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Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

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Christopher R. Browning’s shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews—now with a new afterword and additional photographs. Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for Christopher R. Browning’s shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews—now with a new afterword and additional photographs. Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of  RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of moral norms to justify their actions. Very quickly three groups emerged within the battalion: a core of eager killers, a plurality who carried out their duties reliably but without initiative, and a small minority who evaded participation in the acts of killing without diminishing the murderous efficiency of the battalion whatsoever. While this book discusses a specific Reserve Unit during WWII, the general argument Browning makes is that most people succumb to the pressures of a group setting and commit actions they would never do of their own volition.   Ordinary Men is a powerful, chilling, and important work, with themes and arguments that continue to resonate today.  


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Christopher R. Browning’s shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews—now with a new afterword and additional photographs. Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for Christopher R. Browning’s shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews—now with a new afterword and additional photographs. Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of  RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of moral norms to justify their actions. Very quickly three groups emerged within the battalion: a core of eager killers, a plurality who carried out their duties reliably but without initiative, and a small minority who evaded participation in the acts of killing without diminishing the murderous efficiency of the battalion whatsoever. While this book discusses a specific Reserve Unit during WWII, the general argument Browning makes is that most people succumb to the pressures of a group setting and commit actions they would never do of their own volition.   Ordinary Men is a powerful, chilling, and important work, with themes and arguments that continue to resonate today.  

30 review for Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This is one of the essential books of Holocaust literature. When I read it, some years ago now, it changed me. It's about a Reserve Police Battalion in Poland. This was a bunch of middle-aged guys who were unfit for military service, so they were given an easier job, which was to shoot Jewish people and bury them in woods (okay, the last bit could be hard, but generally you could get the Jewish people to do all the digging before you shot them). This was the pre-industrial phase of th This is one of the essential books of Holocaust literature. When I read it, some years ago now, it changed me. It's about a Reserve Police Battalion in Poland. This was a bunch of middle-aged guys who were unfit for military service, so they were given an easier job, which was to shoot Jewish people and bury them in woods (okay, the last bit could be hard, but generally you could get the Jewish people to do all the digging before you shot them). This was the pre-industrial phase of the Holocaust, before the purpose-built death camps at Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec were opened for business. Who rounded up these Jewish families from their little villages and marched them into the forests and gunned them down and then came back the next day and drove to a new village and did it all over again, week after week? As I say it wasn't the steely-eyed fanatical SS psychos barking "schnell! schnell!" with the big Alsation dogs at all, it was these middle-aged police reserve guys, your local baker, pharmacist or gardener, just your regular guys. Now some of them found it - well, frankly, a little too disturbing, shooting men women and children in cold blood week after week. So Browning points out that they could ask to be transferred to other duties and that was okay, they'd be transferred, no hard feelings. No problem. Now Browning was influenced by the famous Stanley Milgram electric-shock experiment. But I was thinking that maybe the conclusions Milgram and later experimenters have come to aren't quite right. I'm not a psychologist so I'm probably wrong, but here goes. Milgram et al have said that the presence of an authority who normalises certain actions which in other contexts would be considered sadistic and criminal explains the actions of the randomly-selected people who applied the fake fatal electric shocks. But considering the grim evidence presented in this book, not to mention many examples from elsewhere (Srebrenitsa, Rwanda, Cambodia, the witch craze of the middle ages), maybe its this : that there are a large number of people in every society who just don't have a moral sense at all. They go along with convention, so you don't notice them, they're not psychopaths, they don't crave power, but if you ask them to shoot a family of seven on a beautiful summer day and bury the bodies in the woods they'll just say okay, but I got to get back by five, my wife will be expecting me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tariq Mahmood

    'I reasoned with myself that after all without its mother the child could not live any longer. It was supposed to be, so to speak, soothing to my conscience to release children unable to live.' They went through their formative period in a pre-Nazi era, came from Hamburg one of the least Nazified cities in Germany, they belonged to social class that had been anti-Nazi, just how could these non-conforming end up killing innocent women, childern and men with little compulasion? The answ 'I reasoned with myself that after all without its mother the child could not live any longer. It was supposed to be, so to speak, soothing to my conscience to release children unable to live.' They went through their formative period in a pre-Nazi era, came from Hamburg one of the least Nazified cities in Germany, they belonged to social class that had been anti-Nazi, just how could these non-conforming end up killing innocent women, childern and men with little compulasion? The answer lies with the ideology of the German volk, which faced a constant struggle for survival ordained by nature, according to whose laws “all weak and inferior are destroyed” and “only the strong and powerful continue to propagate.” To win this struggle, the Volk needed to do two things: conquer living space to provide for further population growth and preserve the purity of the German race over all other types of ideologies propgating equality of mankind like Christianity, Liberlaism and Marxism.Jews were deemed responsbile for Liberalism and Marxism. The vast majority of unit 101 choose to conform y 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-knit unit stationed abroad among a hostile population, so that the individual had virtually nowhere else to turn for support and social contact. Much more work needs to be undertaken not to repeat such bevauoirs in future culture, all the dangerous signs have to be listed and graded with clear red lines so that all future ideologies can be vetted for any repeat of murder of such scale.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mariel

    Jessica Mitford claimed in her book A Fine Old Conflict that the racism in her new home Oakland, California was from people who moved there from the Southern states (I guess we kept moving there for those acts of racially led police brutality over the years). No one else would be capable of that. Bitch, please! (Of course, I don't have a photo selection of myself with black people I got on well with as she does. So I MUST be a racist, coming from the American South as I do.) I can't help but think of Mi Jessica Mitford claimed in her book A Fine Old Conflict that the racism in her new home Oakland, California was from people who moved there from the Southern states (I guess we kept moving there for those acts of racially led police brutality over the years). No one else would be capable of that. Bitch, please! (Of course, I don't have a photo selection of myself with black people I got on well with as she does. So I MUST be a racist, coming from the American South as I do.) I can't help but think of Mitford, that poster child for hypocrisy, for calling something other than what it is for whatever self serving agenda she felt like preaching. Christopher R. Browning's book Ordinary Men Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland is a hell of a book and interesting to me for more reasons than one of my messy goodreads reviews (did I mention that is my 600th?) could cover. Paul Bryant's review says that it changed his life. It also changed mine for those reasons of putting into context human nature aspects I can only suspect and never pin down (it's much, much too big). I want to call something for what it is, pretty much. It changes me again when I have to ask myself if I believe in the will of human nature. You may have heard of author Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners. I have, although I've never read one of his pulp(it) tomes. They took the same source information, those interviews for 1960s investigations of war crimes, the same historical texts and came to some important differences. Well, I'd say (without reading Goldhagen's book) that he was looking for an all Germans are anti-Semitic bent to fit everything into. It happened because they were looking for a reason to murder Jews. Hitler just gave them the means. It couldn't have happened to anyone else, anywhere else. Bitch, please! If you want to ignore centuries of history and the present... When someone makes a grab for power like that someone is going to get royally fucked, history says. Browning's work looks at how "Ordinary Men", middle aged Germans who were not professional killers, who did not roam about the countryside shooting civilians by birth for mirth, became well oiled killing machines for the Nazis. Were they just following orders? Not always, at least not in any immediate way. They weren't held at gun point. I found it interesting that only a dozen opted out when given the choice not to kill. Some followed after, some after killing twenty jews. The breaking point, if there was one, was not the same. Definitely not all. One man who went out of his way to prevent himself and his men from killing the Jews they were transporting would later force twenty old men to undress and then instructed his men to grab bats to beat to death the crawling men. What is in one man, their Captain Trapp, to deliver their orders through his tears to continue to do so? Browning says because one group did so did not mean that another would kill if in their place. It doesn't mean that another wouldn't. In the back of my mind while reading 'Ordinary Men' I had the thought that these German men felt about the Jews the way that many elsewhere in the world would feel for prison inmates. Their punishment is abstract. They could say to themselves, "Well, they deserved what they got." That's if they thought about them at all. The execution takes place far away. The possibility of innocence, of falling through the cracks for making a mistake (one of the most depressing things, to me, is how many are in prison because they could not afford the court costs. A fucking evil scam! I am overwhelmed with hatred of society when I think about things like that. Complacency and heartless? distraction takes many forms). They hate us for our freedom. Maybe we shouldn't have freedom, then. Maybe someone else is looking out for things for us. It's okay to drop a devastating bomb far away. Sleeeeeep sheeeeep. The only racists are in the American south. It's not bigotry to hate gays, if you're black. I've heard that one a lot. Pretending something isn't what it is by calling something else in huge bold letters. Evil! Nazis! Just them. I have no doubt that they were thinking about themselves first of all. The way that they rewrote history in their own minds is important. It also cannot be discounted that the interviews were for legal proceedings and no way were they going to even mention direct culpability or anti-Semitism. As Browning points out, that would make it intent and the intent makes it homicide. How much of a looming threat did the Nazi higher ups have that a different mind set some couple of decades later would change their side stepping of the larger implications (they massacred so many people)? I have an idea in the back of my mind that it is complacency out of selfishness. They killed because they didn't want to think about it. That the men didn't ask to leave when the option was no longer presented to them says a lot to me about going to sleep. The killings were routine and it was all something to get used to. Would they have moved for themselves? I don't even know that. (Ten officers to 8,000 Jews and they didn't revolt? We're just being resettled.) Would I call them Ordinary Men? It doesn't take an extraordinary man to do what they did. Yet, so many have done what they have, not just in Nazi territory, that I don't know what else to call them. I'd say talking about it to call it anything is better than not talking about it. The ordinary men didn't talk about it, not even when they were talking about it. Five fucking stars. It is not an ordinary man who will look into the lowest of humankind and not pretend. There was much more I wanted to write here and now my mind is too numb with statistics (600 reviews) that I can't even say anything nice now. People sure can suck. What do I call it, again? (Fascism?) And I realize I didn't break any new ground here but that's really why I love this so much. It's tangible proof of this darkness. I held it in my hand. Not just numbers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    RPB101 consisted of 500 men, almost all from Hamburg, who were conscripted into the German military at the beginning of WWII. A large majority were working-class, and more than half were aged between 37 and 42. Being above the age group considered suitable for the frontline, they were deployed in implementing the “Final Solution”. The soldiers deported Jews to Treblinka, and also carried out mass shootings. The author estimates that this single battalion transported 45,000 Jews to death camps an RPB101 consisted of 500 men, almost all from Hamburg, who were conscripted into the German military at the beginning of WWII. A large majority were working-class, and more than half were aged between 37 and 42. Being above the age group considered suitable for the frontline, they were deployed in implementing the “Final Solution”. The soldiers deported Jews to Treblinka, and also carried out mass shootings. The author estimates that this single battalion transported 45,000 Jews to death camps and directly murdered at least another 38,000. In the 1960s, 210 surviving members were interrogated about Holocaust crimes, and the testimony they provided forms the basis of this book. The author acknowledges that the evidence given should be treated with caution. The men clearly wanted to avoid incriminating themselves. That said, he argues the interviews were carried out by skilful attorneys, who drew out some gruesome testimony. The age of the men meant they had been well into adulthood by the time the Nazis took power. They had not spent their formative years under the “inverted morality” of Nazism. Moreover prior to 1933 support for the Nazis had been weak in Hamburg. Most working-class people in the city had supported either the Communists or the Social Democrats. It’s reasonable to conclude that most of the Battalion’s troops were not committed Nazis. So what led these ordinary German family men to commit such horrendous crimes? Browning suggests that the Battalion divided into three groups. Some were sadists who went out of their way to torture, beat and humiliate Jews before murdering them. Another group, the largest, simply followed orders. A third group, between 10% and 20%, asked to be excused from shooting Jews or otherwise evaded doing so. No punishment was inflicted upon this group. This surprised me as I had always considered the Nazis as intolerant of any challenge to authority. None of the soldiers objected to serving on the Treblinka transports. They knew that the Jews would be killed but their role ended when the victims were delivered to the camp – “out of sight, out of mind”. It was less easy to evade moral responsibility when directly murdering defenceless civilians. The author concludes that the relentless and pervasive denigration of Jews in Nazi Germany did affect the attitudes of the men of RPB101, but he also argues that deference to authority and pressure of conformity were uppermost in explaining their participation in mass murder. Those soldiers who did not participate in the shootings were derided by the others as weak or cowardly. They were also viewed as shirkers who relied on their comrades to do “dirty work”. Browning’s conclusions were strongly criticised by Daniel Goldhagen, author of “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”, a book I haven’t read. This edition contains an afterword in which he responds to those criticisms. There is also an interesting aside about 14 Luxembourgers who were assigned to the Battalion, and whether they behaved any differently from the Germans. Browning doesn’t think they did. This is a thoughtful piece of work in which the author rehearses a variety of potential psychological explanations for the actions of RPB101, and the extent to which the capacity for violence lies within all of us.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sweetwilliam

    This is not an easy read. First, it reads like a scholarly thesis paper that someone wrote for a doctoral thesis. Second, the subject matter is awful and there are no heroes. Having said this, Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men is an integral read for those of us trying to make sense of the Holocaust. I decided to read Browning’s book because I wanted more insight into the psyche of the monsters that were ordered to carry out Hitler’s final solution. According to Browning, for the most part, th This is not an easy read. First, it reads like a scholarly thesis paper that someone wrote for a doctoral thesis. Second, the subject matter is awful and there are no heroes. Having said this, Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men is an integral read for those of us trying to make sense of the Holocaust. I decided to read Browning’s book because I wanted more insight into the psyche of the monsters that were ordered to carry out Hitler’s final solution. According to Browning, for the most part, the men of Battalion 101 were just ordinary men. I read the title of the book prior to buying it so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Browning’s analysis is clear: These men were not SS troopers and they had not been subjected to intense indoctrination or any type of brainwashing. There were very few party members. I can only remember Browning mentioning one officer that was a former member of the Hitler youth. I believe that only a few were ever in the SS prior to deployment in Poland. They were certainly not front line troops suffering from any type of combat fatigue. In fact, they hadn’t heard a shot fired in anger and there wasn’t anything frontline about them. Browning argued that they were the dregs of the Wehrmacht and they were deemed not fit for frontline duty. Most importantly, these men didn’t even seem to harbor a grudge against the Jews. With scarce exception, they hardly seemed to enjoy their task. So why did they do it? According to Browning’s interpretation of events, they did it because they were ordered to. They knew this was wrong. The Battalion Commander, Major Trapp, was a decorated combat veteran from WWI. Trapp told the enlisted men that they could be excused if they could not take part in the firing squads and then he went to an office and bawled like a baby. I took some solace that about 14 men and one officer refused to take part in the massacre and that several men refused to continue after taking part in the initial firing squad but at the end of the day, somehow the deed was done. Future actions were easier to handle in part because the killing grew more routine. Also, the policemen found ways to farm out the killing to others. They recruited Hiwis (foreigners) to do the dirty work. This included Russian prisoners (Trawnikis) who would have starved had they not been given the option to serve the Nazis. Also, the Policemen didn’t mind loading the Jews on railcars so that they could be shipped off to a death camp where others could execute them. This was much more preferable than rounding up families and personally killing them. The worst thing was to have to kill innocent people face-to-face. The author compares and contrasts the massacres committed by the Policemen to other war crimes committed during that period By US units in the Pacific and even later in Vietnam. Browning mentions that some US units in the Pacific had boasted of taking no prisoners and that there were units that collected ears etc. However, Browning makes the point that at the time these men were under duress due to combat fatigue and they had reacted to it. These policemen, on the other hand, hadn’t heard a shot fired in anger so the policemen could certainly not use this as a mitigating factor. I also personally believe that the massacres of the Polish Jews are very different than the massacres of the Chinese citizens of Nanking. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Japanese perpetrated massacres weren’t sanctioned by high command or the Imperial Government. I remember reading Ira Chang’s Rape of Nanking and reading one of the commanding General’s correspondence that imperial soldiers were acting like Genghis Khan. Iwane Matsui, the commanding General of IJA in China, gave strict orders not to harm Chinese citizens or loot. Ironically, Matsui was a great admirer of China and chastised his officers for what happened in Nanking but ultimately, this did not save him from the hangman’s noose. The implementation of the Final Solution in Poland was the exact opposite. The ordinary men of the reserve police battalion were ordered by Himmler at Hitler’s wishes to kill all men, women, and children and to shoot infants and the infirm on sight. These policemen certainly would not have carried out these massacres without orders to do so. However, they still did it and this bothers me. With a minimum of psychobabble, Browning tries to compare the actions of the Policemen with some University studies where students acting as prisoners were given fake shocks. I’m sorry, but some of this was lost on me. I believe it had little relevance to a reserve policemen being asked to blow a hole at point blank range through a defenseless child’s neck and getting spattered with their brains at times. To me it was a vain attempt to extrapolate data from a few college snowflakes and apply it to something like the Holocaust. The use of this data almost trivialized the Holocaust to some degree. I believe that these Jews would have preferred to have been shocked a few times or even shipped off to Abu Ghraib to live out the war forming naked pyramids. Early on in the book there is a letter from a German official trying to run the local economy in the east complaining about the implementation of what later became known as the Final Solution. The official claimed that his skilled workers at several factories either had fled or were shot or were transported to a concentration camp and how none of the remaining workers (including the White Russians) could concentrate on their jobs because family members were carted off. The implementation of the final solution made the local economy collapse at a time when Germany could least afford it. It makes one take a step back for a moment and wonder what could have been accomplished if the Germans would have used their precious resources (rolling stock, manpower etc.) trying to defeat the Russians? The Jews could have been left alone and even recruited to join the war effort. I wonder if we would all be eating sauerkraut and sausage three times a day. At the end of the day I am still not quite sure why these men went through with carrying out these orders? There were no reprisals if you didn’t take part other than peer pressure. Let us not underestimate the power of peer pressure. Would men today do the same thing if ordered? Would I have done what they did if I had been in their shoes? Would I have grabbed a machine gun and started shooting my fellow officers while yelling to the Jews in my best yiddish "run for the hills while I hold them off?" Probably not. I'm no Joan of Arc. I would more likely have done what Papa Trapp did. At best, I would of had the foresight to resign. As Major Trapp said during the first Jewish action “If this Jewish business is ever avenged on earth then have mercy on us Germans.” Trapp was later hanged after the war for carrying out revenge killings of Polish gentiles after a partisan action. Even this Trapp tried to mitigate. I believe the hangman’s noose may have been good medicine for a man that most likely had lived out a tortured existence knowing what he was ultimately responsible for. In my review of "Our Crime was Being Jewish" I said that the men and women who perpetrated the Holocaust should be hunted down and tried for these crimes until they take their last breath on earth. Christopher Browning’s research indicates all events are not that black and white. You would have to hang several ordinary men that you are probably no better than. Thank God every day that we Americans currently live under a different set of circumstances. Judging others is never that easy.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    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 partic 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Christopher Browning, one of the better known Holocaust scholars today, used evidence from the post-war investigations of Police Battalion 101 to create an image of the "ordinary men" who participated in the massacre of Jews in Eastern Europe. By examining testimony, documents, and diary excerpts, he pieces together a chronological history of the unit’s participation and involvement in the Nazis' Final Solution. Even though Browning is writing as a scholar, with the intent of persuading through Christopher Browning, one of the better known Holocaust scholars today, used evidence from the post-war investigations of Police Battalion 101 to create an image of the "ordinary men" who participated in the massacre of Jews in Eastern Europe. By examining testimony, documents, and diary excerpts, he pieces together a chronological history of the unit’s participation and involvement in the Nazis' Final Solution. Even though Browning is writing as a scholar, with the intent of persuading through academic argument, his writing is clear and uncluttered. He approaches the subject with an easy-to-follow framework, providing a balanced look at how the battalion went from routine duties in occupied territories to the violent slaughter of Jewish civilians. Throughout Ordinary Men, Browning provides a window into the daily life of the unit and its purpose in the hierarchy and structure of the Third Reich. The often personal glimpses demonstrate the slow and methodical change in Nazi policy towards Jewish civilians, as the German leadership shifted towards the Final Solution. It's this tapestry of documentation that pulls together a remarkable look at how the extermination of European Jews occurred: through an evolving policy rather than a pre-determined course. Combined with the personal accounts of battalion members, it is easy to see the slow progression of anti-Jewish doctrine, as well as the frequently unmentioned nuances of its executioners, the most revealing of which — the lack of disciplinary action for those who refused to take part in the massacres and "Jew hunts" -- reveals a great deal about the make-up of the actual perpetrators. Afterword: The more recent edition of Ordinary Men has an afterword from Browning dissecting his ongoing debate with Daniel Goldhagen (author of Hitler's Willing Executioners). Personally, I’ve been surprised at how many people bought into Goldhagen's rather contradictory and ill-conceived thesis, and yet, because of that, Browning decided to add this clear-cut statement about his own conclusions in order to refute Willing Executioners' assertion that Germans are anti-Semitic by their very nature.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    While Browning's book was apparently a serious academic volley in the world of Holocaust studies, it strikes me as very measured and commonsense. Here, in their own words, are a bunch of people who did what they were told, because that's what they were told to do-- and we can ask why they didn't question it, but speculation is all you'll come up with. Recently, a lovely afternoon in the killing fields of Cambodia and a bus stop in the middle of a pogrom in progress in Myanmar have confirmed that While Browning's book was apparently a serious academic volley in the world of Holocaust studies, it strikes me as very measured and commonsense. Here, in their own words, are a bunch of people who did what they were told, because that's what they were told to do-- and we can ask why they didn't question it, but speculation is all you'll come up with. Recently, a lovely afternoon in the killing fields of Cambodia and a bus stop in the middle of a pogrom in progress in Myanmar have confirmed that I'm on Browning's side in this debate. Nothing makes monsters, because monsters aren't real, and we all possess the capability to be absolute shits to each other-- to say otherwise is to deny our responsibility for this very ugly part of our humanity.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Whenever you heard people ask, "How could someone do something like that?" and the topic is genocide, this book provides the answers. Drawing on psychology, sociology, and lots of direct testimony, Browning explains how the need of individuals to conform to group expectations can result in horrendous acts of evil.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    An account of the atrocities committed by the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order police in Poland during WW2. Any book that seeks to go behind the scenes of Nazi killing units faces the problem that the men involved invariably lie about their experience. This is very much the case here, with most of the men claiming after the war that they did their best to help Jews. I think if you're going to begin with the premise of "ordinary men" you need to show these men as ordinary. An account of the atrocities committed by the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order police in Poland during WW2. Any book that seeks to go behind the scenes of Nazi killing units faces the problem that the men involved invariably lie about their experience. This is very much the case here, with most of the men claiming after the war that they did their best to help Jews. I think if you're going to begin with the premise of "ordinary men" you need to show these men as ordinary. Provide some detail of their lives before the war, which this book doesn't do. The men in this book are just names. We learn nothing much about them. The most interesting aspect was perhaps the evidence of a prevalent macho culture among the men. As if it wasn't so much racial hatred that provoked the violence as the fear of appearing weak and cowardly to one's comrades. Also, it does debunk the often cited defence of war criminals that they had no choice. Men in this police battalion who refused to shoot unarmed civilians were not punished. But essentially this is a cataloguing of atrocities. The latter part of the book is devoted to a lengthy and somewhat repetitive summary and an argument the author is having with another author. Probably there are 100 pages that make an important contribution to Holocaust literature. The other 200 pages were of considerably less interest for me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jon(athan) Nakapalau

    What makes seemingly normal people commit unforgiveable acts of evil? The men of RPB 101 were just middle-aged German men who participated in mass shootings as well as rounding up Jews for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Even more horrifying is that they were not fanatical Nazis - so how did they come to gaze so deeply into the abyss? Christopher R. Browning presents us with an explanation that is informed, original and disturbing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    AC

    A book and approach (the 'functionalist' approach to the Holocaust) with which I am quite out of sympathy. According to this view, adopted also by Broszat and Hans Mommsen, the Holocaust was not planned, but came about almost by accident, as local administrators tried to deal with the excess of refugees, and the like. In my opinion, which is certainly only that of the semi-educated layman, this is complete and utter B.S. I say that with all due respect to Mr. Browning, of course...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    How do normal, law abiding people get into performing abnormal acts of extreme violence? This book takes on that question as regards the members of a German Reserve Police Battalion who participated, often directly, in the murder of over 85,000 Jews, Soviets, Poles and other 'undesirables', many of them women and children, during WWII. Unusually well documented, the activities of these several hundred men are traced from month to month both from the written record and from their own testimonies. How do normal, law abiding people get into performing abnormal acts of extreme violence? This book takes on that question as regards the members of a German Reserve Police Battalion who participated, often directly, in the murder of over 85,000 Jews, Soviets, Poles and other 'undesirables', many of them women and children, during WWII. Unusually well documented, the activities of these several hundred men are traced from month to month both from the written record and from their own testimonies. Having grown up in the United States and having seen my country commit invasions and atrocities throughout my life, most overtly by our military, and having had most of my elder relatives tell of their experiences under Nazi occupation during the war, I have grown very sensitive about acting like 'a good Nazi' myself. Of course, I do so in the sense that I pay taxes and generally don't think all that much about the violence and criminality committed in my name. And indeed, I have known plenty of persons, some of them counted as friends, who have voluntarily (!) 'served' the armed forces. Although I do my bit, here and there, to try to stop or at least mitigate such crimes, although I work by reading such books as this to remain conscientious, it is never enough.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    A fascinating book on the role of ordinary policemen in the holocaust. Based on testimony given in the 1960s the author draws out the way in which these men approached and dealt with the systematic murder of Jews in Poland. The police unit was formed from men unsuitable for the regular army, taken from one German city - Hamburg- and represented a cross section of society. It shows how the men were affected differently by this heinous crime - some became efficient and enthus A fascinating book on the role of ordinary policemen in the holocaust. Based on testimony given in the 1960s the author draws out the way in which these men approached and dealt with the systematic murder of Jews in Poland. The police unit was formed from men unsuitable for the regular army, taken from one German city - Hamburg- and represented a cross section of society. It shows how the men were affected differently by this heinous crime - some became efficient and enthusiastic killers, some refused or avoided the tasks, but most went along with it. The mental toll from repeatedly shooting men, woman and children in the neck at point blank range was debilitating for many. We see a range of justifications for their acts, mainly to do with duty and not letting down comrades. What we do not see is admission of race hate, as the policemens testimony could have lead to serious punishment. The commander of the unit was hanged in Poland in 1947 (ironically for the murder of 86 poles not the 90,000 jews the unit directly or indirectly murdered) Browning cites post war academic studies which show that "normal" human beings are capable of great cruelty when placed in positions of power over others. He links this to the actions of police battalion 101, and details the race hate indoctrination prevalent at the time. Dehumanise jews, communists, gays and gypsies and it becomes easier to kill "the other". Where this book loses me is the final thirty or so pages, which is a polemic against another academic. Save me from handbags please. .

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bryn Hammond

    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.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    Of all the books on the reading list for my Ideologies of the Holocaust class, this one is undoubtedly my favorite. It's a must read for anyone intrigued by the Holocaust, especially, in the "ordinary men" who carried out Hitler's orders and committed the infamously heinous crimes.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Rodriguez

    A Thought-Provoking Read I think more than almost any other book I’ve read in the past year or two, Ordinary Men caused an immense amount of introspection and decision in my life. I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks they are a good person. It will change their mind.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    How did the Holocaust happen? Not the antisemitic ravings of Hitler, or the careerist banality of Eichmann, but the physical labor of liquidating the Jews of Poland. Someone had to round up the Jews in ghettos, herd them onto trains to the death camps, shoot the ones who couldn't walk or evaded. Ordinary Men asks what happens to the people who perpetuate a genocide. The 'someone' in Ordinary Men were the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, about 500 middle-aged, working-class men from Hamb How did the Holocaust happen? Not the antisemitic ravings of Hitler, or the careerist banality of Eichmann, but the physical labor of liquidating the Jews of Poland. Someone had to round up the Jews in ghettos, herd them onto trains to the death camps, shoot the ones who couldn't walk or evaded. Ordinary Men asks what happens to the people who perpetuate a genocide. The 'someone' in Ordinary Men were the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, about 500 middle-aged, working-class men from Hamburg. Most of them had ambitions in local policing, writing traffic tickets, dealing with drunks, and other very ordinary policework. About a quarter were Nazi party members. And while deployed away from home, Poland in 1942 was hardly facing Zhukov's armored shock armies on the Eastern Front. At the start of 1942, they were not by any standards, killers. That would change. The first massacre was at Józefów in July 1942. It was a fiasco. The Jews of the town were marched into the woods, paired up with Nazis from the 101, and executed with shots to the neck. The men did poorly. Offered a chance to refuse, a handful did. Others dodged behind trucks or otherwise out of sight of NCOs. Major Trapp, the commander, apparently broke down weeping. This would change. Blooded, the 101 became a group of hardened killers. The methods became more efficient, more impersonal, the worst tasks handed over to the death camps or local HiWi volunteers, who tried to out-Nazi the Nazis. A handful of men were truly enthusiastic, delighting in the sadism of the exercise. Another handful evaded. Most concluded it was a dirty job, but that someone had to do it, and the military virtue of 'toughness' meant it was them. None resisted. By the time the unit left Poland for Russia 18 months later, they had been party to something like 80,000 murders. The point is not that Reserve Police Battalion 101 was made of monsters. The point is that if they could commit a genocide, so could almost anyone, given only a few minor tweaks to an authoritarian and racist worldview that is not terribly far out of the mainstream today. Decide that the tough thing to do, the necessary thing to do as a group, is to shoot a defenseless human being in a shallow grave, and ordinary men will do it, and do it gladly. Oh, and what happened to the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101? Many died on the Eastern Front, as safe Jew hunts became something more like actual combat. Major Trapp and another officer were deported to Poland in 1946 and executed. And the survivors of the unit were tried in an unusually honest and thorough investigation in the 1960s, which saw five men out of over 120 imprisoned for sentences under 10 years. The rest of these ordinary men went on to lead ordinary lives, many of them collecting police pensions in Hamburg.

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    A disturbing but essential read for any student of the human condition.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Charles J

    It seems to me that we in the West are like men in a cavern, out of which lead many paths, none signposted. Some paths lead to bright futures, but other paths lead to terrible ones, among them those where, once again as we did not so very long ago, we slaughter each other over ideology. And the way back is closed, so we must choose one path forward. The service of this book is that it illustrates Solzhenitsyn’s dictum, that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. Thus, ref It seems to me that we in the West are like men in a cavern, out of which lead many paths, none signposted. Some paths lead to bright futures, but other paths lead to terrible ones, among them those where, once again as we did not so very long ago, we slaughter each other over ideology. And the way back is closed, so we must choose one path forward. The service of this book is that it illustrates Solzhenitsyn’s dictum, that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. Thus, reflecting upon this book may help us choose the correct exit from the cavern, and to that end, it is worth bearing the unease that comes over us when we read books like this. This book, a staple of Holocaust studies for twenty-five years, has recently risen to fresh prominence due to repeated mentions of it by Canadian psychologist, and superstar, Jordan Peterson. His focus on the book arises from his own decades-long study of evil regimes, and his thought on how we, you and I, would really react if we lived under an actual such regime. Peterson’s basic point is that we are deluding ourselves if we think we would be heroes; the vast majority of us would fall somewhere on the scale of cooperation with evil. "Ordinary Men" shows that principle in application, in the history of a group of German men who saw militarized police service in Poland during World War II. Christopher Browning’s focus is on a “reserve police” (Ordnungspolizei) battalion, Number 101. This battalion consisted of roughly five hundred men and was composed mostly of working class men from Hamburg. Very few had any Nazi political background; most, to the extent they had political views, were probably Social Democrats. They were not soldiers; they were nationalized paramilitary police, of a type not found in America, but common in Europe, then and now. Basically, they were a combination of police force and National Guardsmen; not eligible, for the most part, for regular military service, due to age or some other reason, but frequently used to support operations in areas where the German military had conquered. What was special about this battalion was not its composition, or its actions, which were roughly the same as several similar battalions. Rather, it’s that we can know a lot of what these men actually did, which is not the case for most such units, lost among the fog of war and the desire to conceal the past. In the 1960s the German authorities conducted and transcribed, as part of a criminal investigation, extensive interviews with all the surviving Battalion 101 members they could find. Apparently this was one of the few battalions whose membership list was extant at that time, hence the focus on this battalion. It was these court records to which Browning, in the late 1980s, was able to gain access (though he was forbidden from revealing actual names except for those few men actually convicted of crimes, so he uses pseudonyms throughout), and which he used to construct what is part history and part psychological analysis. In more recent years additional such data has been mined and published, but Browning was the first to conduct a study of this type. He is very cautious in his approach, noting that no individual’s testimony can be taken at face value, but claiming, I think accurately, that by judicious and open-minded examination of the mass of testimony, triangulating claims against each other and against known history, a great deal can be determined with a high degree of certainty. The relevant area here is Poland in 1941 and 1942. Reserve Battalion 101 did not operate in Russia, but other similar battalions did, participating after Hitler’s invasion in 1941 in the rounding up, and increasingly frequent organized murder, of Jews in locations like Minsk. Many such battalions ended up pressed into frontline fighting, though, and the Germans fairly quickly transferred killing duties to locally recruited elements, who were for the most part only too happy to help out, unlike, as we will see, some of the reserve battalion’s policemen. Battalion 101, however, continued its behind-the-lines focus throughout the war, never serving as a fighting military unit. Beginning in 1940, Battalion 101 was used to resettle Poles (mostly not Jews) in Western Poland, around Łódź. This was deportation, but not killing or transport to death camps (which did not exist in 1940). At the end of 1940, the battalion took up guard duties at the Łódź ghetto, into which the 160,000 Jews of Łódź had been crammed. Again, this did not involve killing, though it involved mistreatment and dehumanization of Jews, if not by the battalion’s own men, then by other Nazis involved in guard duties. In mid-1941, the battalion returned to Hamburg and was functionally dissolved and re-formed; it these mostly newly enrolled men on whom Browning’s book focuses. Battalion 101’s direct involvement in massacres began in July 1942, as the Final Solution got into full swing. The first massacre was in the Polish village of Józefów, where the battalion was ordered to collect the roughly 1,800 Jews living there; to shoot women, children and old people on the spot, and ship out male Jews suitable for slave labor to Lublin. The battalion’s commandant, Major Wilhelm Trapp, gave a speech to the men in which he expressed some distress and said that men would not be punished for asking for guard or transport duty. A handful took advantage of the offer; the rest, in a highly disorganized, ad hoc, fashion, trucked Jews from the town, marched them into the nearby woods, and chaotically shot them in batches at point-blank range. (Here, and throughout the book, the fate of children is somewhat opaque—they must have been killed, but nobody, even Browning, seems to really want to talk about the details.) During the killing, some more, maybe ten percent to twenty percent, of the battalion’s men made themselves scarce, either by hiding or simply moving about with apparent purpose, but taking advantage of the confusion to not participate directly in the killing. Most of the men, however, participated to the end; when they returned to barracks, many were shaken, and alcohol was provided, but there was no collective pushback against what they had done. In August, Battalion 101 assisted in collecting Jews from various villages, for transportation to Treblinka, collecting them and packing them into the infamous cattle cars. Many Jews were shot during these operations, but killing Jews wasn’t the immediate goal, and local auxiliary forces (so-called Hiwis) did most of the actual killing. Then, in the fall, the battalion was directly involved in several more mass shootings ordered from above. (Who did the ordering is lost to history, as with so many things in war, and the Germans who organized the Final Solution were keen to avoid records, not so much for fear of punishment in this life, but because they thought the masses of Germans should not know what had been done.) These later shootings were more organized, since techniques had been learned and practiced, and, more importantly, men within the battalion had risen to positions of authority who either did not mind directing such work, or positively enjoyed it. The mass of men in the battalion had gotten used to carrying out their orders. Those who objected, of whom Browning profiles several, and who may have been as many as ten percent of the total, were the target of strong social pressure but were not punished, and the most vociferous objectors were ultimately transferred back to units based in Germany. More shootings and deportation followed, along with “Jew hunts” for those who had gone into hiding or become, or joined, partisans. The final killing in which the battalion participated was the massive killing in the fall of 1943, the “Harvest Festival” massacres, in which Heinrich Himmler ordered the coordinated extermination of the Jews in Lublin work camps. (While Browning does not mention it, the man in charge of “Harvest Festival,” Christian Wirth, was instrumental in the Aktion T4 program, the Nazi killing of the handicapped that preceded and smoothed the path for the Holocaust.) “For a battalion of less than 500 men, the ultimate body count was at least 83,000 Jews.” Reading all this is exhausting, even in a fairly short book. The usual disturbing details, hard to understand, crop up, such as that Jews went to their deaths with “quiet composure.” Browning humanizes, or at least reifies, the men of the battalion, drawing incisive sketches of them, as known through the interviews to which he had access. Generally, those few who did not participate, or limited their participation, were usually of a slightly higher social class than the other men. Several were tradesmen who had their own businesses and were not interested in a postwar police career, and so were more independent. Roman Catholics seemed to be the most likely to refuse—but there were few in Hamburg, so this was not a large group, either. But, as one would expect, no one factor dictated a man’s behavior. Or rather, one single factor hard to define did—his character. So why did “ordinary men” men become killers of innocents? Browning goes through each possibility. The first is conformity, “the basic identification of the men in uniform with their comrades and the strong urge not to separate themselves from the group by stepping out.” In essence, this is peer pressure. The second is a desire and compulsion to obey authority from above, reinforced by the “legitimizing capacities of government,” a strong element in the German mindset. The third is the men’s belief that they had no choice, that punishment for themselves or their families would follow a refusal to obey orders. As Browning notes, though, there is no example known in all the war of a single incident of a soldier being punished for refusal to murder civilians, much less any repercussions for his family, although that’s not to say threats were not made. Punishment of uninvolved family members for political offenses was, and is, a Left/Communist specialty, not used to any relevant degree by the Nazis. The fourth is anti-Semitism, conditioned by years of Nazi propaganda (or, perhaps, as discussed below, by the German social culture and pysche itself, not merely by Nazism). The fifth, beyond mere anti-Semitism, is aggressive indoctrination, creating the active principle of eliminationism of which intellectual anti-Semitism was the passive precursor. But, as Browning notes, these men were not political Nazis, for the most part, and relative to, for example, the SS, they received cursory indoctrination, in which at most a dislike for Jews was inculcated, not a desire to kill Jews. Browning seems to think that of these five, conformity was the key element, but that any individual man’s behavior cannot be isolated to one simple explanation. He points to the Stanford prison experiment as evidence that average men can quickly become cruel and treat others in dehumanizing ways, which is certainly true, as shown by this book, although it turns out that the actual Stanford experiment was pretty much a fraud, and not replicable to boot. Browning also adduces Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment with test subjects giving electric shocks to people at the command of an authority figure, noting the effect both of authority and peer pressure/conformity (although that experiment has also been criticized as far removed from the real world). My opinion is that pointing to these experiments isn’t particularly helpful to the reader; the mere recitation of the facts, combined with the (presumably far less traumatic) experiences of each of us, should be enough to show that conformity, by itself or combined with other factors, is itself enough to create murderers, for all men are fallen, and Order Police Battalion 101 is just another example in an endless litany. Each of us can be Cain. The only explanation that Browning rejects outright is that the actions of Battalion 101, and of all those who killed Jews in the Holocaust, were the result of some uniquely evil strain in the German psyche, springing from centuries of anti-Semitism as the core defining element of German culture. And there lies the post-publication history of this book. Browning’s core point is that these were ordinary men, not ordinary German men, and that to focus on their being German makes us feel that the Holocaust is unique, and therefore can be ignored as not having real lessons for the future, since the Germans appear to have left anti-Semitism behind. When this book came out, in 1992, it was widely acclaimed. In 1996, though, Daniel Goldhagen (known for his book "Hitler’s Willing Executioners," a 1998 expansion on his arguments with Browning) attacked "Ordinary Men," claiming that Browning had this analysis exactly wrong, and the problem was the Germans themselves, each and every one. I am hardly a Holocaust studies expert, but my understanding is that a basic divide is between “functionalists,” like Browning, and “intentionalists.” As the names suggest, the functionalists see the Holocaust as not being specifically planned and not being the necessary consequence of German sociology or even Nazi ideology, but something that organically developed as an intersection of ideology and events. In another universe, the Germans won the war quickly, and most Jews were not killed, but perhaps deported to Madagascar or Africa. Hitler probably never directly ordered the Holocaust and did not plan it; he stated the need for the “Final Solution” (which Browning believes was, until 1941, conceived of purely as a geographic relocation solution), and the well-known principle of “moving toward the Führer,” combined with the anarchy and internal competition of the Nazi state, along with circumstance, did the rest. The intentionalists, in opposition, see the Holocaust as the precise and deliberate culmination of a twenty-year plan. Lacking documentary evidence for this, they tend to focus, like Goldhagen, on the idea that the Germans uniformly lusted to kill Jews, as a result of German social psychology. Hitler just gave them permission to do what they all wanted to do all along. I knew none of this until I read this book, and came upon the Afterword, published in 1998 by Browning to respond to Goldhagen’s attack on him. Browning scathingly dismisses Goldhagen, in terms quite aggressive for an academic dispute. He distinguishes between German “xenophobic” anti-Semitism, common enough but not supremely important in the culture, and the much rarer “chimeric” or “redemptive” anti-Semitism found in true ideologues, such as Himmler, and a “fringe phenomenon” until 1933. He points out that if Goldhagen’s thesis is true, and the Germans were not indoctrinated into anti-Semitism by the Nazis, how were they so easily indoctrinated out of anti-Semitism after the war? He notes many other mass killings of equal viciousness, from Yugoslavia in the war, to Mao to Stalin, to Cambodia, to Rwanda. He accuses Goldhagen of bad history on many fronts, including the idea that anti-Semitism was more important to most Germans as a threat than Social Democracy or the Triple Entente. He notes that the Nazis were more than happy to kill many others besides Jews, especially Russians and Poles. He rips Goldhagen for bias, cherry picking his data and terrible social science methodology. The cumulative effect, though I have not read Goldhagen myself, is pretty devastating. In any case, Browning is correct that the behavior of Reserve Police Battalion 101 is not unique. It is, as Peterson says, what all of us could become—perhaps some of us might be the non-conformist, retroactively, in the right circumstances, baptized as heroes. But probably not. And that implies that if ideological mass, mechanized killing returns to the West, it will find little difficulty implementing the desires of ideologues. We on the Right tend to see this as a threat always over the horizon when the Left dominates, and that is true enough as a historical matter—the vast majority of such twentieth-century ideological killing was conducted by the Left, in an attempt to reach the Utopia that justified sacrifice, or at least the sacrifice of others. And yes, most significant killing by the Right in the twentieth century (leaving aside the Nazis, who had a great deal of leftist ancestry), was measured and usually proportionate, the result of civil war and the need to eliminate direct and existential threats, as in Chile, for example. But the Right should not be complacent—the same demonic, chthonic drives that spur on the Left recur, in their own fashion, in the Right, if less often. We easily forget the Ustasha in Croatia, for example, and, again, the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. The Right must reckon with the truth that, in any future ideological hot conflict with the Left in America, towards which the Left is pushing hard, it would be easy for ordinary men to once again descend into eliminationism—particularly if the Right becomes informed by its own utopian ideology, rather than by the simple desire to break the current power of the Left and return society to basic virtue and the opportunity for human flourishing. Ideology, especially utopian ideology, is not only seductive and gives apparent meaning and simplicity; it is also an effective way to organize people and power. Merely offering a better life not crushed by the Left does not move men’s souls in the same way. Very few will die on the barricades for Russell Kirk. We see stirrings of a Right ideological movement, attractive as always to aimless young men, in groups like Gavin McInnes’s Proud Boys. It’s amusing to see the evil and terroristic Antifa get beat up, as they deserve, but it’s not a good sign for the future. Writ large, ultimately such movements, or rather their successors, can lead to the same type of behavior that Browning expertly narrates. Thus, reading this book, and listening to people like Jordan Peterson, may serve as a form of inoculation against such a dystopian future. All young men should be required to read it. For some, like Antifa, it will be taken as a how-to guide, but for others, it may dampen the wars to come.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I had to read this for a class otherwise I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Holocaust lit is depressing enough and this had its share of horrific tales but it didn't seem to be more than an elongated account on one battalion. It was missing more. Browning starts off with this claim that he is going to analyze and explain why 'ordinary men' become killers and I feel he really failed to do that. Towards the end, he explains several factors that helped many of the men get to that point (wanting I had to read this for a class otherwise I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Holocaust lit is depressing enough and this had its share of horrific tales but it didn't seem to be more than an elongated account on one battalion. It was missing more. Browning starts off with this claim that he is going to analyze and explain why 'ordinary men' become killers and I feel he really failed to do that. Towards the end, he explains several factors that helped many of the men get to that point (wanting promotions, dehumanization, peer pressure) but he still fails to give a real, true reason, which leads me to believe there really isn't one. The Holocaust happened because people are horrible and capable of horrific things. We would like to think that we all have the conscience and willpower to stand up against things like this but from the Holocaust, it seems like that was a small minority. The Afterword was pretty much a personal vendetta back-and-forth going on between Browning and another guy. (Goldhagen? I don't remember his name.) Due to Browning's lack of a real reason, I would tend to agree with other guy's point even though I haven't read it. The Holocaust seems to be a case of 'willing executioners'. However, I can definitely see some of the flaws in other guy's argument that would arise if he is using evidence how Browning claims. You can't just ignore what doesn't fit your hypothesis and pick and choose pieces of quotes to make them fit your side of the story. I would have been interested to read other guy's account and get both sides of the story, but if Browning's claims about his evidenciary use can be believed, I'm a bit afraid to be dragged into something I know is largely faked. In summation, (lol) we have other books to read for this class so I'll just stick to those for the time being.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Devon

    Normally the type of history I’d be very interested in reading about. When I read the title and the summary, I was very excited to start the book. It was well-researched. The opinions were well thought out. Historically, it was sound, in my very amateur opinion. However, the writing left much to be desired. It’s one thing to write a book that’s completely factual and write it in a way that keeps the audience interested. It’s another thing to write so poorly that members of the audience who are i Normally the type of history I’d be very interested in reading about. When I read the title and the summary, I was very excited to start the book. It was well-researched. The opinions were well thought out. Historically, it was sound, in my very amateur opinion. However, the writing left much to be desired. It’s one thing to write a book that’s completely factual and write it in a way that keeps the audience interested. It’s another thing to write so poorly that members of the audience who are interested in the topic become completely uninterested in the book itself because it’s not well-written. This book could have used a better edit and some more time spent on the actual language. (Believe it or not, it’s possible to strike a balance between boring and sensationalized.) I also thought it was childish to devote a whole section at the end of the book to a rebuttal to another book written with the same source material. Sure, that’s all well and good for an article in a journal, but as part of the book itself it just seemed more inflammatory and butthurt (excuse my less-than-scholarly language, but it’s true) than mature and well-reasoned.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Claudia Moscovici

    The true banality of evil: Review of Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning Hannah Arendt referred to Adolf Eichmann as the paradigm of the banality of evil: an ordinary man led by extraordinary circumstances to exceptional evil. However, given that Eichmann spearheaded some of the key initiatives of the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, I have argued that he was quite extraordinary: extraordinarily sociopathic and evil. The circumstances of Fascist Germany allowed his The true banality of evil: Review of Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning Hannah Arendt referred to Adolf Eichmann as the paradigm of the banality of evil: an ordinary man led by extraordinary circumstances to exceptional evil. However, given that Eichmann spearheaded some of the key initiatives of the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, I have argued that he was quite extraordinary: extraordinarily sociopathic and evil. The circumstances of Fascist Germany allowed his true nature to be revealed and his thirst for power through murder to be played out. In Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Harper Perennial, 1993) historian Christopher R. Browning reveals the true nature of the banality of evil by recounting the transformation of members of the Order Police, the Police Battalion 101, from regular men to brutal killers. Although initially the Order Police was composed of young men sympathetic to Nazi principles, by the late 1930’s it included older men from all walks of life: policemen, workers, small businessmen. Browning notes that these Order Police units expanded during the war: “Twenty-one police battalions of approximately 500 men each were formed from the various police companies and training units in Germany, thirteen of them were attached to the armies invading Poland” (6). While one can plausibly argue that the SS were chosen for their anti-Semitic outlook and brutality, that’s not the case of the Reserve Police Battalion 101. Yet this unit of five hundred “ordinary men” is responsible for the murder of 38,000 Jews and the deportation of an additional 45,200 in occupied Poland in 1942. Few of the perpetrators were tried for their crimes against humanity after the war. For those who did face a trial, their main defense was similar to Eichmann’s: namely, that they were merely following the orders of their superiors. In their case, unlike in Eichmann’s, this defense sounded plausible. Few of these men were ardent Nazis. Even fewer had violent or sadistic tendencies. Most of them were middle-aged men who were found ineligible for military duty. They were sent to Poland to participate in Operation Reinhard, which included shooting en masse the Jews of entire small towns, such as Jozefow and Lomazy. They did so voluntarily, although initially not eagerly. Most of these men hesitated to kill women and children in the beginning. Browning points out that, contrary to the later excuse they offered that they were merely following orders, those orders didn’t entail any serious negative consequences for those who refused to follow them. The commander of Unit 101 gave his soldiers the option of opting out of conducting mass murders if they did not have the “fortitude” to kill civilians. All they faced, at worst, was peer pressure from some of their more ruthless colleagues. And yet, Browning notes, remarkably, only 12 out of the 500 men in Reserve Police Battalion 101 opted not to shoot innocent people. Seeing themselves as merely doing their duty, they rounded up and shot thousands of helpless civilians. As they got used to their “job”, they became more violent and sadistic. Some even smashed Jewish babies against the wall, or threw them up into the air and shot them. The rest became increasingly used to the mass murders, quickening the pace of slaughter and increasing the brutality as time went on. If any book can show that genocide can happen anywhere and be perpetrated by regular human beings placed in extraordinary circumstances, Browning’s well-researched and persuasive book is it. Claudia Moscovici, Holocaust Memory

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Browning reviewed hundreds of interviews conducted with former members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 during the 1960s. He used these to explain how "ordinary men" could commit the crimes of the holocaust and what made those men different from us. The disheartening answer is nothing made them different, they're just like us. About 20% of the members took no or little part in the killing, about 20% were glad to take part, and the remaining 60% just went along. A very interesting and informative Browning reviewed hundreds of interviews conducted with former members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 during the 1960s. He used these to explain how "ordinary men" could commit the crimes of the holocaust and what made those men different from us. The disheartening answer is nothing made them different, they're just like us. About 20% of the members took no or little part in the killing, about 20% were glad to take part, and the remaining 60% just went along. A very interesting and informative book and one that I highly recommend.[return][return]One interesting thing was Browning's inclusion of an afterward in the paperback edition which responded to the publication of Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Goldhagen. Goldhagen's book drew in large part from the same records Browning used but came to vastly different conclusions. Browning used the afterward to refute Goldhagen's conclusions, as well as to defend accusations made against his research by Goldhagen. Goldhagen concluded that ordinary Germans took part in the holocaust because they had historically hated Jews (obviously an oversimplification of his argument). As an aside, I had a military history professor who said that Goldhagen's book proved that even in academia crap can get published.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Addison

    There's a way in which reading this book, for me, forms a ring composition with Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, because Goldhagen spends a great deal of time and energy passionately arguing with Browning. Now that I've read Ordinary Men, I can see why. But first I want to talk about what this book does well, because there are things it does very well indeed. Ordinary Men is about a reserve battalion of the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) sent into()/>Ordinary There's a way in which reading this book, for me, forms a ring composition with Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, because Goldhagen spends a great deal of time and energy passionately arguing with Browning. Now that I've read Ordinary Men, I can see why. But first I want to talk about what this book does well, because there are things it does very well indeed. Ordinary Men is about a reserve battalion of the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) sent into Poland in 1941-43 to assist in the Final Solution. Mostly their duties consisted of rounding up Jews to be deported to Treblinka, Sobibor, and other extermination camps, but they were also directly involved in several massacres. In all, Browning puts the total body count for these roughly 500 German men at a minimum of 83,000 Jews; of those, at least 38,000 were Jews whom members of the battalion personally shot. Browning is very good at laying out the progress of Reserve Battalion 101 through their assigned area of Poland, at making a coherent historical narrative from the testimony of battalion members taken in the 1960s. He's very good at describing exactly what these men participated in, and very good at showing the persistence of the Nazis in their self-appointed task. Jews might escape from the initial deportation, but escaping once wasn't enough. One of Reserve Battalion 101's principal duties was the Judenjagd, the "Jew Hunt": going out into the countryside and the Polish forests, hunting down, and shooting every last hidden Jew. Browning describes these routine atrocities vividly. There are, however, problems. The first is a global judgment call about the testimonies of the members of Reserve Battalion 101: "many of these testimonies had a 'feel' of candor and frankness conspicuously absent form the exculpatory, alibi-laden, and mendacious testimony so often encountered in such court records" (Browning xvii). In other words, Browning has decided to believe that these men are telling the truth about everything. But as a reader, I found much of the quoted testimony to be exculpatory and alibi-laden, and I had grave doubts about the truthfulness of the men who claimed to have avoided killing Jews. They were giving this testimony in the 1960s, in the context of prosecutions for the genocidal crimes their battalion committed. Browning doesn't give any further evidence or explanation for this "feel" of candor and frankness, and without that evidence, without something other than Browning's claim to authoritative judgment, I don't understand why we should believe these claims of (even relative) innocence. A second problem, closely related: although Browning admits fully that the vast majority of Police Battalion 101 did not resist their orders to kill Jews, he spends most of his analysis focusing on the very small minority who did resist (or who claimed to have resisted). Thus the impression of his analysis of battalion member testimony--as opposed to the impression of his narrative account of the battalion's actions--is based on those who resisted killing Jews. Now there's nothing inherently wrong with that--if, for instance, this were a book about the resistance to the Final Solution among the Order Police. But it argues that it isn't. It claims to be a book about the participation of the Order Police in the Final Solution, and the impression Browning gives is that that participation was reluctant. But again, by his own account, for roughly 90% of Reserve Battalion 101, that was not the case. Browning focuses on those he finds sympathetic, those who tried, even minimally, to resist. This allows readers to enter a kind of empathic community: even if they failed, they tried. We can accept that they are like us.* And I think, in some measure, that's part of Browning's project: hence his aggressive insistence on the "ordinariness" of his subjects.) But it ducks the larger and uglier question: what about the 90%? They, too, are "ordinary men." Aren't they, too, "like us"? The third problem is the one that Goldhagen was most incensed about, and I can understand why. Browning writes about the ideological pressures on these men as if the Nazis had invented anti-Semitism, describing "years of anti-Semitic propaganda (and prior to the Nazi dictatorship, decades of shrill German nationalism)" (186). Goldhagen goes into exhaustive detail to chronicle the endemic and virulent anti-Semitism in Germany before 1933. The Nazis didn't make that weapon; they just picked it up from where it was lying on the ground. The fourth problem is the one I actually find most disturbing. On several actions, Reserve Battalion 101 was assisted by "Hiwis" (Hilfswilligen), units of POWs from Ukraine, Latvia, and Lithuania "who were screened on the basis of their anti-Communist (and hence almost invariably anti-Semitic) sentiments, offered an escape from probably starvation, and promised that they would not be used in combat against the Soviet army" (52). Browning describes the drunkenness and cruelty of the Hiwis (from the testimony of the Germans); he never seems to consider that they, too, were "ordinary men." In a creepy way (and although he explicitly rejects this with regard to Poles), he accepts the Germans' evaluation of the Hiwis as untermenschen. Throughout this book, then, Browning constructs anti-Semitism as coming from "outside"--either from above (the Nazi leadership, and we all know Hitler is both evil and crazy anyway) or below (the Hiwis and certain members of the battalion who are also tagged as drunkards and sadists). It is never inherent in the "ordinary men" who are his subjects.** This is a very comforting construct, and it greatly assists his project of claiming likeness between his "ordinary" subjects and his "ordinary" readers (not to exculpate his subjects, for Browning is in fact very clear about their crimes and their responsibility, but to encourage his readers to try to understand them instead of demonizing them), but it is untrue. And I think it leaves a critical gap in Browning's study, a critical aspect of the situation that he does not address and that therefore we cannot understand. --- *Who is "us," in this case? Ordinary Men is a book with a strongly implied audience. Without doing a formal analysis of its rhetoric, I still feel fairly certain of my ground in saying that that audience is normative American, i.e., sharing white professional-class values. The implied audience is not Jewish. Nor is it German. Nor is it working-class. It's a little harder to tell about the gender question, because by choosing to study a reserve police battalion, Browning had no choice but to study men. And in general, if you're studying Nazis, you're studying men. (One of the books on my list is about women in Nazi Germany, but fundamentally, everyone in a position of power in Hitler's Germany was male.) But there are some indications that the implied audience is made up of men, too. **This construct explains some of the very peculiar rhetorical and logical moves he makes, as for example: To admit an explicitly political or ideological dimension to their behavior, to concede that the morally inverted world of National Socialism--so at odds with the political culture and accepted norms of the 1960s--had made perfect sense to them at the time, would be to admit that they were political and moral eunuchs who simply accommodated to each successive regime. That was a truth with which few either wanted or were able to come to grips. (150) 1. "political and moral eunuchs"? This is possibly the bizarrest eruption of gender politics into an argument not about gender that I have ever seen. 2. Where did "truth" come from? This is a hypothesis about motivation, nothing more, and it's kind of odd even as a hypothesis. A far more likely one is that, again, as they were testifying to prosecutors, nobody wanted to damn himself by admitting Nazi sympathies. Robert Jay Lifton (The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide) found in his interviews with Nazi doctors that most of them began by asserting compliance with current societal norms, but the longer he talked to them, the more their old Nazi beliefs would start to emerge. But Browning's argument makes sense if you assume that no one (who isn't either Hitler--evil and crazy!--or the untermenschen who are only barely human) can really believe in anti-Semitism. Hence the program of Goldhagen's book to insist that, yes, you could. Ordinary people (men and women) did.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    In this book, Christopher Browning argues that men of Reserve Police Battalion were not necessarily indoctrinated into National Socialist ideology, and instead committed genocide as a result of mundane concerns--pride, career advancement, peer pressure, and sometimes racism without the rest of the baggage that comes with National Socialism. This has broader implications, as it suggests that the Holocaust was not the result of an "authoritarian personality" or National Socialism as an ideology, b In this book, Christopher Browning argues that men of Reserve Police Battalion were not necessarily indoctrinated into National Socialist ideology, and instead committed genocide as a result of mundane concerns--pride, career advancement, peer pressure, and sometimes racism without the rest of the baggage that comes with National Socialism. This has broader implications, as it suggests that the Holocaust was not the result of an "authoritarian personality" or National Socialism as an ideology, but personal exigencies. As such, anyone is capable of committing these same acts if given pressure. This perspective is further supported by numerous psychological tests, including Philip Zimbardo's notorious prison experiment. As in the prison experiment, only about ~20% of the battalion refused to kill Jews. In spite of this, they were still complicit in that they helped to round them up, reward Polish informants, etc. Overall, this is a harrowing work that needs reading. It seems more like common sense today, but Browning's work offers anecdotes and analysis is deeper than simple surface-level narrative.

  27. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is very good, significantly better than "Hitler's Willing Executioners." The argument makes more sense, and the evidence is presented in a much more coherent manner. But I can't really recommend that anyone read this unless you are devoted to studying the Holocaust. It is so awful and grim. It makes one weep for humanity. Really, it is tough to read about war crimes all day. I started to have nightmares about halfway through the book. The sad thing is, it is probably important for humanity This is very good, significantly better than "Hitler's Willing Executioners." The argument makes more sense, and the evidence is presented in a much more coherent manner. But I can't really recommend that anyone read this unless you are devoted to studying the Holocaust. It is so awful and grim. It makes one weep for humanity. Really, it is tough to read about war crimes all day. I started to have nightmares about halfway through the book. The sad thing is, it is probably important for humanity to be forced to face head-on the issues raised by this book. It is important to realize that the Germans during WWII were not some special kind of evil sort of people, but rather ordinary people who show that it isn't all that hard to turn ordinary people into murderers. But facing this stuff is so depressing.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    Christopher Browning's 'Ordinary Men' is a concise, important contribution to Holocaust studies in which the author demonstrates a grasp of the existing body of scholarship on the subject and the documentary evidence. His final chapter and afterword -- in which he responds to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's attacks on his scholarship -- are superb. These two chapters alone are worth the read. In my view, Browning's multi-layered, multi-causal interpretation of German history and the Holocaus Christopher Browning's 'Ordinary Men' is a concise, important contribution to Holocaust studies in which the author demonstrates a grasp of the existing body of scholarship on the subject and the documentary evidence. His final chapter and afterword -- in which he responds to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's attacks on his scholarship -- are superb. These two chapters alone are worth the read. In my view, Browning's multi-layered, multi-causal interpretation of German history and the Holocaust is more persuasive and supported by the evidence than is Goldhagen's, whose book 'Hitler's Willing Executioners' is emotionally powerful but deeply flawed.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    Christopher Browning's study of one Nazi police battalion, Ordinary Men, is disturbing not for its subject but for its implications for humanity. The story follows one battalion as they murder innocent men, women and children while acting as the mobile enforcement wing of the SS in completing the "final solution". The book studies how these men were turned into killers, and what their actions did to their psyches. Browning's research is impeccable and his results terrifying. NC

  30. 4 out of 5

    Hưng Đặng

    (... to be updated) The experience of reading this book makes me want to give its 3 stars, but thinking about the effort of the author and all the truth that this book has brought to light as well as the strong case that it made, I decide to give it a 4 (although not sure I want to read it again). The psychological situation of the few good men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 can be well summarize in this excerpt: Many, nonetheless, joined in the mass killing and masked their fee/> (... to be updated) The experience of reading this book makes me want to give its 3 stars, but thinking about the effort of the author and all the truth that this book has brought to light as well as the strong case that it made, I decide to give it a 4 (although not sure I want to read it again). The psychological situation of the few good men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 can be well summarize in this excerpt: Many, nonetheless, joined in the mass killing and masked their feelings to avoid conspicuous nonconformity. Others who did not take part accepted the stigma of weakness and unmanliness, thereby validating the ethic of toughness of their comrades. Virtually no one dared show solidarity with the victims, reproach their comrades, or criticize the regime, though one could complain about the "dirty business" that the unit had been assigned. Good points - Most people aren't good, they are just ordinary people. Under the right condition they could commit the most horrified crime that normally they could never imagine. That means many cruel criminals are not naturally different with us. - Some people were really strong survivors. Even they had been shot and buried, some of them can still crawled out of the grave => They are human and I am human, it is possible that I am also very strong. - 10 men can guard 8,000 Jews with rifles and guns from 1940s (not very efficient at killing people like now). I can't help but thinking there might be a psychological factors at work. What put those poor victims in line? Perhaps it's right that fear cuts deeper than knife ! Or maybe their dim hope led them to mortality? (quote)...Like much else, killing was something one could get used to - Some of the policemen had made a choice to withdraw from the killing mission but most of them didn't. The choice had been hidden until someone asked => There might always be a different plan than what I deem the only one. - When the leader is corrupted, many followers will also be. - It's easier to induce killing if you can distance the killers with their victims. (quote) The Holocaust, after all, is a story with far too few heroes and all too many perpetrators and victims. (quote) Evil that arises out of ordinary thinking is committed by ordinary people is the norm, not the exception - Most people can't be propagandistically shaped after the age of 27 to 30 - People tends to resolve actions and belief by rationalization or devising justification especially when they are in a situation that's hard to modify their course of actions. Drawbacks It caused me a fair headache while reading this book although I didn't feel that my emotions were stirred up.

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