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Roddie Edmonds: How One Man's Faith Saved 200 Jewish American Soldiers From the Nazis

“Are you happy to be here?” It’s a simple enough question to ask, but imagine asking it as a Southern Baptist pastor speaking in front of a room full of New Jersey Jews. If the question doesn’t seem awkward enough now add, “Stand up. We’re going to love on each other!” And yet, despite their obvious cultural differences, over 100 audience members in attendance did just that. Not because they came to a tent revival, but because they gathered in the sanctuary of Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, to hear Pastor Chris Edmonds tell the true story of the time his father, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, saved 200 Jewish American lives during World War II.

As remarkable as Roddie’s story is, it is one that Chris grew up never hearing from his father. Roddie never spoke of his 100 days held captive in a German prisoner-of-war camp, nor did he write the gory details of what he had experienced. It was a vague diary entry Chris came upon years after Roddie’s death that prompted him to, of all things, Google his father’s name and serial number to see if he could learn more about his father’s time in the service. The Internet search yielded one result: a line from a 2008 New York Times story on the man who dared to sell Richard Nixon his home. That man, an attorney named Lester Tanner, happened to mention in the interview that he was alive thanks to the bravery of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds. Intrigued to know more, Chris reached out to Tanner and, for the first time, learned the full story of his father’s bravery in the face of Nazi evil.

Imprisoned in Stalag IX-A after being captured in the Battle of the Bulge, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, age 24, was the highest ranking officer in the barracks. It was the standard practice of the Nazis to segregate all Jewish American P.O.W.’s for removal to death camps, hence Jewish American soldiers were told to destroy their dog tags labeled with an “H” for Hebrew (in case of burial) if captured. On January 26, 1945, Edmonds was ordered by the Nazi officer in charge to have all Jewish soldiers fall out the following morning. Edmonds informed the men of the order and then gave him an order of his own.

The next morning all 1,292 men fell out. “We are all Jews here,” Edmonds informed the dubious Nazi officer. Holding a triggered luger to Edmonds' forehead, the Nazi officer threatened him with death if he did not order the Jewish soldiers to fall out. Edmonds replied, “You can shoot me, but you’ll have to shoot everyone here, because we will all know what you did. And when we win this war, you’ll be brought up on trial for war crimes.” Scared, the Nazi officer backed down, never to issue another order to segregate Jewish soldiers again.