Historical marker honors Knoxville WWII hero who saved hundreds of Jewish soldiers

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A new historical marker has been placed in downtown Knoxville honoring a man who risked his life to save hundreds of Jewish prisoners during World War Two.

The Knoxville Jewish Alliance as well as the city of Knoxville held a dedication ceremony Friday in honor of Sergeant Roddie Edmonds. U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett (TN-02), U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs were also in attendance.

The marker is located outside of the East Tennessee History Center on Market Street.

Edmonds, a Knoxville native, was captured at the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 19, 1944, and transported to a prison of war camp in Ziegenhain, Germany by the Nazis. He was the senior American non-commissioned officer at the site.

He took responsibility for more than twelve hundred other captives during his captivity, more than 200 of whom were Jewish. The Nazis directed Edmonds to order the Jewish-American soldiers of the camp to report outside of the barracks. Instead, Edmonds directed all of the soldiers to stand together, declaring, “we are all Jews here.”

Even while held at gunpoint, Edmonds still refused to give up the Jewish soldiers.

He returned home after 100 days in captivity, never telling his family of the events at the POW camp. It was not until after his death in 1985 that his son, Chris, learned of the events at the camp through a diary he kept while in captivity.

“He was always my hero even before I knew all of this. Just a great dad. And for a young man at age 25 to stand in the middle of, what I think what Mayor Jacobs described as hell in a POW camp, and stand for his men and stand for what was right. He also stood for God. His faith was his greatest strength, and he was doing what was right for God and what was right for humanity.”

Edmonds became the first American serviceman to receive the “Righteous Among Nations” designation in 2016, Israel’s highest honor for non-Jews which recognizes those who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews. His son accepted the designation on his behalf at a Washington D.C. ceremony attended by President Barack Obama.

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