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Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101…

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in… (1992)

by Christopher R. Browning

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Browning’s subjects were extensively interviewed after WWII, creating more extensive records than exist for other German groups. These men were largely not career go-getters, though they varied in their commitment to Nazism, and they were sent to Poland to keep the conquered territory in line and to carry out massacres. About 85% of them participated directly in killing Jews (and some non-Jewish Poles), while a limited amount of refusal to participate directly was tolerated (though they ended up standing guard or otherwise just standing there, rather than resisting). Browning argues that anti-Semitism, though clearly relevant, wasn’t something that distinguished most of the killers; they did it because it was their job, and because their comrades were doing it so refusal would just increase the burden on their mates. Many also became jaded over time—some retreated to alcohol and others to more absolute brutality. ( )
  rivkat | Feb 13, 2019 |
Ordinary people, when faced with enough social pressure, and a limited array of choices, will not shrink from becoming monsters. Essentially, that is the theme of the historical review of a German reserve police battalion from WWII. Much of the records from this group were provided in the years after WWII thru interviews from the members themselves though there were also witness statements about the events they participated in.

10 to 20% of the men refused or asked for other jobs when they were ordered to execute Jews. Few relished the role. Most, just did it as their grim and terrible duty as they shot hundreds of people one by one on several occasions.

A quote from the book that I think captures the beginning of this analysis well: "The battalion had orders to kill Jews, but each individual did not. Yet 80 to 90 percent of the men proceeded to kill, though almost all of them-at least initially-were horrified and disgusted by what they were doing. To break ranks and step out, to adopt overtly nonconformist behavior, was simply beyond most men. It was easier for them to shoot.
Why? First of all, by breaking ranks, nonshooters were leaving the "dirty work" to their comrades. Since the battalion had to shoot even if individuals did not, refusing to shoot constituted refusing one's share of an unpleasant collective obligation. It was in effect an asocial act vis-à-vis one's comrades. Those who did not shoot risked isolation, rejection, and ostracism-a very uncomfortable prospect within the framework of a tight-nit unit station abroad among a hostile population, so that the individual had nowhere else to turn for support and social contact." ( )
  Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
The title says it.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

I can’t weigh this against other books on the subject; I came to it as a classic case study that accepts the ordinary person in the perpetrator of historical atrocities, whom we tend to distance, essentialise, and see as inherently ‘unlike us’ by one stratagem or other. ( )
  Jakujin | Oct 28, 2014 |
And another in our continuing series of depressing books: Christopher Browning examines the motivation of a 500 man police battalion assigned to the rear lines of Germany's Eastern Front. This small group of men was personally responsible for the massacre of over 38,000 Jews and the deportation of some 45,000 more to Treblinka. These were not racial fanatics nor committed Nazis. Their motives were quite ordinary: careerism and peer pressure. Browning's book is based on interviews with the participants collected after the war.

Not everyone blindly followed orders. The battalion's commander ordered that anyone not wishing to participate in the shootings could be excused and about 12 were. For many of the others rationalization became the order of the day. One later testified he killed only children because his partner was shooting the mothers and he did not think it was right that children should grow up without mothers.
The horrifying aspect of this account is how little it took for these men to become transformed psychologically from "normal" people into willing participants. These were not atrocities one has come to expect from war during the heat of battle (Malmedy, My Lai, etc.), rather an institutionalized, bureaucratic government policy. That bureaucracy may be part of the cause. It distances people from their actions. Bureaucrats never saw the hideous result of their actions, seeing only their small paper-shuffling role.

That still does not explain the actions of the men who were doing the actual killing. Women and children were marched up to graves they had been forced to dig and were shot point-blank in the head. The shooters were even instructed on the best location on the neck to shoot in order to save ammunition. Occasionally the killer would be splattered with brain tissue and skull parts.

There was a deliberate process of dehumanization abetted by Nazi racial policies. In fact, the soldiers found it much more difficult to kill German speaking Jews, especially those who had fled Germany. They saw them not as the barbarians they had been told they were killing. Euphemisms, (protective reaction strikes) were common: killing became "actions" and shipping to concentration camps became "resettlements." Responsibility was diffused by deferring to orders from "above" and dividing the tasks into different parts.

There was a perversion of ethical outlook, too. Those few who were revolted by what they were doing and who refused to participate were called cowards. We need to cultivate a society where those who follow individual conscience are the heroes and those who follow the crowd are the cowards.

As an aside, before my Dad died, I was talking to one of the aides in his nursing home who came from Argentina. We got to talking about my years in Germany and she mentioned her grandfather had emigrated to Argentina from Germany after the war. (Little tiny red flags waving over my head.) I queried if he had been in the German army. Her response was quite unashamedly, yes, he had been in the SS. (Red Banners now waving over my head.) Then she went on to talk about how the victors rewrite history. I decided then I had to visit the men's room.

( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
A haunting book that shows the utter evil that humankind will sink to when treating its own species. Wonderfully researched by Browning, this book will send chills down your spine when reading it. Yet another example of the horrors of the Holocaust. ( )
  rsplenda477 | Mar 27, 2013 |
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In the very early hours of July 13, 1942, the men of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 were roused from their bunks in the large brick school building that serves as their barracks in the Polish town of Bilgoraj.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060995068, Paperback)

Shocking as it is, this book--a crucial source of original research used for the bestseller Hitler's Willing Executioners--gives evidence to suggest the opposite conclusion: that the sad-sack German draftees who perpetrated much of the Holocaust were not expressing some uniquely Germanic evil, but that they were average men comparable to the run of humanity, twisted by historical forces into inhuman shapes. Browning, a thorough historian who lets no one off the moral hook nor fails to weigh any contributing factor--cowardice, ideological indoctrination, loyalty to the battalion, and reluctance to force the others to bear more than their share of what each viewed as an excruciating duty--interviewed hundreds of the killers, who simply could not explain how they had sunken into savagery under Hitler. A good book to read along with Ron Rosenbaum's comparably excellent study Explaining Hitler. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:35 -0400)

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In the early hours of July 13, 1942, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, a unit of the German Order Police, entered the Polish Village of Jozefow. They had arrived in Poland less than three weeks before, most of them recently drafted family men too old for combat service--workers, artisans, salesmen, and clerks. By nightfall, they had rounded up Jozefow's 1,800 Jews, selected several hundred men as "work Jews," and shot the rest--that is, some 1,500 women, children, and old people. Most of these overage, rear-echelon reserve policemen had grown to maturity in the port city of Hamburg in pre-Hitler Germany and were neither committed Nazis nor racial fanatics. Nevertheless, in the sixteen months from the Jozefow massacre to the brutal Erntefest ("harvest festival") slaughter of November 1943, these average men participated in the direct shooting deaths of at least 38,000 Jews and the deportation to Treblinka's gas chambers of 45,000 more--a total body count of 83,000 for a unit of less than 500 men. Drawing on postwar interrogations of 210 former members of the battalion, Christopher Browning lets them speak for themselves about their contribution to the Final Solution--what they did, what they thought, how they rationalized their behavior (one man would shoot only infants and children, to "release" them from their misery). In a sobering conclusion, Browning suggests that these good Germans were acting less out of deference to authority or fear of punishment than from motives as insidious as they are common: careerism and peer pressure. With its unflinching reconstruction of the battalion's murderous record and its painstaking attention to the social background and actions of individual men, this unique account offers some of the most powerful and disturbing evidence to date of the ordinary human capacity for extraordinary inhumanity.… (more)

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