Jozefow Essay, Research Paper
There is no doubt that during Hitler s reign in Germany, someone killed Jews. Someone ordered the killings, someone organized the killings and someone killed them. Is there a difference in these someones ? For many years there has been controversy surrounding the extermination of the Jews during the Nazi era. People were tried and convicted for their involvement: some of them denied their contribution, others appeared neutral, and still others were proud of their involvement. These killers came from numerous nationalities, mixed political backgrounds, varied social/economic statuses, and age range. In the article ONE DAY IN JOZEFOW, Initiation to mass murder, the author, Christopher R. Browning, gives his reader an intriguing perspective into the mindset of men who were actually given a choice of whether or not to kill the Jews. Because his perspective only focuses on one specific event, his conclusions are, for the most part, not completely convincing. It is reasonable to believe that there was a stronger underlying force which caused otherwise normal people to become killers during the Nazi era, but Browning s use of minimal sources, skewed numbers and somewhat vague statements, causes the reader to feel they have been subjected to a micro-study with macro conclusions.
Browning s article provides insight into a specific occasion in Jozefow, Poland, where Jews were murdered at point blank range by ordinary policemen. Of these policemen, some were drafted and some volunteered for one reason or another. This group, called Reserve Police Battalion 101, consisted of men around the age of 39 with only about 25 per cent of them belonging to the Nazi Party. (Browning, 304) After studying the court records of interrogations and trials of certain members of this police battalion, Browning discovered that these men were given a chance to reject the task of killing the Jews, yet the majority of them still followed through with the original orders. (Browning, 309) Conclusively Browning argues that this incident provides some proof that if the rest of the Germans that were ordered to kill the Jews had been given a chance to back down, the majority of them would have also rejected the offer.
Browning is effective at his attempt to show the significance of this event for German history. It is important for the average citizen of today to realize that some of the men in the German police forces were given a choice not to kill the Jews. The specific men of Police Battalion 101 were, for the most part, not Nazi party members. According to Browning, most of them were older men who were once working-class German citizens. Very few of them were economically independant and most had held jobs such as truck drivers, dock workers, and machine operators. Many of the men in this battalion were originally from Hamburg, one of Germany s least Nazified cities. (Browning, 304) Browning points out the ages, political backgrounds, and economic statuses, in an effort to show what type of men made up the battalion which was responsible for the murder of over 1500 Jews in Jozefow. He specifically points out that the majority of these men did not belong to the SS or any other anti-Semitic group. They were raised in a social class that in its political culture had been anti-Nazi. (Browning, 304) Once again, this is an attempt by Browning to give his readers an in-depth background of some of Nazi Germany s bloodiest killers that were really not true and loyal Germans.
The sources of this article, consisting soley of judicial records, are reputable and are clearly stated at the beginning of the article. This allows the reader to gain a certain feel for the type of information that will be contained in the article to follow. However, the sources provide only minimal information to support Browning s vast assumptions. Just as with most micro-focus studies, it is hard to make a credible hypothesis based simply on one specific study. In this case the hypothesis simply suggests that any other German soldier, officer or policeman, would have chose to kill Jews even if given the chance to refuse. Even Browning himself states I know of no other case in which a commander so openly invited and sanctioned the nonparticipation of his men in a killing action. (Browning, 314) Therefore the reader is left wondering how Browning could form his hypothesis. It would seem reasonable to become more intrigued as to specific reasons why the men chose to kill anyway.
The statistics given in this article are somewhat shoddy. In some cases it seems that Browning has skewed the numbers to support his thesis. For example, the reader needs to realize that, of the approximately 500 members of Reserve Police Battalion 101, only about 210 of them were included in the records of interrogations. (Browning, 303) This number is less than half of the total battaloin, so when Browning uses words like majority and most , he is referring to the majority or most of less than half of the battalion. The reader should consider the missing weight of the study before coming to agreement or disagreement with Browning s statements. Another instance where numbers seem to be missing is in Browning s reference to the NCO s of the battallion. He states that of the 32 NCO s on whom we have information, 22 were party members but only seven were in the SS. Browning continues to give the reader statistics on these 32 NCO s, but at no point does he provide a total number of NCO s for that particular battalion. Once again, the reader is left wondering how the numbers would compare, given the totals. Browning doesn t extract any specific numbers regarding the men who chose to refuse vs. those who carried out the original orders. Of the men that refused, how many were a part of the 25 percent that belonged to the Nazi Party? In an article that uses at least one full page of statistics, it seems unbelievable that more useful numbers were unavailable.
The article is presented in a logical manner, but at times is also seems quite vague. Words such as older , several and fairly significant can be misleading. In at least two instances, Browning states that the older men were given a chance to refuse killing the Jews. (Browning, 306, 308) Since he has given the statistics to show that the battalion was made up of men ranging in age from 27-42, the reader is given the responsibility to decide at what age older becomes the title. If the reader is not careful, it would be very easy to miss this statement of older men and assume that all of the men in Reserve Police Battalion 101 were given the chance to refuse killing the Jews. Browning also uses the word several when referring to the men that avoided shooting by standing around the trucks looking busy. (Browning, 308) It is not clear if he uses these vague numbers when formulating his final opinion. Browning s effective story-telling techiques and gruesome details draw the reader in. This causes the readers to skim over small details to complete the story . It is not until the article is read numerous times that these small, yet very important, details or missing details begin to widdle away at Browning s hypothesis.
For the average American citizen today, Christopher R. Browning s article ONE DAY IN JOZEFOW, Initiation to mass murder provides a intriguing and insightful look into one specific group of Germans that were tranformed from ordinary, overseeing, policemen, to mass murderers in just one day. If the purpose of the article were just to show this remarkable finding, then Browning s article would be incredibly sufficient. The problem is that he attempts to predict the would-be actions of any German official based soley on one groups action. The fact that members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 chose to continue killing the Jews even after given the opportunity to refuse does not provide enough basis to conclude or predict the actions of any other group. Browning uses minimal sources, skewed numbers and vague statements to support his thesis. Therefore his thesis is, for the most part, unconvincing. If anything at all, it provokes the reader to consider more specifically the reasons WHY these men and all the other murderers of Jews continued to blindly follow orders. Simply stating reasons such as loyalty, need of a job, pursuit of advancement and manliness only minimizes the enormous area that a real study should emcompass.