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Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
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The shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews.

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

Customer Reviews:

  • A decent over-view of the Police Battalions terrible actions
    Thorough, percise, an easy read. Not greatly intellectual but useful in research....more info
  • A MUST-READ SO HISTORY WON'T REPEAT ITSELF
    This book reveals how a military idealogy can transform shopkeepers, bankers, and any other average citizen into a killing machine that destroys men, women and children on the sole basis of ethnic background. It tells the truth about Nazi controlled militia groups executing the Jewish peoples and how they tried to cope with the reality of what they had done. It is a must read so history will not repeat itself....more info
  • Must read.
    Rather than try offer a magazine style critique on the book, I'll simply recommend, fellow reader, that you get it. I'll assume that, like me, you are interested in learning about this aspect of WW2 history. I found it to be the best (non-contemporary) book I have read on the subject....more info
  • Unsettling and frightening...
    If you still are amazed that the holocaust ever happened, reading this book will help to provide some answers. Some of the details are a bit boring, but the basic purpose for the book is well defined. Frightening to realize that just about "anyone" can be coerced to do "anything."...more info
  • Unsettling and frightening...
    If you still are amazed that the holocaust ever happened, reading this book will help to provide some answers. Some of the details are a bit boring, but the basic purpose for the book is well defined. Frightening to realize that just about "anyone" can be coerced to do "anything."...more info
  • A Necessary Antidote To Goldhagen
    I would say to anyone who casually read Goldhagen's book that this is it's far better researched and rational nemesis. It comes to more sound conclusions using more objective evidence. You would do far better to read this....more info
  • Memorable
    I read this book about ten years ago for a class, and it's really stuck with me....more info
  • May the Force be with US
    Some psychological research by Milgram and Zimbardo and others shows it is disturbingly easy to get ordinary people to torture and brutalize somebody and/or to kill them. This happens so often and so easily in the laboratory that it can be deeply troubling to see it.

    I think what these personal histories (like "Ordinary Men") go on to show is that people can also "get used to it" that is, torture and murder while they seem in many ways still to be rather ordinary.

    (American GIs and law enforcement officers, two groups I've lived with, can all too easily get into the thousand-mile-stare, just-another-day-at-the-war, kill-them-all-let-God-sort-them-out frame of mind).

    Even more disturbing is the tendency for some "ordinary" people to go even further. They come to like the killing. Fighter pilots get the "hunter disease." Serial killers really do get a taste for it. So, they do not stay truly ordinary. For the most part, they are never "the same" again. But they don't grow horns either.

    As a man, I'm not at ease that almost all of what we are discussing is a "guy thing." Women share some of this, but (certainly statistically) not much.

    I've come to believe in the myths. Man has both the light side and the dark side of the force within. Which come to the fore depends on a great deal.

    Both the very best and worst of us, the angels and the killers, were, I believe, somehow, somewhere, once just "ordinary men."...more info

  • How important stories get to be told the wrong way
    Another brick from the the Professors' classroom. I got to page 148, which was quite a feat, believe you me. But important it is. I don't deny that, and true too.

    Here's a token of the Professor's clear narrative style: "The portrayal of German-Polish and German-Jewish relations in these testimonies is extraordinarily exculpatory; in contrast, the portrayal of Polish-Jewish relations is extraordinarily damning. If we begin by examining the first two relationships as described by the former policemen, we can better see the asymmetry and distortion involved in their account of the third." Of the third! The third what? Do you know what he's taking about anymore?

    Please, give me a break, mister. I believe the Lord gives gifts and talents to every one of His creatures. You can pick to be a bullfighter, a fireman, or a professor. But pick right....more info
  • The ease of going with the flow...
    This book sort of explains the question "how could normal people do such terrible things?" or "how could normal people act that way?" - When those normal people are put into a situation that is abnormal for them and where they are the superior force there is no telling how far people will drift from their previous normal behavior and thinking. This book is very interesting in that it shows that most people will conform to even disgusting behavior if they start to feel it is the norm through indoctination, reality, or peer pressure. - . An interesting study of how people can be modified in their thinking and behavior....more info
  • Frightfully banal
    This book, which follows step by step the itinerary of a battalion of German security police in the East during WWII, is a scary confirmation of Hannah Arendt's theory on the "banality of evil" that emerged after Eichmann's trial in 1961. It shows how perfectly average people, representing a cross-section of a developped country's society, when placed in certain circumstances, are able to perform the most gruesome and crual acts of barbary in an efficient and non-committal way against innocent populations. It is a depressing book, all the more so as almost none of these perpetrators suffered any consequence after the war. They went on to live their banal and mediocre lives as ordinary people, until the 1960's when some of them were tried and suffered very light sentences....more info
  • A must read to view the mindset of the Einsatzgruppen.
    In this book Christopher Browning takes the reader along with Reserve Police Battalion 101, as it weaves a path of death and destruction through the Jewish shtetls of rural Poland. Follow these ordinary men as they make a quantum leap from "banality", to mass murder....more info
  • Frightfully banal
    This book, which follows step by step the itinerary of a battalion of German security police in the East during WWII, is a scary confirmation of Hannah Arendt's theory on the "banality of evil" that emerged after Eichmann's trial in 1961. It shows how perfectly average people, representing a cross-section of a developped country's society, when placed in certain circumstances, are able to perform the most gruesome and crual acts of barbary in an efficient and non-committal way against innocent populations. It is a depressing book, all the more so as almost none of these perpetrators suffered any consequence after the war. They went on to live their banal and mediocre lives as ordinary people, until the 1960's when some of them were tried and suffered very light sentences....more info
  • A very carefully researched and written book
    The thesis is darkness lurks in the hearts of men. But I'm not sure it is that much. Remember the comment about the Nazis--the "banality of evil." Reserve Police Batallion 101 fits the definition. Evil isn't interesting. In that sense it isn't even evil. It is simply cruel, stupid, monstrous without insight or knowlege. As interesting and as evil as a meat grinder. But the Jews were the meat, and the men of the police batallion were the motor that ran the grinder. Some of the reviews compare the German policemen to the Americans against the Japanese in WWII or in Viet Nam. Big difference, I would say, between a caculated, deliberate plan to exterminate a race, men, women, children, virtually all non-combatants, and ferocity in war against an armed enemy...more info
  • Interesting, but can be bland
    Browning's book is interesting and is truly a very important work that should be ready by everyone. In describing Battalion 101 he shows how ordinary men became killers. He also shows how men would shirk duty or attempt to avoid taking part in mass murders. All of this makes for a very interesting read. However, some of the interest is lost because parts of the book can be dry or stats heavy. Still, that should not dissuade anyone from reading this book....more info
  • Not for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach!
    This book (as described by previous reviewers and the product description) details what the men in the Nazi Reserve Police Battalion 101 went through, specifically during the SS Invasion of Poland.

    Browning describes in detail the process of dehumanizing the Jews, and writes at length on the style of execution that the Germans refined and perfected in Poland, prior to the widespread use of gas chambers: the person to be killed forced to lie down flat on their face, and then shot at a particular spot in their neck. The accounts of these executions is not just gratuitous violence -- graphic gore for the sake of shock or horror -- but rather, demonstrates that over time, the police officers involved in the executions worked to make the process of mass killing more humane (an idea that was at the root of the gas chambers, as ironic as that seems). It also serves to drive home the point that after so many hundreds of people were shot, the officers were able to completely dehumanize the people they were killing.

    What is unique about this book is that it is not just another historical account; the author takes into consideration what the Nazis themselves had to go through, psychologically and emotionally, in order to carry out their orders. Many other historians have analyzed historical events during WWII while still demonizing the Nazi forces ~ but Browning shows us that the troops really were Ordinary Men, and these men suffered tremendous emotional tolls as a result.

    And herein lies the Truth that makes this book so chilling: any one of us could have found ourselves in the very same position, carrying out the very same orders, as the German troops in WWII.

    Browning describes the various social conditions and governmental policies that effected how the Nazis were able to so completely dehumanize their enemy and rationalize their own involvement -- in part, because the men were assuaged of their sense of responsibility for their actions, and also in part due to the tremendous number of times that the actions had to be carried out. Repetition bred a sense of normalcy.

    In the Afterword, Browning addresses another author who has critiqued Browning's work -- Daniel Jonah Goldhagen -- whose work I feel compelled to mention since it directly relates to this book.

    I highly recommend this book to anyone who is studying modern history, sociology / psychology, or WWII, but keep in mind that it is extremely graphic and very, very hard to read -- not because of the language used, but because of the events that Browning so meticulously describes....more info
  • Unanswered questions
    Christopher Browning's _Ordinary Men_ deserves the acclaim it has generated during the years since its publication. It is a lucid, probing, and careful account of how a group of Order Police from Hamburg were transformed, in the course of only days, into committed perpetrators of genocide. Contrary to a common assumption, even within the field of Holocaust studies, Browning's book does _not_ provide an overall explanation of what motivated Holocaust perpetrators. Rather, the focus on Battalion 101 and its very particular history allows Browning to exclude or minimize a number of the factors most often cited in work on perpetrator motivation and, in essence, to see what is left. For Browning, what especially is left are certain forces toward group cohesion--what he puts under the rubric of "conformity"--that emerge as most central in his explanation (although not to the exclusion of other factors, particularly the brutalization of war itself, German military culture, careerism, racism, and more).

    What remains unknown is the degree to which Browning's findings for Battalion 101 are generalizable. That is, this particular case has enabled him to hightlight an explanatory dimension that we might otherwise have overlooked. But whether what Browning calls "conformity" plays an overriding role in other contexts of Holocaust killing--or in mass murder more generally--requires far more study than this volume provides. To its enduring credit, it has inspired key work in that direction, some of which complements its own findings and some of which does not.

    By the way, the Amazon review is incorrect in saying that this book is based on Browning's own interviews. It is entirely based on court records and desposition, not any interviews Browning conducted personally....more info
  • HOW DO ORDINARY MEN BECOME COLD-BLOODED KILLERS?
    "Ordinary Men" chronicles the rise and fall of Reserve Police Battalion 101, one of several units that took part in the Final Solution to the Jewish Question while in Poland. During the course of their stay, they were responsible for the shooting of 38,000 Jews, while also deporting 45,200 to the Treblinka Concentration Camp. The book argues that the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, and other units like it, were comprised of ordinary men. It begs the question: How did ordinary men become the cold-blooded killers of the Holocaust?
    Author Christopher R. Browning does a tremendous job of covering the ground. He also presents a strong case that these people were indeed ordinary men, who came from ordinary backgrounds, only to end up being transformed into the murderers of thousands. However, the book also stresses that some of the men, including several officers, could not be considered "ordinary," as they were trained in Hitler's Nazi organizations from youth. Browning also does something nearly impossible: He humanizes these people without excusing their horrendous actions. Their defense that "they were just following orders" just doesn't fit the bill, as some refused to take part in the actions, and asked to be relieved. If a few men could get themselves relieved from doing the killings, why did so many more not? That is the main question the book gives.
    "Ordinary Men" is an extraordinary book that chronicles just one unit that took part in the murder of innocent Jews, while also presenting a good case of how ordinary men can become killers. I highly recommend this book to all students of the Holocaust.
    Grade: A+...more info
  • AN EXTRAORDINARY LOOK AT "ORDINARY MEN"
    Although this book was an assigned reading for a college class, its honest portrayal of how regular men can be transformed into compassionless automatons captivated us. While one is usually quick to condemn Hitler's Germany and assume the moral high ground, this book made us stop and wonder what our actions would have been under the same circumstances. The way Browning described the drunken games the battalion would play to alleviate the horror of what they were doing is shocking and yet poignant. The decisions that the men were asked to make are foreign to our society. Nevertheless, every reader can understand the pressures that they faced. It is a story of courage and cowardice, of guilt and amorality; one which the reader is not likely to forget. Browning deftly brings to the surface issues that the reader would not have otherwise considered. It is a rewarding read for the casual reader and the history buff alike....more info
  • Not all Germans were alike
    No punishment was ever given to anyone who chose not to participate in the mass killings. The question this book attempts to solve is, "Why did Germans who were opposed to killing end up killing?" The book is powerful when describing events and questioning actions, but boring when it is not....more info
  • Excellent
    Very well-done and insightful study on ordinary Germans in the Holocaust and Browning's overall thesis extends to "ordinary men" in many circumstances....more info
  • Ordinary Men, But Not Ordinary Motivations
    The focus of Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men is how and why could the seemingly ordinary men of Police Battalion 101 shoot and deport Jews as they did, mostly in Poland's version of the Final Solution. He draws on the interrogations of over 100 members of Police Battalion 101 conducted during the 1960s.

    Lurking in the background is the commonly held misconception of the perpetrators of the Holocaust as anti-Semitic, Nazis, and sadistic. Browning suggests that what is striking about the men of Police Battalion 101 is their ordinariness. First of all, they were middle-aged (32-48), meaning that they had been exposed to alternative world views because they had been socialized before the Nazis came to power and they had families. Secondly, with the exception of the officers who were career policemen, they were working-class, one of the groups least inclined to support the Nazis. Only a quarter of the group were members of the Nazi party, most of whom were the officers, and only six had been members of the party before Hitler, most of whom had not gone on to much within the party ranks. Thirdly, they were from Hamburg, which was not known for its support of the Nazis. Fourthly, unlike S.S. men, they were not trained killers, but had been selected because they were too old for the army or because they had volunteered to avoid the draft. Seemingly then, their age, class, region, and reason for selection suggest ordinariness and no indication that these men would become mass murderers.

    Nevertheless, we learn that almost all of these men were involved in shootings and deportations to Treblinka. What is most shocking is that on several occasions commanding officers like Major Trapp offered them chances to withdraw themselves from the murder process. According to Browning, only 10-20% accepted such an offer. According to Browning, the only punishment these men faced was the ridicule of their colleagues. He suggests that the men of Police Battalion 101 knew that people were not punished and were reassured by occasional tearful breakdowns by commanding officers. Browning also suggests that these men had untold numbers of opportunities to remove themselves when not under watchful eyes, such as not pursuing their victims mercilessly when scavenging through a forest. Nevertheless, volunteers were always plentiful, even from musicians that accompanied the battalion.

    Browning suggests that anti-Semitism and indoctrination had little to do with why the men killed as they did. He goes on to suggest that the amount of indoctrination that the men received was really quite small. Browning also claims that the men of the battalion reported that they were repulsed by the gruesomeness of the killing process. Browning claims that their educational level prevents them from articulating that they were really morally repulsed. In other words, these men were not anti-Semitic, their indoctrination could not have made them so, and they had a lot of problems with what they were doing. So why did they do it? According to Browning, it was pressure to conform.

    Browning's case-study approach, i.e. focusing on a specific police battalion, is a refreshing change from the traditional focus on the camps. And some of the individual parts of the book are fascinating, including the Harvest Festival hunt, the person of Major Trapp, the father that turns in his daughter to save his own life, and the Polish husband that chooses to be shot with his Jewish wife. However, there are a number of problems with his work, including its central premise. In hindsight, we can see that perhaps these men faced nothing other than a good deal of verbal abuse from their colleagues if they did not partake in the murders. But, no matter how many people the men saw go unpunished or how many officers they saw in tears, they better than anybody, understood the illogical and unpredictable nature of the Third Reich. In other words, could they really have been confident enough of not been punished to cause them to withdraw in large numbers? Browning relies on the post-war testimony of men who have a pressing interest to downplay their willingness to participate in killing activities and their anti- Semitism. Also, a few hours a week of indoctrination is considerable. The level of indoctrination increases when one considers that just about everything during this time was steeped in anti-Semitic garb. The men may claim that anti-Semitism had very little to do with it and that indoctrination was not a factor, but how can they judge themselves reliably? Not to mention, their enthusiastic participation in search and destroy missions to ferret out hiding Jews and the level of volunteering which characterized this group suggests anything other than an unarticulated moral repulsion. What these men were expressing revulsion at was the blood and guts on their clothes, nothing more. One also has to ask why Browning is unwilling to believe these men when they say that they were repulsed by the gruesomeness and offer his own explanation of moral revulsion, when he is willing to believe them any other time. One also has to wonder how ordinary this group is when many of its leaders were career cops and members of the Nazi Party.

    The claim that the men did what they did because of the pressure of conformity is most unsatisfactory. I agree with Browning that it was not a matter of bureaucracy or routine, nor was it a matter of segmentation and depersonalization of the murder process through space. Clearly, the men with brains and guts splattered on them were waist high in the Final Solution. But are we supposed to accept that peer pressure caused men to butcher other men repeatedly, even as they walked with old women and young girls to graves time and time again to shoot them in the back of the head?

    There are many weaknesses with Daniel Goldhagen's book Hitler's Willing Executioners, but his treatment of this Battalion is far more satisfactory that Browning's. There is too much evidence suggesting that these men were enthusiastic murderers....more info

  • Shocking reading
    This complete study of an ordinary security unit which perpetrated a shocking attrocity give the reader dark insights into the minds of the murderers who perpetrated Hitler's nightmare upon Jews and others. No pack of nazi fanatics or even anti-semites. Not a group of habitual criminals like Dirlewanger's gang. Just oridnary men who one day murdered thousands of men women and children while sending others to the death camp of Treblinka.

    Shocking. Depressing to read but necessary.

    Most shocking to me was what these men testifed was the reaction of the Polish population. Many actually thanked them for doing it or baught drinks for them. ...more info
  • An Essential Book for Understanding the Holocaust
    If I were given the impossible task of sellecting three essential books to help one understand the holocaust, "Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalian 101 and the Final Solution in Poland" would be on the list. If there is any doubt in ones mind that the holocaust did or could occur, or more importantly, be repeated, this book will dispell that doubt. No other book, among the scores I've read on this subject, explains the forces within a fascist state which can turn a civilization in upon itself. The reader will see and understand clearly that the average man can be compelled by the political forces around him to revert to savagery for savagery's sake. If the purpose of civilization is to elevate the human condition...here in these pages you will discover the antithesis of civilization. And you will begin to understand how it could have happened....and how it could happen again....more info
  • How important stories get to be told the wrong way
    Another brick from the the Professors' classroom. I got to page 148, which was quite a feat, believe you me. But important it is. I don't deny that, and true too.

    Here's a token of the Professor's clear narrative style: "The portrayal of German-Polish and German-Jewish relations in these testimonies is extraordinarily exculpatory; in contrast, the portrayal of Polish-Jewish relations is extraordinarily damning. If we begin by examining the first two relationships as described by the former policemen, we can better see the asymmetry and distortion involved in their account of the third." Of the third! The third what? Do you know what he's taking about anymore?

    Please, give me a break, mister. I believe the Lord gives gifts and talents to every one of His creatures. You can pick to be a bullfighter, a fireman, or a professor. But pick right....more info