Veterans Day and the ‘Avenue of the Righteous’: The Story of Roddie Edmonds

Isaiah 61:3 “They may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”

In the spring of 1945, Master Sargent Roddie Edmonds wrote this in his diary: “I’m just a little guy but war isn’t right. Lives upon lives are lost. People forget God more and more. It seems as if someone should get wise…and let God be our commander.” 74 years later, after discovering his father’s diary in a cigar box, his son, Pastor Chris Edmonds of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Tennessee, began his quest to document the story of his father’s heroism during World War II. What Chris uncovered about his dad has become a book called ‘No Surrender’, and has resulted in his father being honored by Israel as one of the ‘Righteous’.

In Israel, there is an avenue lined on both sides with trees that you can walk called the ‘Avenue of the Righteous’. On its website, Yad Vashem (World Holocaust Remembrance Center) explains how the planting of the ‘trees of righteousness’ started: “In 1955 Rachel Auerbach, a Holocaust survivor who was in charge of gathering survivor testimonies at Yad Vashem, suggested that we should plant trees in the Righteous’ honor. Following the capture of Adolf Eichmann, Yad Vashem’s Chairman, Arieh Kubovy, reported that he was receiving many requests, asking them to show the world ‘that the Jewish people were not only interested in bringing the perpetrators to justice, but also wished to pay tribute to the righteous persons.’ Consequently, on May 1, 1962, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Avenue of the Righteous was dedicated at Yad Vashem, and the first trees were planted along its path.”

Yad Vashem initially focused on gathering the information and testimonies of survivors and all the victims. The first 11 trees were planted along the avenue by rescuers from many different countries as well as by the Jews they had rescued. By 1989, as more data was gathered and more incredible stories came to light of all the many courageous people who had risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis, nearly 2,000 trees had been planted! The foundation then decided to add the ‘Garden of the Righteous’, where the names of all those who had no trees planted in their honor would be engraved on the walls according to their countries of origin. By the time the Garden was dedicated on August 7, 1996, close to 14,000 Righteous had been honored by Yad Vashem. Since then new names are being added every year.

To qualify for the ‘Avenue of the Righteous’, Yad Vashem law uses a simple definition: “Those who risked their lives to save Jews”. As the website explains, “This is meant to delineate a small group of people who were prepared to pay a price for their stand and even share the victims’ fate. Faced with ultimate evil, they did not satisfy themselves with mere manifestations of sympathy. Extraordinary circumstances required extraordinary responses.” This is the story of one of the ‘Righteous’: Master Sargent Roddie Edmonds.

In December 1944, during one of the most brutal winters, the 106th Infantry Division landed in France 90 days after D-Day. They reached eastern Belgium near the German border on December 10, 1944. On December 16, they were attacked in what is known as the Battle of the Bulge. By December 21, the Germans captured more than 20,000 GIs. Of these soldiers, 1,000 were non-commissioned officers (NCO), the highest-ranking member being Roddie Edmonds. These were taken to Stalag IXA in Ziegenhain.

The first command from the German commandant of Stalag IXA was for all Jewish POWs to present themselves. Edmonds ordered all 1,000 POWs to stand in formation outside of their barracks. The commandant was furious, telling Edmonds “They cannot all be Jews!” Master Sgt. Edmonds responded, “We are all Jews.” Siegmann put a pistol to Edmonds head and demanded the Jewish GIs step forward.

Edmonds refused, saying “According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.” Siegmann walked away. There were 200 Jewish GIs among the 1,000 American POWs. Roddie Edmonds saved the lives of 200 Jewish soldiers from certain death at the hands of the Nazis.

Pastor Chris sums up his father’s reason for his courage:

“I know that my father was willing to die to save Jewish men under his command because he believed a Jewish man, Jesus Christ had died to save him.”

The story of Master Sargent Edmonds is one of many reminders of why we as Americans have made a special day every year to celebrate all those who have served in our military, and in this special case, those who claim the name of Jesus Christ as their motivation to stand against evil in the name of freedom.

The Evidence of Faith’s Substance – Article #373

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