By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

What follows is the story of two heroes – two men from two very different backgrounds.   And we all need to hear about both of them.  Both are an inspiration.

One was a devout Christian from Knoxville, Tennessee who was a US Army Master Sergeant in the Battle of the Bulge.  The other is currently a chaplain in the US armed forces who was born in Rhode Island.

Both individuals stand out as remarkable, remarkable heroes and incredible people


25 year old Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds (1919-1985) was captured in the Battle of the Bulge.  After being transferred to Stalag IX-A in Ziegenhain, Germany from another POW Camp,  Edmonds was the most senior non-commissioned officer of the 1275 American prisoners and was in charge of them.

On Friday evening, January 26, 1945, Edmonds was ordered to present his Jewish soldiers in front of the barracks the following Saturday morning. That night, Edmonds told his men, “We are not going to do that.”  He ordered all of the American prisoners to present themselves the next day.

When the presiding German officer, Major Siegmann, saw all 1,275 men the next morning, he said, “They cannot all be Jews!” Edmonds replied, “We are all Jews.”

Major Siegmann placed his pistol to Edmonds’ head and said, “If you do not order the Jewish soldiers to step forward, I will shoot you now.”   Edmonds responded, “According to the Geneva Convention, we only have to give our name, rank and serial number. If you shoot me, you have to shoot all of us. After the war you will be tried for war crimes.”

The major was furious and redfaced, but backed down.  Standing next to Edmonds that morning was 19-year-old Jewish soldier named Paul Stern.   Another US army soldier who was there was Lester Tanner. In talking about that memorable morning, he told Yad Vashem that everyone understood what identifying the Jews in the camp would mean.

“Over 1,000 Americans stood in wide formation in front of the barracks behind Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.. Master Sergeant Edmonds, at the risk of his immediate death, defied the Germans with the unexpected consequences that the Jewish prisoners were saved.”


Major Elie Estrin was born in Rhode Island.  He is a chaplain in the USAFR, is the editor of the Jewish American Warrior, is active in a remarkable organization called the Aleph Institute, which has provided crucial financial, emotional and spiritual assistance to thousands of shattered families – Jews and non-Jews alike.  Rabbi Estrin has provided spiritual assistance to thousands of soldiers in the United States Armed Forces across the globe.  Rabbi Estrin is a Lubavitch shliach too, and is based in North Miami Beach.  He and his wife, Chaya Rochel, have also written a remarkably inspiring book entitled, “Of Medicine, Miracles, and Mindsets: One family’s fight for their baby’s life… and the lessons learned along the way..”

But aside from all of this, Rabbi Estrin has remarkably – just saved the life of one Jewish woman – the details of this story we will not go into.  But suffice it to say, he made an extraordinary kiddush Hashem, and brought hundreds of people familiar with this woman’s plight to tears of gratitude.  Kiddush Hashem, in fact, is the life goal of this remarkable chaplain.  There were other involved in this saving of a life, the Jewish Press among others.

Rabbi Estrin speaks of polarization and extremism, of jealousy and hatred, and of a disintegration of core moral values.  And that is how these two heroes have made and make for a difference in this world.

“We are all Jews” – those four words uttered by Sgt. Roddie Edmonds in front of 1275 American prisoners of war and a number of Wehrmacht soldiers and guards built up mankind’s core moral values.  And that is the tzad hashaveh between these two people.

Building core moral values is something that Rabbi Elie Estrin does every day as well.

He speaks to US soldiers and has stated,

“Our military leadership recognizes the dangers of polarization and extremism, as evidenced by the stand-down taken by our Air Force just a few weeks ago. And when considering the voices that promote such ideas, it behooves us to remember what Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse said: “Anti-Semitism does not thrive because of ignorance, but forms part of a political movement and serves a political purpose.”

This is true of all hatred, against all distinct groups. First, condition people to put group X into a metaphorical box, and then it’s a short leap from there to actually putting them into boxcars. With the outbreak of anti-semitism in the US, it’s obvious that we need to change tactics. We now need to be proactive, identify ourselves proudly as Jews, and point out that “otherization” is a tactic used by those who we, as a military, have fought against and won.

We must stand up and call out antisemitism, even soft antisemitism, wherever it rears its ugly head. We must communicate to our fellow teammates that we are one team; a team of liberty, humanity and freedom, and we must stand united. We have powerful tools to illustrate that: the Torah recounts how all humankind came from one couple – to teach that although we now have so many differences, we all have one source.”

He further tells them, “We must convey to everyone around us that there are moral ideals and moral absolutes.

In Jewish tradition, we are taught that Noah was given seven laws to live by, and that these seven are incumbent upon all humanity: Belief in a Higher Power, to uphold systems of law, not to steal, murder, commit adultery, or curse G-d, and to respect all living creatures by not consuming them while still alive. I submit that this code is applicable across cultures and religions. It was described by the great Dutch legal and political theorist Hugo Grotius as the “foundation for all civil society.” Only by our consistent efforts, first with ourselves and then through our positive influence around us, can we create a tomorrow morning of peace and tranquility for all mankind.”

Of course, Roddie Edmond is also one of Rabbi Estrin’s heroes, and he writes about him in the current issue of the Jewish American Warrior.

I only got to know of Rabbi Estrin recently, but I cry in gratitude to Hashem that such remarkable individuals exist in this world.  May he and his family see nachas and bracha from all that they do.

As reported by Vos Iz Neias