Summary Paper On Ordinary Men
By Benjamin Codas
November 5, 2018
When the majority of people think about the Nazi soldiers who carried out horrific actions during the Holocaust, they immediately depict them as animals that were out for blood and had no regard for human life. But Christopher Browning’s tremendous book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, allows its readers to take a look at the Holocaust through the eyes of the perpetrators, something that is not available to a large extent. The main focus for Browning in his book is on the Reserve Police Battalion 101, a group of individuals who were older, working class men from the city of Hamburg, Germany. The choice to focus on these men is very important because it creates a question: How could these men become hardened killers and perform mass murders? The book introduces several key figures such as Wilhelm Trapp, Julius Wohlauf, Hartwig Gnade, Heinz Buchmann and many others who allow for an important understanding of what the men tasked with the killing of Jews were really feeling when they had to carry out an order. It is revealed in the book that there were small groups of men who refused to participate in certain executions, but there were also men who certainly did not care to get their hands dirty. By the time Browning was finished with his research on Battalion 101 he made one thing very clear. These men did not kill based on a concrete hatred for the Jewish people or because of blood lust, battalion 101 killed based on obedience to authority, the notion of peer pressure, and the fact they were cogs in a deadly machine.
During the middle years of the war, leaders of the Nazis such as Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goring and others devised a plan to liquidate the Jews of Europe as part of the Final Solution. Taking place mostly in Poland, the Nazis wanted to organize an intense wave of mass murder in order to clear out the Jewish ghettos and rid the Jews living amongst Polish towns. But this was no small project; there were thousands upon thousands of Jews living across Poland and for the Nazis plan to succeed they needed to find more manpower. Instead of sending in their highly trained soldiers to perform the necessary actions, the Nazis decided to turn to their order police.
The Reserve Police Battalion 101, the main focal point of Browning’s book, was a unit of the order police who were deployed in 1939 to Poland. However Battalion 101 did not seem like the ideal choice to be sent in based on their background. The men were from the lower orders of German society and experienced very few social or geographic mobility experiences. They came from Hamburg, a part of Germany that had been considerably less affected by the Nazi ideology, and they knew of standards and norms other than the ones the Nazis were preaching.[footnoteRef:1] These men seemed like the complete opposite of those the Nazis wanted, so how does Browning explain the...