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Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Center Honors First U.S. Soldier


A World War II sergeant from Knoxville, Tenn., is being recognized posthumously by Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Center. He is the first U.S. soldier to be honored with an award that's given to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The honorees are called the Righteous Among the Nations. Roddie Edmonds passed away 30 years ago, and his story almost died with him. NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds was the highest-ranking captured American in a German prisoner of war camp. One day in January, 1945, he refused a Nazi order to help single out the Jewish soldiers in his ranks. Paul Stern, a Jewish-American soldier, was standing right next to Edmonds.

PAUL STERN: And the German took a pistol and poked it at this poor sergeant, and he says, we want all Jews to step forward. Bravely, with the pistol against his brain, he said, we are all Jews here.

HARRIS: In some instances, Nazis sent captured Jewish soldiers to labor or to death camps. In this case, the Nazi commander backed down. Irena Steinfeldt of Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Center says Edmonds showed unusual bravery.

IRENA STEINFELDT: You have to understand he fought in the battles and now as the victory is close, still he endangers himself so the Germans will not be able to take the Jews.

HARRIS: Edmonds' son Chris Edmonds knew little about his dad's time in World War II.

CHRIS EDMONDS: He passed away when I was 26. But anytime I ask him about it, he would just say, son, there's some things we just don't need to talk about.

HARRIS: Six years ago, Edmonds saw a news article which mentioned his dad's courageous act in passing. From that, he tracked down former POWs who had witnessed it. Chris Edmonds, visiting Israel right now, says his father made a choice that day as did all the men around him.

EDMONDS: 'Cause they could have refused to come out of the barracks and just said, no, we're not going out with the Jewish men. But they all came out. And then even the commandant had to make a choice. He chose not to shoot.

HARRIS: Edmonds says his dad took a stand, and that makes him a hero. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
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