On January 27th, a very special award, the
Yad Vashem Medal, the highest recognition
from Israel to non-Israelis for risking their
lives to save Jews, was given to four people
in a special ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC.
On January 27th, 1945, American GIs, now German prisoners taken in the Battle of the Bulge in December, faced a stark fate in Stalag 9B in Germany. Among us were Jewish soldiers, of whom I was one. At this point in the war, word had been passed down from the German high command,to separate the GIs that were Jewish from the others and prepare to send them to slave labor camps. They had actually carried that out in the first Stalag we had been in a few weeks earlier but all non-commissioned officers there, including Jews, were sent to this second camp.
One GI in the camp risked his life to defy the Germans, thereby saving us from the fate of so many slave laborers. One of the Yad Vashem awards, was to be given this evening to Master Sgt. Roddy Edmonds. Roddy had died 15 years earlier, so his son, Pastor, Chris Edmonds, was designated to receive it.
A friend of mine, Lester Tanner who had been at the camp, was instrumental in bringing attention to this story after so many decades. He suggested that Paul Stern and I, as two surviving Jewish POWs whose lives had been saved by Roddy's actions also attend.
A week before the event, the word got word the President would be on hand that night
to deliver an address. Security was tightened and we were asked to arrive a bit earlier
for the security process. I joined Paul and Lester and we arrived at the embassy. There
were to be four Yad Vashem medals to be awarded. Each heroic act that saved Jewish
lives had it's own presentation.
The final award was to M/Sgt. Roddy Edmonds. His son Pastor Chris Edmonds would
receive the medal on behalf of the Edmonds family. Lester Tanner, who had been in the
same barrack with Roddy, was asked to describe the event that took place at our POW
It is important to note while Roddy uttered these three words - "We are all Jews" - the German
commandant had his Luger pistol pointed directly at Roddy's temple.
Here is a compilation of the President's remarks that followed;
Obama spoke for at least thirty minutes and you can find the video of the entire event at this link. His thoughts on who we are as human beings is well worth listening to.
At the end of his speech, the President walked down the front row where the families and others associated
with the awards were seated.
Finally we shook hands and if you listen carefully, you can hear his final remark.