The best thing that I learned at AIPAC

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Roddie Edmonds, who saved Jewish lives in a German POW camp.

Roddie Edmonds, who saved Jewish lives in a German POW camp.

Roddie Edmonds, who saved Jewish lives in a German POW camp.

Roddie Edmonds, who saved Jewish lives in a German POW camp.

No, it wasn’t about Donald Trump.

In fact, it had nothing to do with politics whatsoever.

Here is the story — and get your tissue box ready.

A minister, Chris Edmonds of the Piney Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, TN, told the following story — to more than 18,000 pro-Israel activists.

On January 27, 1945, his father, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, of the 422nd Infantry Regiment in the US Armed Forces, was taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge, and was imprisoned in Stalag 9B in Germany. He was the highest ranking NCO in the camp. That group of Allied prisoners included two hundred Jews.

The Wehrmacht had a strict anti-Jewish policy, singling out Jewish POWs from the rest of the POW population, and then murdering them or sending them to extermination camps. The commandant of the camp ordered Master Sergeant Edmonds to separate out all of the Jewish soldiers in the camp — for summary execution.

Edmonds then asked that all prisoners to report outside. This is what he told the German officer, Major Siegmann:  “We are all Jews.”

Siegmann exclaimed: “They cannot all be Jews!”

To this Edmonds repeated: “We are all Jews.”

Siegmann took out his pistol and threatened Edmonds, but the Master Sergeant did not waver and retorted: “According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, and after the war you will be tried for war crimes.”

The officer turned around and left the scene.

For that act of heroism, Edmonds was posthumously awarded the Yad Va Shem Medal, Israel’s highest recognition of non-Israelis who risked their lives to save Jews.

Edmonds was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Of more than 26,000 “Righteous” recognized to date, Edmonds is only the fifth United States citizen, and first American soldier, to be bestowed with this honor.

Chris Edmonds had never known of his father’s heroism. He discovered this story, quite by accident, by reading a diary that his father had kept about his experiences at Stalag 9B.

If you are of a certain age, you grew up with sagas — many of them cinematic — about German prisoner of war camps. To this day, one of my favorite movies is “The Great Escape.”  I also loved “Stalag 17”. In those movies, the German soldiers were heartless, but hardly cruel.

And then, there was one of the more bizarre television shows of the 1960s — only made more bizarre by what we now know, and what we could not have known or even heard back then.

I am referring, of course, to “Hogan’s Heroes,” which ran from 1965 to 1971, and is still in reruns.

Oh, those lovable, kooky Nazis — constantly outwitted by the Allied prisoners, who even had the opportunity to flirt with the beautiful secretary at the camp.

How ironic: the part of the commandant, Colonel Klink, was played by the German Jewish refugee, Werner Klemperer, who was the son of the famous conductor, Otto Klemperer.

And the part of Sargeant Schultz (“I know nothing!”)? He was played by John Banner — a Viennese Jew, who lost many family members in the Holocaust.

The part of Colonel LeBeau, the handsome French officer? That was Robert Clary. Here, the irony is almost too cruel; Clary had been deported to the concentration camp at Ottmuth, and then, to Buchenwald. Of his immediate family, he is the only one to have survived.

I cannot even imagine what was going through the minds of Klemperer, Banner, and Clary during the filming of “Hogan’s Heroes.” How could they not have stood up and said: This was not funny! The Nazis were not the Keystone Cops!

But, here is the truth: consider the years of the initial run of “Hogan’s Heroes” — 1965-1971. The Jews — not to mention, the American public — had not even begun to fathom the full horror of the Shoah. “Hogan’s Heroes” debuted only four years after the Eichmann trial. The television miniseries “Holocaust” would not air until seven years after “Hogan’s Heroes” disappeared from prime time. Compared to what we know now, to quote Sgt. Schultz: “We knew nothing.”

Back to Roddie Edmonds.

I tell this story because it is easy to lose the real emotional power of AIPAC. The story of Roddie Edmonds reminds us of the reality of conscience and moral activism in the world.

And here is the amazing thing. AIPAC welcomed two of the Jewish soldiers that Edmonds saved.

One of them was Sonny Fox.

Remember Sonny Fox?

Since we are talking about 1960s television, Sonny Fox was the host of the perennially popular kids’ show Wonderama.

Ah — now you remember Sonny Fox. And at the age of 90, he looked great.

One last thing.

“We are all Jews.”

And this week, we are all Belgians, as well.

 

 

 

 

  • Jean

    Mr. Salkin,
    Now that is a story worth talking about! To be fully human means that we have empathy for our brothers and sisters of the world. Go in peace!

  • Jean

    Tom, I am curious what you would have done if confronted with the same question Mr. Edmonds was asked?

  • Susan

    People don’t know about the USS Liberty, because it never happened. It is an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

  • Tom_SF

    Ah, more abject ignorance. “Hogan’s Heroes” was about making fools out if the Nazis every episode. If there were other aspects like humor or romance, it’s because the show is a c-o-m-e-d-y and there’s a good reason why its 168 episodes are still being aired today.

  • yoh

    That hoary old chestnut. The tinfoil hat brigade still can’t understand how a military ship in the waters of an enemy nation could be mistaken for a target in the most comprehensive preemptive strike in modern history.

    F00ls who bring it up can’t ever explain what Israel would have to gain if it were deliberate.

    They also love to ignore the evidence gathered and publicly available these days which puncture their notions.

  • yoh

    Klemperer and Banner insisted that Nazis should be played as buffoons. One of the ways you utterly destroy something hateful and dangerous is through ridicule. Turn something which frightened people into something to be mocked. Ernst Lubitch did it to the Nazi’s in 1942 with “To Be or Not to Be”, Mel Brooks with “The Producers”, even Jerry Lewis with “Which Way to the Front”

  • Garson Abuita

    Two patterns in Tom’s posts: (a) take an article on Judaism, here the targeting of American Jewish POWs by the Nazis, derail it for an anti-Israel comment, then claim he has nothing against Jews. (b) the resemblance of his USS Liberty “truther” claims to those of 9/11. ex#1: Take subjective memories of things that anyone, much less someone whose ship/office building was being bombed and who has made it their life’s goal to “uncover the conspiracy” [USS Liberty Veterans Assn./William Rodriguez] would have trouble remembering, and promote them as the undeniable truth. Google “9/11 planes had no markings” to see what I mean.
    ex#2: Claim it was a false-flag operation by the US/Israel to goad us into starting a war. Ignore inconvenient facts, like: impartial historians say it’s undisputed the Israeli naval vessels were marked; why would a vast, impenetrable conspiracy, able to keep documents and witnesses silent for 50 years, not just paint UAR markings on the planes???

  • Garson Abuita

    Tom, I said something about 9/11 — because you’re following the same ridiculous script as the 9/11 “Truthers.” You’re just as much a conspiracy theorist as they are.
    “The lies of Jew lobbyists” — but you have nothing against the Jews, right Tom? Tell us again why we’re supposed to take you seriously?

  • Garson Abuita

    No anti-Semitism there, right Tom? No, I’m not a member of AIPAC, never have been, and am to the left of them on many issues.

  • Suzon Gordon

    Jeff,

    It’s nice to know you’re as astute as ever. I’ve followed your writings as possible but just became aware of RNS.

    Excellent tale–only it’s all too true. Thanks for sharing. I think of the brief time we crossed paths in Miami some years ago.