As Allied armies slowly advanced toward Germany in the waning months of World War II, Adolf Hitler gambled on one last blitzkrieg designed to break the American and British armies closing in from the west.

The German counteroffensive of almost half a million troops became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The Allies defeated the desperate attack, but at the cost of tens of thousands of casualties, including more than 20,000 Americans taken prisoner, hundreds of whom were Jewish soldiers suddenly exposed to the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.

Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds, only 25 years old, was the highest-ranking soldier among the 1,292 American prisoners held at Stalag IX-A. On the evening of Jan. 26, 1945, an order crackled over the camp’s loudspeakers: In the morning, all American Jews, and only Jews, must assemble outside their barracks. “All who disobey this order will be shot,” the voice warned. A little over a week before, at a different prisoner camp where he was not in command, Edmonds witnessed German guards separating Jewish soldiers from other Americans. He resolved not to allow that to happen again.

The next morning, on Edmonds’ orders, all 1,292 Americans stood outside their barracks in the freezing cold. Maj. Siegmann, the Nazi officer who ordered the segregation, was furious. Finding Edmonds at the front of the assembly, Siegmann shouted, “They cannot all be Jews.” Eyewitnesses testified that the young American prisoner turned and looked his Nazi captor in the eyes and said, “We are all Jews here.”

An enraged Siegmann drew his pistol, pressed it against Edmonds’ forehead, and told him, “You will order the Jews to step forward or I will shoot you right now.” Lester Tannenbaum, one of those American Jewish soldiers, stood on Edmonds’ immediate left. He remembers a long silence that felt like an “eternity” before Edmonds responded calmly: “If you shoot me, you will have to shoot all of us, because we all know who you are, and when the war is over you will be tried as a war criminal.” 

The Nazi commandant withdrew his pistol and stormed away. 

This powerful story has implications for the West’s role and responsibility in Europe’s most significant military conflict since World War II.

At the start of his war against Ukraine, Russia’s dictator, Vladimir Putin, figuratively held a nuclear pistol to the forehead of the West by threatening “consequences you have never seen in history” if NATO countries interfered with Russia’s euphemistically called “special military operation.”

The U.S. and its European allies have refused to heed Putin’s demands for complete noninterference, imposing significant economic sanctions against Russia and sending billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine. Nevertheless, as Putin shifts his strategy from regime change in Kyiv to attacking Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, we must ask ourselves whether America should be doing more. The horrific accounts of murder and rape in Bucha and other Kyiv suburbs are dire warnings of the atrocities that will accompany further Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine. 

The Biden administration has previously drawn the line for military aid to Ukraine between offensive and defensive weaponry. The president has repeatedly refused to allow the transfer of Polish jets through an American airbase in Germany because Ukrainians might use those jets to attack military sites in Russia. In contrast, the U.S. has provided portable Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-aircraft weapons, whose shorter ranges limit their effective use to inside Ukraine. The administration’s rationale has been that “offensive” weapons are more likely to “provoke” Putin and thereby escalate the conflict. 

But the very same arguments against sending “offensive” weapons to Ukraine were previously made against sending so-called “defensive” weapons, including Javelins. After Russia invaded Crimea and the Donbas in 2014, the Obama administration refused to send Javelins and other “lethal aid” to Ukraine for fear of escalating the conflict.   

Our policy of military aid for Ukraine has been dictated too often by worries of provoking Russia’s dictator. Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said it best in the first weeks of the war: “I believe there is a sentiment that we are fearful about what Putin might do and what he might consider as an escalation. It’s time for him to be fearful of what we might do. The only way to get Putin to act in a way that may be able to save lives of Ukrainians is if he fears us more than we fear him.”

The Biden administration was widely credited for quickly declassifying and broadcasting intelligence about Russia’s invasion plans, which stymied Putin’s usual strategy of plausible deniability and helped unite Western allies around swift economic sanctions. But the administration’s line drawing with military aid is concerning. On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy pleaded for the U.S. and its European allies to send weapons “as if they were defending themselves and their own people.” That is not too much to ask. 

Zelenskyy heroically rallied his people by remaining in Kyiv while Russian tanks thundered toward the capital in a blitzkrieg to topple his government. “We are all here,” he reassured the people of Ukraine in a selfie video from the streets of central Kyiv. European leaders are now joining him on the very same streets to show their solidarity.

The U.S. has done much to supply Ukraine with military aid, but we should not be limiting that aid based on fear, even if that means accepting some risk of escalation. In welcome news, the U.S. now appears to be considering supplying Ukraine with more offensive weaponry. In the defense of democratic and human rights, our message to Putin should be the same as young Roddie Edmonds’ to his Nazi captor: “We are all Ukrainians here.”  

Michael Erickson is an attorney in Salt Lake City.