A foggy late January morning greets me as I slowly make my way to the barracks across a field of muddy snow. Searchlights from the four guard towers scan from one end of Stalag IXA to the other because the morning sun has yet to fully penetrate these woods near Ziegenhain. Two guards flank me, each with shiny black automatic rifles ready for use.
Why did I not sleep well last night? I am tired and in no mood for a work detail today.
Approaching the barracks, from deep in my throat I call aloud, “All Jews, Fall Out! All Jews Fall Out NOW!”
Rustling from within the barracks reveals activity.
The rats are moving.
A slow gaggle of disheveled and disheartened men begins exiting the barracks, lining up like lemmings to be counted, as they know to do each morning.
Hurry this up, I would rather be inside right now.
“Let’s go, Let’s go!” I yell as the two guards head toward the door to encourage the men with the butts of their guns.
Why are they taking so long?
Thin tatters of the uniforms in which they were captured offer little protection from this winter chill.
As cold as I am with a winter coat, boots, and a hat, I would not want to be a Prisoner of War in what’s left of a uniform going on work detail at some POW camp.
“Move It! Get Moving!” projects loudly from one of the guards as he smashes an American on the shoulder with the back-end of his rifle.
At the front of the group, standing at attention in his place of muster is Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, the senior American in the camp.
I didn’t know he is a Jew.
Men keep streaming from the barracks, as if everyone in there is mustering.
How many Jews can there be?
“Stop this nonsense,” I order, knowing full well not every man mustering is a Jew.
Edmonds, at the front of the group of POWs simply stands at attention, without a word.
These damn Americans!
“These men cannot all be Jews!” I declare as I make my way toward Edmonds while more men fall out of the barracks.
“We Are All Jews Here!” Edmonds responds defiantly.
The center of my forehead is pounding, my heart racing, and my hand already making its way to my holster.
What nerve, this swine, standing up for the rats!
Wielding my Luger P08, I knock it hard against Edmond’s blond-haired skull. He stammers a bit from the blow but remains upright.
“My name is Roddie Edmonds, Rank Master Sergeant, Serial Number 56843667566,” he calls out.
This short pis-ant!
“I’ll give you one more chance. Have the Jewish men step forward, or I will shoot you on the spot!”
“You can kill me,” he shouts so his men can hear, “but you will have to kill all of us because we know who you are Major.”
I’m fine with that. It would make my day a whole lot easier!
“That is not a problem for me,” I reply in as loud of a voice, so all of the men can hear.
Still standing solid with my gun to his head, Edmonds continues, “When the Allies win this war, which you know they will, you will be tried as a war criminal Siegmann.”
Without moving my gun, I stand still, frozen for a moment.
I have not killed any POWs yet.
He’s right that Germany will lose this war.
I just want to go home and be warm.
Staring Edmonds in the eyes, I do not see fear but rather a sense of relief.
It’s too cold to stay out today.
In a slow controlled manner, I remove my Lugar from the side of Edmonds’ head, placing it back in its holster at my side as I turn away from him and the still mustering POWs.
Germany’s lost this war.
I’m going to make a fire.
On Jan. 27, 1945, Major Siegmann, camp commander at the Stalag IXA Prisoner of War (POW) camp near Ziegenhain, Germany, ordered all of the Jews to fall out for a special work assignment. U.S. soldiers had been warned that Jews among them would be in danger if captured. The senior American enlisted POW at the camp, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds of the 422 Infantry Regiment, 106 Infantry Divisions, knew what was at stake and ordered all of his men to fall out that morning, rather than let the Jews stand alone. His defiance in the face of the camp commander, who held a gun to Edmonds’ head in order to have him step down, was both an inspiration to his fellow POWs, as well as a heroic act of courage in the face of almost certain death. This act by one man is estimated to have saved the lives of over 200 under his command. Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who passed away in 1985, was recognized in early 2015 as Righteous Among The Nations at the Holocaust Memorial of Yad Vashem. He is one of only five Americans, and the only American soldier, included among those known to have helped save potential victims from Nazi mass murder.
More information about the Righteous Among the Nations, including background, stories and the Database of Righteous, can be found online here.
Standing up for any singled out group is the responsibility of all. This even means today. Don't let anyone who claims authority compel you to stand aside as a group is threatened. Stand with them. No one is a target, unless we all are.