January 27, 2016


Obama to Honor Americans' Wartime Efforts to Save Jews During Holocaust (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, JAN. 27, 2016, NY Times)

In a German prison camp 71 years ago, Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds stared down the barrel of his Nazi captor's pistol and refused to say which of his fellow prisoners of war were Jewish.

"We are all Jews here," said Sergeant Edmonds, the highest-ranking American noncommissioned officer at Ziegenhein stalag that day, instead ordering more than 1,000 of his fellow prisoners to stand together in front of their barracks. The Geneva Convention required soldiers to provide only their names, ranks and serial numbers, not their religions, Sergeant Edmonds said, warning the German that if he shot them all, he would be tried for war crimes.

That act of defiance in January 1945 spared the lives of as many as 200 Jews, and, on Wednesday, Sergeant Edmonds will receive posthumous recognition by President Obama as the first American service member to be named Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed on non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. [...]

Also being honored on Wednesday is Lois Gunden, a French teacher from Goshen, Ind., who traveled to southern France in 1941 on a Mennonite service project and established a home there where she sheltered children, including Jews whose parents she persuaded to leave them in her care, rather than face deportation or worse.

Mary Jean Gunden, 61, Ms. Gunden's niece, said that her aunt had a "standard line" that she went to France in 1941 and ran a children's home. She was later detained in Baden-Baden, Germany, by the Nazis, and she went home in a prisoner exchange in 1944. "Unfortunately, none of us really asked a whole lot more than that," Mary Jean Gunden said. "I'm not convinced that she ever actually realized the magnitude of what she had done."

After her aunt's death in 2005, the younger Ms. Gunden, a retired college administrator, researched her past, rifling through an old trunk containing letters, journals and beach sandals for clues about what she had done in the seaside town of Canet Plage. She eventually contacted Yad Vashem with what she learned.

"Nobody talked about what happened during the war -- it's just now that people are trying to unearth what really was done and to find the stories of the people who tried to do good during these very dark times," said Eric Escudier, a municipal worker in Perpignan, France, who, with his mother and aunt, wrote a book about Ms. Gunden and the home she had established.

Just as thousands of Syrian refugees are spilling into European countries where citizens regard them with some degree of fear and suspicion, Mr. Escudier said, Ms. Gunden saw an influx of Spanish and Jewish children whose very presence in her care could put her life at risk.

Posted by at January 27, 2016 3:11 PM