Ordinary Men By Christopher Browning Essay, Research Paper
ORDINARY MEN by Christopher Browning
Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning accounts for the actions of the German Order Police ( more specifically the actions of Reserve Police Battalion 101in Poland) and the role they played in the Second World War during the Jewish Holocaust. Police Battalion 101 was composed of veterans from World War One and men too old to be drafted into the regular forces: army, navy, air force. Browning himself is uncertain of the accuracy of information that he provides because he based his study on personal testimony recorded in postwar legal investigations. This also offers a biographical profile of a German unit that consisted of approximately 500 men who in the sixteen months starting in July of 1942 participated in the slaughter of more than 80,000 jews. Between August of 1942 and May of 1943 the accounts of the number of jews deported from their homes was estimated at a minimum of 45,200 men women and children as well as an estimated minimum of 38,000 jews shot and killed between July 1942 and November 1943.
Browning’s book is very well written and researched to an exhaustive point. His intent seems to be a focus on the activities of German Police Battalion 101, however this is not the case. Early into the book he seems to go too much into detail about the activities of other police units and it isn’t clear if they are attached to Battalion 101 or if they are simply separate police units used as examples to describe the actions that Battalion 101 would be engaging in that they failed to mention during the war crime inquiries . This leads the reader to get lost in the whole of events taking place. On the other hand, the book is well written and very detailed and researched. The reading flows well and Browning keeps his readers interested. The book has an almost novel like feel to it.
According to Dennis Noble’s review of Browning’s book in the Library Journal 117:180 F 15 ‘92, he is intrigued by the fact that ” the commander of Reserve Battalion 101 gave his men a choice of wether or not they wished to participate in the mass shoutings of Jews of Jozefow, Poland and only a few refused.” Browning mentions this in his book however what noble failed to mention is that only the older men in the battalion were given the choice, Browning on his part fails to mention what happens to the men who do refuse. Do they get mistreated by the rest of the battalion? And what is the peer pressure like between the members of the battalion ? Browning does admit at the end of his book that peer pressure played a great role in the shootings, that the men in Battalion 101 killed the jews because of a combination of peer pressure and orders from superior officers.
Walter Reich’s review in the New York Times Book Review of April 12th 1992, touches more on the aspect of the state of mind of these men who had been given the task of executing the Jewish community in Poland; ” We know a lot about how the Germans
carried out the Holocaust. We know much less about how they felt and what they thought
as they did it, how they were affected and what they did, and what made it possible for them
to do it.” Browning is able to tell us in his book about the lives of these Germans and how they were psychologically transformed from ordinary men into the people who participated actively in the worst crime against humanity in known history and how they did it.
In his review, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, New Repub 207:49 July 13 1992, refers to the fact that Brownings book does reduce ” the German’s singular and deeply rooted, racist anti-semitism to little more than one manifestation of a common social psychological phenomenon…” Although Browning does state that the social and peer pressures eased the German’s transformation into being mass murderers. Even if theses pressures are powerful, it doesn’t account for the actions of all the Germans in every aspect of the war. The soldiers and reservists couldn’t have been all that opposed to the killings when given the option to remove themselves from the killings and they didn’t. To take things to another extreme they actually volunteered for killing missions which goes to show to what point they believed in the justification of murdering the Jews without exception and without any compassion as if they enjoyed watching them suffer.
It isn’t’ like the Jews had ravaged the German population and the German’s were taking out their revenge on them, these murders are horrible because they took place in massive numbers without provocation whatsoever. The Jews were slaughtered because they had different beliefs and Browning does an incredible job at depicting this throughout
the book. The only downfall however minor it is the inaccuracy of his information because it does find it’s sources in personal testimony of people being accused of war crimes with their lives in jeopardy and his lack of visible primary documents.