Knoxville WWII veteran hailed as hero for saving Jewish soldiers

MSgt. Roddie Edmonds

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – An extraordinary honor was recently given to a WWII veteran born and raised in East Tennessee. The Embassy of Israel, among others, celebrated his courage in 1945 while being held prisoner in Germany.

President Obama spoke Wednesday night at the Righteous Among the Nations ceremony. Knoxville’s MSgt. Roddie Edmonds hailed for saving the lives of Jewish prisoners of war. Edmonds passed away in 1985.

His son, Chris Edmonds, says this act of heroism is a new discovery. He says his dad was humble and it’s been a journey learning about the time between his capture and release.

Previous story: Knoxville native recognized with Israel’s highest honor for non-Jews

“He’s always been a hero in my mind but I lovingly say I never knew he had a cape hanging in his closet,” said Chris Edmonds.

Chris Edmonds says his father stood eye-to-eye with death in January 1945 while he was a German prisoner of war at camp Stalag IX A.

“The second day they were there, the Germans announced that on the following morning, all they wanted to fall out were the Jewish Americans,” said Chris Edmonds.

WATE 6 On Your Side spoke with Chris Edmonds via FaceTime.
WATE 6 On Your Side spoke with Chris Edmonds via FaceTime.

MSgt. Edmonds defied those commands, telling the 1,275 soldiers in his watch they were going to fall out together.

“The Nazi commander of the camp came over to my dad, approached him and said, ‘They all can’t be Jewish.’ To which my dad responded, ‘We are all Jews here.’ That infuriated the commander and he pulled his Luger pistol out and pressed it into my dad’s forehead and said, ‘Sergeant you will order your Jewish soldiers to step forward or I will shoot you right now,'” said Chris Edmonds.

Chris Edmonds says his father paused, then said by the Geneva Convention, soldiers simply had to give their name, rank and serial number. The German commander put his pistol down and left.

“It was a bitterly cold morning and according to the men I’ve interviewed there were about 200 Jewish men saved that day,” said Chris Edmonds.

After 100 days as a POW, they were liberated in March 1945. “It’s something that may have never even happened if Chris hadn’t stumbled upon the story because his dad never talked about it. For it to happen many many years later it’s pretty much a miracle,” said Nathan Weinbaum with Blount County Veterans Affairs.

More than 70 years later, Chris Edmonds hopes his father’s act of bravery inspires others. “He was just an ordinary person, placed in an extraordinary moment and he continued to stand up for what was right.”

MSgt. Edmonds also served in the Korean War for about a year.

Three other people were honored for risking their lives in the Righteous Among the Nations ceremony. Lois Gunden from Indiana helped save Jewish children escaping to France. As well as Walery and Maryla Zbijewski from Poland who hid a woman and her daughter fleeing from the Warsaw ghetto.

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