Categorized | Columnists, Light Lines

Upstander told Nazi: ‘We are all Jews’

Posted on 26 April 2018 by admin

Last week, I sat in the Dallas Holocaust Museum, hearing survivor Simon Gronowski tell his story. He was 11 years old then, on the last train from Belgium to Auschwitz, the one remembered today because it was stopped by a trio of partisans who managed to pry open a door and free 17 of the Jews headed for destruction. The young boy and his mother were not among the 17, but as the train began to roll again, she sent him off, telling him to run. He never saw her again. But in his story of his life, he credits the kindness of others who helped him live. “Upstanders,” our museum calls them.
So, here’s another story, with a central character deserving to be famous because he’s one of the greatest “Upstanders” of all time. I offer it today as a postscript to both the Holocaust and Passover.
It was in the waning days of World War II. The tide had already turned in favor of the Allies, but German soldiers were still following Hitler’s order: Fight to the death for the Fatherland. And it happened that some 1,200 young American soldiers, a troop, separated from all comrades, fell into the enemy’s hands, enduring a two-day march before being herded into a Nazi prison camp. These GIs were without military leadership; the ranking “officer” among them was Master Sgt. Robbie Edwards. Some may have heard of him, but his bravery deserves more publicity…
Among the 1,200 were about 200 Jews. Their “dog tags,” like those of all Jews serving in America’s fighting forces then, were marked with a capital “H,” for “Hebrew.” And they were instructed to discard them in case of capture. Whether they had done so or not at the time of their incarceration is not known, but it really didn’t matter in this case; the Germans were hardly going to hand-check the identification of 1,200 individuals. Instead, they ordered everyone to stand at attention and called Sgt. Edwards, the young leader designated by necessity, to the front of the crowd. There was not a sound from the Americans as the ranking Nazi spoke to him: “Give us your Jews,” he ordered.
Edwards never flinched, never hesitated. It was as if he had known all along that he would be given such an order and had decided in advance what he would say when the time came to say it. And so he responded with this short, very sweet answer: “We are all Jews here.”
The Nazi in charge pulled out his pistol, put it to Robbie Edwards’ temple, and this time threatened: “Give us your Jews or I’ll shoot you.” Again, the sergeant showed no fear. Instead, “You can shoot me,” he said, loud and clear, “but then you’ll have to shoot everyone else here, too. You know the war is coming to an end and you are losing. So you’ll be tried as a war criminal, and that will be the end of your life, too.”
Without another word, the German officer pocketed his pistol and walked away.
This is one of the amazing stories of non-Jewish heroism at a time of such peril for all Jews in Europe, including those Jews in American uniforms who were fighting not just for Jews, not just for America, but for the good of the world. And Edwards had spoken truth — not about how many Jews were under his leadership, but about the state of the war. And it wasn’t long before Russian troops arrived to take those Nazis prisoner, and to free the Americans. The date of their liberation, fittingly enough, was March 25, the second day of Pesach 1945.
Yes, Staff Sgt. Robbie Edwards has been recognized as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem. But at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, which teaches the virtues of taking action rather than just standing by when one sees the abuse of others, he would be called “Upstander.” Truly a Sergeant First Class.

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