Four people were honored Wednesday night for having their moral courage to stand up to injustice and evil during World War II, thereby saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust at a ceremony at the Israeli Embassy to honor the Righteous Among the Nations.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day marked the first time the ceremony was held in the United States.
President Barack Obama, the first sitting president ever to speak at the embassy in Washington, D.C., said that while the government must always fight injustice and anti-Semitism, “the task before us does not fall on government alone.”
It is up to everyone to stand up to evil and “make common cause with the outsider,” Obama said.
Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke by video, and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer thanked Obama for his friendship and support.
“We know we have no better friend than” the United States, said Netanyahu, whose relationship with Obama is often strained. “I thank you for your commitment to work with us.”
Two Americans and two Poles were honored and their stories told as they joined 25,600 other Righteous Among the Nations.
Roddie Edmonds, a master sergeant from Tennessee, was a prisoner in January 1945 when the Jewish prisoners of war in Stalag IXA were asked show themselves. Edmonds ordered all prisoners, both Jews and non-Jews, to stay together.
“We are all Jews,” Edmonds told the Germans that day. Even when the Germans threatened to shoot him, he did not waiver. Instead, he quoted the Geneva Convention which stated that prisoners need only state their 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,” Edmonds told the Germans that day.
Lois Gunden, a teacher from Indiana, was volunteering with the Mennonite Central Committee in southern France in 1941 when she set up Canet Plage, a safe haven for Jewish children whom she helped smuggle out of Rivesaltes, a nearby internment camp.
Also honored were Walery and Maryla Zbijewski of Poland. The couple welcomed Elzbieta Ferster into their home, after she and her mother, Janina Ferster, had managed to flee the Polish ghetto.
Although they knew they could be put to death for helping a Jew, the Zbijewskis took care of the young girl until her mother was able to rent an apartment under a fake name and take her back.