On November 20, 2016, Congregation Or Shalom in Orange, CT held its 10th Anniversary commemoration of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when mobs attacked Jewish synagogues and business in Germany and Austria in 1938. Each year, the Congregation honors “Beacons of Light in the Darkness”; those who stood up to bigotry despite risk to themselves. This year, the Congregation honored Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, a United States soldier who saved the lives of an estimated 200 Jewish soldiers at the Stalag IXA POW camp in Germany.
Master Sergeant Edmonds was captured at the Battle of the Bulge with over 1000 American soldiers of the 422nd Infantry Regiment. After the horrors of capture and internment in a POW camp, Master Sergeant Edmonds was the highest ranking soldier in the camp. When the Nazi camp Commandant, Major Siegmann ordered that all Jewish soldiers be identified to be separated from the other prisoners, Master Sergeant Edmonds told his men “We’re not doing that” and instructed all of his men to stand together. When the Commandant saw all of the men standing in front of their barracks, he said “These men cannot all be Jews!” and Master Sergeant Edmonds replied “We’re all Jews here.” The Commandant put his gun to Edmond’s head, demanding that he identify the Jewish soldiers, but Edmonds replied that “If you shoot me, you’ll have to shoot us all…We know who you are; and when we win this war, you’ll be tried for war crimes.” The Commandant turned and walked away.
Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds never spoke of his war service to his family and his son, Pastor Chris Edmonds of Maryville, Tennessee only learned of this history by piecing together information from his father’s diary and eye-witness testimony. Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was recognized by the State of Israel as a “Righteous Among the Nations” in January, 2016. President Obama spoke at the recognition ceremony, stating that it was a true testimony to his Christian values that Roddie Edmonds stood and proclaimed that “We are all Jews here”, when the Jews were faced with persecution.
Senator Richard Blumenthal spoke at the Kristallnacht event, along with an eye-witness survivor and the grandchildren of another survivor. It was an emotional event and reminds us of the need to stand together and defy hatred and bigotry. When there is darkness, we must be the light.