(JTA) — A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate would honor an American prisoner of war who protected 200 American-Jewish POWs during World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal.
The bill introduced Monday would recognize Master Sgt. Rodrick “Roddie” Edmonds, who refused to reveal to a German commandant at the Stalag IXA camp which troops under his command were Jewish. The Congressional Gold medal is one of the highest civilian honors bestowed in the United States.
Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, both Tennessee Republicans, and Democrats Ben Cardin of Maryland and Tim Kaine of Virginia introduced the measure.
Edmonds was captured during the Battle of the Bulge by the German army on Dec. 19, 1944. As the highest ranking officer in the POW camp, he was responsible for the camp’s 1,292 American POWs. The camp’s commandant ordered Edmonds to identify the Jewish soldiers in order to separate them from the other prisoners. When Edmonds refused, the commandant placed his pistol against Edmonds’ head, demanding that he identify the Jewish soldiers. Edmonds responded, “We are all Jews here,” refusing to identify the Jewish soldiers, thereby saving their lives.
Surviving 100 days of captivity, Edmonds returned home after the war, but never told his family of his actions. He died in 1985, and only long after was first recognized for his heroic actions.
“When I learned of Master Sergeant Edmonds’ valiant actions that saved Jewish-American prisoners of war in Germany, I was reminded of the Talmud’s teaching that ‘whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,’” Cardin, who is Jewish, said in a statement. “At a dark time in humanity’s history, Master Sergeant Edmonds was a bright light and did what his heart told him was the right thing to do. There are families alive today who can be thankful that their very existence is due in no small part to Roddie’s service and sacrifice.”
Edmonds was posthumously recognized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem as Righteous Among the Nations, the first member of the U.S. Armed Forces and one of only five people from the United States to be so recognized.