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Roddie Edmonds file photo [33049]

Roddie Edmonds

SurnameEdmonds
Given NameRodrick
Born20 Aug 1919
Died8 Aug 1985
CountryUnited States
CategoryMilitary-Ground
GenderMale

Contributor:

ww2dbaseRodrick Waring Edmonds was born on 20 Aug 1919 in South Knoxville, Tennessee, United States. Known his entire life as "Roddie," he was the youngest in a family of four boys, although their mother died when Roddie was three years old. Roddie grew up attending Knoxville's Vestal Methodist church and on 17 Mar 1941, he enlisted the United States Army. By Oct 1944, Edmonds had advanced to Master Sergeant with the 106th Infantry Division who were on a troop ship bound for Europe. On 11 Dec 1944, the 106th took up positions along the Siegfried Line on the eastern edge of the Ardennes Forest near Prüm, Germany. Within a week, the Germans launched their attack that opened the Battle of the Bulge, with the point of their thrust aimed right at the 106th. With the division spread far too thinly along the lines, the Germans quickly encircled two regiments of the 106th and elements of the 28th. Edmonds was one of over 6,000 United States troops taken prisoner, one of the largest group-surrenders the American military had ever experienced.

ww2dbaseFollowing normal practice, the Germans separated the American officers from the enlisted men. The enlisted men were first taken to Stalag IX-B at Bad Orb, Germany, with Edmonds as the senior American member. Stalag IX-B held prisoners from France, the Soviet Union, Italy, Great Britain, Belgium, Serbia, Slovakia and the United States. At Bad Orb, Edmonds watched as the Jewish soldiers were separated from the others. They were housed in pitifully substandard barracks and only given starvation rations. By this point in the war, it was well known among United States servicemen that segregating the Jews in this manner placed their very lives in great peril. It was equally well known that the war in Europe was drawing to a close around a collapsing Germany. After a month at Bad Orb, all American non-commissioned officers (NCOs) were transferred 50 miles north to Stalag IX-A at Ziegenhain. The Ziegenhain camp had been an operating a work camp since 1941, filled primarily with French prisoners of war (POWs) but also included some British and Russian soldiers.

ww2dbaseOn Edmonds' first day in the new camp, orders were issued that only the Jewish soldiers were to attend the following day's morning assembly. Upon hearing this order, Edmonds immediately said to his senior NCOs, "We're not doing that" in a tone that showed a quiet resolve. Edmonds then spent the night preparing for what he was going to do. He issued instructions that all American prisoners would assemble the following morning as usual. Privately, he sought guidance according to his Christian faith, including drawing on a particular passage of scripture. Appropriately, that passage was not only part of his Christian Bible but also a part of the Jewish scriptures, Proverbs 28.1: "The wicked flee when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion." This wording carried a special meaning to men of the 106th Infantry Division because they were known as the "Golden Lions."

ww2dbaseThe following morning, 28 Jan 1945, the entire compliment of 1,275 corporals and sergeants formed up for the morning assembly. As senior POW, Master Sergeant Edmonds took his place in front of the gathered men. He was soon approached by a very agitated German officer, Major Siegmann. Siegmann was attached to a higher German authority and was in the camp only to take away the Jewish soldiers. In excellent English, Major Siegmann angrily demanded to know why all of the men were in formation rather than only the Jews as instructed. Sergeant Edmonds very matter-of-factly responded, "We are all Jews here." Incensed, the German officer drew his pistol and pressed the muzzle against Edmonds' forehead. "You will order all Jews to step forward, or I will shoot you right now," several witnesses recalled him screaming. Cooly, Edmonds told the major, "According to the Geneva Convention, we have to give only our name, rank, and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot every one of us. We all know who you are and after we win this war, you will be tried as a war criminal." Major Siegmann stood motionless for a moment with his face turning red, and then holstered his pistol and stormed away ["The wicked flee when no man pursueth ..."].

ww2dbaseThere were no further attempts at Ziegenhain to separate the Jewish soldiers from the others.

ww2dbaseStanding just behind Edmonds during the encounter with Major Siegmann and witnessing the entire exchange were Staff Sergeant Lester Tannenbaum (later Lester Tanner) and Corporal Paul Stern, both Jewish soldiers originally from New York City. Later estimates were that of the 1,274 prisoners in Edmond's charge, about 200 were Jewish. Sixty days later, as George Patton's Third Army was sweeping through central Germany, the Germans began evacuating the Ziegenhain camp. The British, French, and other non-American prisoners were hurried onto trucks. Again, Edmonds' quiet leadership stood out as he ordered all Americans to stay in the barracks, eat dirt, feign illness, anything to prevent being evacuated. As a result, the only prisoners the Germans left behind were the Americans. Within a very few days, on 30 Mar 1945, the second day of Passover, the tanks of Patton's Sixth Armored Division overtook the camp and liberated Edmonds and his men.

ww2dbaseEdmonds returned to the United States, he was discharged from the Army, and he returned to Knoxville. He was later recalled to duty during the Korean conflict as part of the First Cavalry Division who covered the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir. After Korea, Edmonds returned to Knoxville. By this time, Edmonds had already been married twice. On 28 Nov 1942, he married Marie Solomon after he had joined the Army but they divorced while he was still on active duty during World War II. He was married again in 1948 shortly before shipping out to Korea, this time to Pauline Surratt, and that ended in a divorce as well. Back in Knoxville, he married for a third time in 1953 to Mary Ann Watson, and they would remain together for the rest of Edmonds' life. Edmonds made a career in Knoxville managing a newspaper and in sales. Then on 8 Aug 1985, Roddie Edmonds passed away just short of his 66th birthday.

ww2dbaseLike many World War II veterans, Edmonds spoke very little about his wartime experiences. His youngest son, Chris, became interested in his father's Army days years after his death. Chris knew nothing of the confrontation with the German officer at Ziegenhain until he stumbled on a New York Times article that quoted Lester Tanner (Tannenbaum) crediting Edmonds with saving his life. Chris Edmonds had to know more about this. He contacted Tanner and also Paul Stern and other Jewish NCOs who had served with his father. Chris Edmonds learned of the confrontation with Major Siegmann for the first time from Tanner. Chris Edmonds, Tanner, and Stern then wrote to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel about what happened at Ziegenhain. On 10 Feb 2015, Yad Vashem recognized Edmonds as "Righteous Among the Nations," their highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Edmonds is one of only five Americans to be so honored out of a total of more than 28,000 on the list. He is the only member of the United States armed forces to receive this honor and the only one honored for shielding American Jews.

ww2dbaseThe award presentation from Yad Vashem took place on 27 Jan 2016, almost seventy-one years to the day after Sergeant Edmonds' standoff with Major Siegmann. The presentation was at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC and was presided over by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau. United States President Barack Obama also spoke, the first time a sitting American president spoke at the Israeli Embassy. Part of the President's remarks included the words, "We are all Jews, because anti-Semitism is a distillation, an expression of an evil that runs through so much of human history, and if we do not answer that, we do not answer any other form of evil." Chris Edmonds, himself a Baptist minister, accepted the award on behalf of his late father.

ww2dbaseA commemorative plaque also stands in Edmonds' home town of Knoxville, Tennessee. The United States Army was petitioned to consider Edmonds for the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award, but the Army declined saying the Medal of Honor was reserved for actions in combat. The United States Congress introduced two separate measures to award Edmonds the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian award, but as of 2024, the measure has not garnered enough votes to move forward. Edmonds has received the highest honor from a foreign country (Israel) but so far has received no formal acknowledgment from his own country, beyond President Obama's remarks at the Israeli embassy.

ww2dbaseThe surviving Jewish members of Edmonds' command who witnessed the events at Ziegenhain all describe Edmonds with great admiration. They described him as an excellent leader who always acted in the best interests of his men. Lester Tanner described Edmonds by saying, "He did not throw his rank around. You knew he knew his stuff and he got across to you without being arrogant or inconsiderate. I admired him for his command." They also have little doubt that Roddie Edmonds saved all of their lives that day at Ziegenhain.

Author's Note: Sources differ on the correct spelling of Roddie Edmonds' full first name; Rodrick or Roderick. Edmonds himself never used this name in favor of listing his name as Roddie Edmonds on all official documents including his tombstone. Since his hometown newspaper, the Knoxville News Sentinel, spelled his first name Rodrick, that spelling is used here.

ww2dbaseSources:
Yad Vashem
Chris Edmonds (Inside Edition, 2020)
The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous - Following the Footsteps of My Father
TIME Magazine
Knoxville News Sentinel
New York Times
Army University Press - NCO Journal
Knoxville Journal
Find-A-Grave
CBN Israel
CNN
106th Infantry Division Association
Tennessee Magazine
WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tennessee
United States Congressional Record
Jay P. Greene
Wikipedia

Last Major Revision: May 2024

Roddie Edmonds Interactive Map

Photographs

Draft registration card for Roddie Edmonds, front and back, completed 16 Oct 1940.Main Street and barrack huts at German prisoner of war camp Stalag IX-A at Ziegenhain, Germany. Photo was taken in 1942 from the camp’s main watch tower.
See all 7 photographs of Roddie Edmonds

Roddie Edmonds Timeline

20 Aug 1919 Roddie Edmonds was born in South Knoxville, Tennessee, United States.
17 Mar 1941 Roddie Edmonds enlisted in the United States Army at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, United States.
28 Nov 1942 Roddie Edmonds married Marie Solomon at the Vestal Methodist church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
28 Oct 1944 Roddie Edmonds and the 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division arrived from the United States at Cotswolds in the English Midlands, United Kingdom.
11 Dec 1944 Roddie Edmonds and the United States Army's 106th Infantry Division took up positions along the front lines near Prüm, Germany just east of Belgium.
19 Dec 1944 Roddie Edmonds and 6,000 soldiers of the 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions were surrounded and taken prisoner by German forces near Prüm, Germany.
25 Dec 1944 Roddie Edmonds and the other enlisted men of the 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions captured in the Battle of the Bulge arrived at Stalag IX-B at Bad Orb, Germany.
28 Jan 1945 After being ordered to line up only the Jewish members of the US Army sergeants and corporals in POW Stalag IX-A at Ziegenhain, Germany, the senior NCO, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, had his entire complement of 1,265 men line up in their place. When the German officers repeated they only wanted the Jews to line up, MSgt Edmonds replied, "We are all Jews here."
30 Mar 1945 Stalag IX-A at Ziegenhain, Germany was liberated by the Sixth Armored Division of General George Patton's Third Army. By the time Patton's tanks arrived, the Germans had fled the camp along with all prisoners except for 1,276 US Army sergeants and corporals mostly from the 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions captured in the opening stages of the Battle of the Bulge. They were liberated after 100 days as prisoners of war.
28 Apr 1945 Roddie Edmonds arrived in the United States after being released from a German POW camp a month earlier.
8 Aug 1985 Roddie Edmonds passed away in Knoxville, Tennessee two weeks short of his 66th birthday.
10 Feb 2015 In Jerusalem, Israel, Yad Vashem recognized Edmonds as “Righteous Among the Nations,” their highest honor reserved for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Edmonds is one of only five Americans to be so honored. He is the only member of the United States armed forces to receive this honor and the only one honored for saving American Jews.
27 Jan 2016 An award presentation from Yad Vashem for Roddie Edmonds' addition to the list of "Righteous Among the Nations" took place at the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, United States, presided over by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau. United States President Barrack Obama also spoke, the first time a sitting American president spoke at the Israeli Embassy. Chris Edmonds, Roddie Edmonds' son, accepted the award on behalf of his late father.




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Roddie Edmonds Photo Gallery
Draft registration card for Roddie Edmonds, front and back, completed 16 Oct 1940.Main Street and barrack huts at German prisoner of war camp Stalag IX-A at Ziegenhain, Germany. Photo was taken in 1942 from the camp’s main watch tower.
See all 7 photographs of Roddie Edmonds


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