did was amazing, but the real amazing thing was that all 1,292 soldiers, went,” said Pastor Edmonds. “None of them refused.”
The commandant was furious and held Edmonds at gunpoint, ordering him to identify the Jews. Edmonds wouldn’t.
“Once the major pulled the gun and pressed it to my dad’s head, any one of those men could have stopped him and told him who the Jews were,” said Edmonds. “But not one of them did.”
Standing next to Edmonds, their lives on the line, were two Jewish soldiers, Lester Tanner and Paul Stern. They told Pastor Edmonds his father’s response.
“‘All I am required is name rank and serial number, and that is all you’ll get,’” Edmonds told the commandant. “‘You’ll have to shoot all of us, and after the war, you will be tried for war crimes.’”
The major shouted back, “They cannot all be Jews.”
“We are all Jews,” Edmonds calmly replied.
His father’s faith was what inspired his heroic action, Pastor Edmonds explained. “He was a strong Christian, even in the camp. He did this because his faith required him to be his brother’s keeper, and to honor humanity.”
Pastor Edmonds has spoken with some of these soldiers. “They all said it was a miracle they survived that camp,” he said. “They credited it to my dad’s leadership and what he did.”
Roddie Edmonds’ act went unrecognized when he was alive and Pastor Edmonds has been unsuccessful at having his father posthumously awarded the US Medal of Honor for Bravery.
But the Jewish people have recognized his courage. The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), an organization that pays tribute to non-Jewish rescuers of Holocaust survivors, awarded Edmonds the Yehi Ohr Award last month in New York City.