On Wednesday night, the Campus House of Prayer and Hillel, a Jewish organization on campus, organized a screening of the short film “Footsteps of My Father.”
The film tells the true story of Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, a soldier captured in World War II who through a single act of bravery, saved the lives of 200 Jewish American soldiers. Chris Edmonds, Roddie’s son and UT alumnus, hosted the screening and a discussion session immediately after.
Gary Peacock, Director of the Campus House of Prayer, along with Hillel Director Tara Bain, organized the screening. Peacock first heard about Roddie Edmonds from another documentary about WWII.
“One day, I was telling my son about a movie we had seen called GI Jews. It’s an hour long documentary on Jewish soldiers who served in World War II. Right at the end of it, there’s a two minute thing about Roddie Edmonds from Knoxville. It just grabbed me. I was thinking, ‘Wow, this guy is from Knoxville? Does he have any relatives? I wonder if anybody knows him?’” said Peacock.
As it turned out, many locals knew about him. Later that week, Peacock’s son told his father that he worked with a man in Chris Edmonds’ congregation. It was through this connection that Peacock came into contact with Edmonds. After speaking with him, Peacock was enthusiastic about organizing the on-campus screening.
“I talked to the Hillel Director and she said, ‘Let’s do it.’ [It’s a] Judeo-Christian event. I don’t know if that’s ever happened at UT, so we were thinking about how great it would be. There have been some really bad things that have happened on campus in the last couple of years with hate, and we felt like this would be like an antidote,” Peacock said. “It’s a way to say, ‘Hey, that doesn’t represent our campus. This [screening is what represents our campus.’ We care about each other. We love each other. We’re a community. We want to do things together to show people that you can be different and still love each other.”
Before the presentation began, Edmonds stood at the front of the auditorium, greeting audience members in a warm and welcoming manner and then started the event by discussing the making of the film.
He explained that “Footsteps of My Father ” was created by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), a foundation based in New York City that financially supports people throughout the world, including others who courageously saved Jewish people during WWII.
Edmonds then recounted how he was contacted by the JFR in 2016 to create the film in honor of Roddie Edmonds’ memory and actions. They asked Chris Edmonds to follow the journey that his father took during WWII, including going to the concentration camp which Master Sergeant Edmond and his men were held in, hence the title “Footsteps of My Father.”
The documentary-style short film details the military careers of Master Sergeant Edmonds and four of the Jewish soldiers he saved: Lester Tanner, Paul Stern, Skip Friedman and Sonny Fox. It describes their experiences of being drafted and sent to Belgium, as well as their participation in the Battle of the Bulge.
It was during this battle that the men were captured and sent to the German POW camp Stalag IX-B. There were not there for long before being transferred to a different camp: Stalag IX-A. It was here that the following chance encounter occurred.
On the first morning in the new camp, the Nazi commander of the camp ordered Master Sergeant Edmonds to have only the Jewish soldiers assemble the next morning. Instead, Edmonds had all of his men assemble and refused to identify the Jewish men. The commander even threatened Edmonds yet he refused to give in and stated, “We are all Jews here.”
After the showing, Chris Edmonds held a short discussion session to answer audience questions and speak more on what the film means to him.
“When you think about the struggles we’re having as a society and the division that we have, here's a story of men from all over the country, from every religious background you can imagine and every upbringing you can imagine, coming together and doing what’s right,” Edmonds said.
Besides being a touching tribute to his father, the film and the diary it’s based off of, gave Edmonds new insight into his father’s experiences.
“In his diary, Dad says … he was scared. We see the brave results of his action, but Dad was scared to death in this whole situation,” Edmonds said.
Edmonds also revealed that a companion book to the film is set to be released on October 8th. “No Surrender: A Father, A Son, and an Extraordinary Act of Heroism That Continues to Live on Today” was co-written by Edmonds and Douglas Century.
The book further explores Roddie Edmonds’ life and military career and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Indiebound, or through roddieedmonds.com.
Edmonds ended the discussion on a note of gratitude and with an uplifting message.
“I’m so grateful. I’m thankful for my God. … He’s always leaning towards me in love. We should do that to our fellow man and our fellow woman: Lean towards them in love,” Edmonds said.
“Footsteps of My Father” is available for group viewings through the JFR.