Chaplain’s Message – April 22, 2020 – The Power of Faith
The Power of Faith
All of us are moved by the self-sacrificing, heroic efforts of those medical personnel and first responders who “know the risks” as they help humanity at this time of pandemic. They do not know the individuals, but they feel, often based on their religious values, the need to help wherever and however they can. In many ways, all of America is thanking them and valuing their sacrifices. Allow me to share a very different but equally meaningful story of a willingness to sacrifice, based on belief in a common humanity. It’s longer than most of my sharings, but I think you will find it meaningful.
Earlier this week the Jewish world observed a memorial day for victims of the Holocaust, the inconceivable part of history wherein the Nazis and their allies killed, often in the most heinous ways, six million Jews and five million other people because they were considered “undesirables” by their twisted ideology…. incidentally including three hundred thousand of non-Jewish Germans who were considered mentally or physically defective..
Above all else, the Holocaust represents the denial of the essential humanity of every human being, regardless of race, religion, gender, or national origin.
When the United States Army started fighting in Europe, Jewish soldiers knew that they could be treated differently if they were somehow captured.
I share with you one documented, true story, of how one American NCO responded to this situation. His name is Roddie Edmonds, an unassuming, devout Christian, and this is his story….. Edmonds, along with other inexperienced troops, arrived in the combat zone in December 1944, with the 106th Infantry Division, arriving only five days before Germany launched a massive counteroffensive, the Battle of the Bulge. During the battle, on 19 December 1944, Edmonds was captured by Nazi forces, and sent to a German prisoner-of-war camp. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred, with other enlisted personnel, to another POW camp. As the senior noncommissioned officer at the new camp, Master Sergeant Edmonds was responsible for the camp’s 1,275 American POWs.
On their first day in the camp, January 27, 1945 — as Germany’s defeat was clearly approaching—the camp commandant ordered Edmonds to tell only the Jewish-American soldiers to present themselves at the next morning’s assembly so they could be separated from the other prisoners. Instead, Edmonds ordered all 1,275 POWs to assemble outside their barracks. The German commandant rushed up to Edmonds in a fury, placed his pistol against Edmonds’ head and demanded that Edmonds identify the Jewish soldiers under his command. Instead, Edmonds responded, ”We are all Jews here,” and told the commandant that if he wanted to shoot the Jews he’d have to shoot all the prisoners. Edmonds then warned the commandant that if he harmed any of Edmonds’ men, the commandant would be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes after the conflict ended—and since the Geneva Conventions required prisoners to give only their name, rank, and serial number; religion was not required. The commandant backed down. Edmonds’ actions are credited with saving up to 200 Jewish-American soldiers from possible death.
Edmonds survived 100 days of captivity, saving other men under his control as well. He returned home after the war but kept the event at the POW camp to himself. He never told his family of the event. He died in 1985, having never received any official recognition, citation or medal for his defense of the Jewish POWs..
After his death in 1985, Edmonds’ wife gave their son, Reverend Chris Edmonds, a couple of the diaries his father had kept while in the POW camp. Rev. Edmonds began researching his life story, including the mention of the event at the POW camp. The younger Edmonds located several of the Jewish soldiers his father saved, who provided witness statements to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial museum for victims of the Holocaust. On 10 February 2015, Yad Vashem recognized Edmonds as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations,” Israel’s highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The awards ceremony was held January 27, 2016, at the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., where then-President Barack Obama praised Edmonds for action “above and beyond the call of duty,” and echoed Edmonds’ statement of solidarity with Jews.
There is much more to the story that you can research on your own. A book about his life has just been published. Anyone with a connection to military life, including we in the Civil Air Patrol, should resonate to Edmonds’ story. Its essence is the strength of faith as a moral compass in one’s life. And that is a lesson that we should all both learn and hold dear.