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Ordinary Men Essay

1182 words - 5 pages

Ordinary Men

Christopher Browning’s book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, examines how ordinary men in Reserve Police Battalion became such cruel, cold-blooded killers. During World War II, the Police Battalion 101 helped cleanse out Poland as part of the Final Solution. The Final Solution was Nazi Germany’s plan to execute all European Jews during the World War II. Most of the Battalion 101 were made up of working class or lower middle class from Hamburg area, with majority of them falling in the age between 37 to 42, which “would not seem to have been a very promising group from which to recruit mass murderers on behalf of the Nazi vision ...view middle of the document...

69). The men did not talk about the killings and tried to forget about it by drinking heavily. Eventually, the unhappiness and unwillingness changed as the killings became more frequent and routine. As the killings continued, the Battalion 101 “became increasingly efficient and calloused executioners” (Browning, pg.77). Not only were they becoming more efficient and cruel killers, the members of the Battalion 101 started to volunteer to kill, which was sufficiently different from their first mass execution at Jozefow. Eventually, there were “so many volunteers that some of them had to be turned away” (Browning, pg.128). The Reserve Police Battalion 101 started their first execution unwillingly, but ended up volunteering to do the killing, as killings became the social norm within the battalion. By the end, “for a battalion of less than 500 men, the ultimate body count was at least 83,000 Jews” (Browning, pg.142). So what was the reason that led these ordinary men from Hamburg that allowed them to commit such killings?
Conformity was the most important reason to explain how the ordinary men in the Reserve Police Battalion 101 became killers. At first, killings for the Battalion 101 started due to orders from higher power. They were ordered to kill by higher authority so they carried out their orders, as “orders were orders, and no one in such a political climate could be expected to disobey them” (Browning, pg.170). Although the killings started as orders from higher authority, it continued because conformity made killings more acceptable which caused the killings to become the social “norm.” Within the Police Battalion 101, killings became such the norm that “to break ranks and step out, to adopt overtly nonconformist behavior, was simply beyond most of the men” (Browning, pg.184). It was so beyond them that “It was easier for them to shoot” (Browning, pg.184) and not deal with the consequences of not shooting. Non-shooters “risked isolation, rejection, and ostracism-a very uncomfortable prospect within the framework of a tight-knit unit stationed abroad among a hostile population” (Browning, pg.185). This was important because while in a hostile location, it was crucial to have peers to turn to for support and social contact, and the men did not want to risk losing that by not shooting. Not only would they lose support and social contact by not shooting, but they were also “potentially indicating that he was too good to do such things” (Browning, pg.185). So the non-shooters tried...

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