Remembering Roddie Edmonds

Steve Hayward’s book Patriotism Is Not Enough is forthcoming on February 14, 2017. The book is rich in reflections occasioned by a close reading of the intellectual history Steve takes up.

In the introduction Steve quotes Walter Berns’s understanding of the Founders to the effect that “the making of patriots cannot be left to chance.” Later in the book Steve writes that “the tyrant of the ‘liberated self’ cannot be a patriot, because the ‘self’ as the greatest cause any individual is taught to think of, cannot conceive of a cause or purpose or meaning beyond himself.” Steve therefore argues: “The dogmatic liberalism of our time is the enemy of patriotism.”

I think this is the context in which to consider the story of Roddie Edmonds as told by Cathryn Prince for the Times of Israel in “Posthumous honor for US officer who saved 200 Jewish GIs from the Nazis — and never told a soul.” It is a case study in decency and virtue and valor that should inspire the patriotism of all Americans:

In a singular act of humanity and defiance, Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds stood up to a German commandant and saved 200 American Jewish GIs from transportation to a slave labor camp.

It was 1945 and Edmonds had been a prisoner of war in Stalag IX-A, a German POW camp for less than a month. As the highest-ranking officer there, he was responsible for the camp’s 1,292 American POWs – 200 of whom were Jewish.

Throughout the war, the Wehrmacht either murdered Jewish soldiers captured on the Eastern Front or sent them to extermination camps. Jewish soldiers captured on the Western Front could be sent to Berga, a slave labor camp where survival rates were dismal.

Because of this policy the US military told its Jewish soldiers that if they were captured they should destroy evidence of their faith, such as dog tags, which were stamped with the letter H for Hebrew, or personal prayer books that some soldiers carried.

Edmonds, who died in 1985, never spoke about the story. In fact, had it not been for his granddaughter’s college assignment many decades later, the officer’s story might have remained forever untold. But thanks to the subsequent persistence of Edmonds’ son, Pastor Chris Edmonds, the heroic story surfaced.

Then the story:

Edmonds landed in Europe in the autumn of 1944 with the 106th Infantry Division, and then fought his way to the Belgian-German border as part of the 422nd Infantry Regiment.

On December 16, he found himself involved in what came to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. On December 17, he had his last hot meal.

“Believe me when I tell you we really had to keep our heads down. This was no picnic,” Edmonds wrote in his wartime diary.

Though outgunned and outmanned, the Americans delayed the Germans long enough to allow General George Patton’s Third Army to ultimately come to the rescue.

But the rescue came too late for the 422nd regiment; Germany’s Second SS Panzer Division encircled them, and on December 19, Edmonds became one of thousands of Americans taken prisoner.

“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,” the 25-year-old wrote in his diary shortly after being transported to the camp which held upwards of 50,000 Allied soldiers near Ziegenhain.

As the highest-ranking office there, Edmonds, responsible for the camp’s 1,292 American POWs, relied on his faith and sense of duty to keep the men safe and to keep morale as high as possible, said his son Chris.

One day in January 1945, a month after his capture, the Germans ordered all Jewish POWs to report outside their barracks the following morning. Edmonds knew what awaited the Jewish men under his command, so he decided to resist the directive. He ordered all his men — Jews and non-Jews alike — to fall out the following morning.

Upon seeing all the soldiers lined up, the camp’s commandant, Major Siegmann, approached Edmonds. He ordered Edmonds to identify the Jewish soldiers.

“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds said.

Irate, the commandant jammed his pistol against Edmonds’ head and repeated the order. Again, Edmonds refused.

“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,” Edmonds had said, according to one of the men saved that day.

The younger Edmonds regards all 1,292 men as heroes.

There is much more in the Times’s of Israel story. Please read the whole thing here.

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