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The Protestant Master Sergeant Who Saved 200 Jews

The PBS documentary titled, GI Jews: Jewish Americans In World War II is about the 550,000 Jewish Americans who served their country in World War II. There was remarkable heroism, but also great loss endured by the Jewish soldiers and nurses.

As American forces marched through Hitler's Europe in the winter of 1944, rumors that the Nazis were murdering Jewish prisoners of war continued to spread. Hearing news that Jewish soldiers in the Soviet army had been singled out and shot, some American officers encouraged their men to destroy their dog tags.

On December 16, deep in the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, the Germans launched a massive assault on American forces. This became known as the Battle of the Bulge. 19,000 Americans died in the Battle of the Bulge, and 15,000 more were captured.

The documentary then focuses on Sergeant Lester Tanner and his unit as they were taken prisoner in late January. He and the other officers were moved to a prison camp called Stalag IX A.

Lester Tanner said:

When the Germans came at us in force, I threw away my dog tags, which had my religion on it. The (Germans) announced that the Jews had to form up in front of the barracks the next morning, and those who did not would be shot.


Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, a Protestant from Knoxville, Tennessee, was known for his strong leadership and deep moral conviction. He was the commanding officer in charge of the 1,275 American prisoners.

Tanner continues:

Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds said, “We will all be there in the morning in formation, and I will be at the head.” The next morning, we were lined up. German Major Siegmann marched over. “Roddie said to him, 'We're all Jews here. Siegmann said, 'You can't all be Jews.’”

The German took out his Luger, pointed it at Roddie's forehead, and said, “You will order the Jewish-American soldiers to step forward, or I will shoot you right now.”

Edmonds replied “Major, you can shoot me, but if you do, you're going to have to shoot all of us. We know who you are, and this war is almost over, and you will be a war criminal.” The major spun around and went back to his barracks, and Roddie dismissed the men.

Edmonds saved nearly 200 Jewish-American men that day. They would never forget the extraordinary risk he took on their behalf.

You can watch the video here (timestamp: 55 min 31 sec –58 min 49 sec).

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