We are all Jews here
This month marks the 75th anniversary of the World War II Battle of the Bulge, viewed by many as the greatest ground battle every fought by the U.S. Army. The Allies prevailed but the cost of victory was enormous; 81,000 casualties and entire regiments of American soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans.
Sergeant Roddie Edmonds from Knoxville, Tennessee arrived in Belgium, the sight of this horrific battle, just in time to experience the terror of the German attack on the Americans.
He and his men were captured and eventually, he and 1,275 fellow American soldiers were imprisoned in the German POW camp Stalag 9-A. Edmonds was the highest ranking officer among the men.
On the first day at the camp he received an order from the camp commander that only the Jewish POW's were to line up for the morning roll call. At this point of the war it was well known that the Nazis had exterminated Jewish communities all across Europe and Edmonds rightly understood that the "Final Solution" was about to extend to the Jewish POW's of Stalag 9-A.
Edmonds made it very clear to every prisoner that each and every man was to be present at roll call the next morning. "All of us will line up in front of the barracks and I will be at the head," Edmond told his fellow soldiers.
The next morning all 1,275 soldiers stood at attention. The Nazi commander was furious. He screamed at Edmonds, "All of you can't be Jewish."
To which Sergeant Edmonds responded, "We are all Jews here."
The German commander took out his rifle and put it against Edmond's forehead and said, "You will order the Jewish soldiers to step forward or I will shoot you right now."
The American soldiers had heard of the massacres the Nazis had carried out against American POW's, but again Edmonds declared "We are all Jews here. If you shoot, you will have to kill all of us, and you will have to stand trial for war crimes after we win this war."
Paul Stern, a Jewish soldier, was standing right beside Edmonds and heard every word of the exchange and 70 years later, at 90 years of age, he told a CNN reporter that a day hadn't gone by when those words hadn't replayed in his mind.
"We are all Jews here."
Based on Stern's testimony and an account of another Jewish POW there were about 200 Jews in Stalag 9-A at the time.
Although Edmonds died before sharing this story with his family, eventually it was brought to light and Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad V'Shem, the only American soldier to ever receive this distinction.
"We are all Jews here."
After this Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Light that saw so much darkness this year, cresendoing in a Monsey synagogue last night, a synagogue I have had the opportunity to pray in, these words of Sergeant Edmonds have never seemed so resonant.
Our willingness to stand strong as a united humanity and declare "we are all Jews here," is the fine line that exists between a passionate humanity that stands for freedom and justice and one that has begun the descent into apathy and indifference.
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”― Elie Wiesel