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Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland Paperback – April 24, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

Browning reconstructs how a German reserve police battalion composed of "ordinary men," middle-aged, working class people, killed tens of thousands of Jews during WW II.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 24, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060995068
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060995065
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christopher R. Browning is the Frank Porter Graham Professor of History at the University of North Carolina and the author of Ordinary Men and other outstanding works of Holocaust history. He lives in Chapel Hill.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

189 of 201 people found the following review helpful By Steven Hancock on May 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
"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+
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113 of 126 people found the following review helpful By James Ferguson VINE VOICE on November 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
Browning's book came as a welcome relief after trudging through much of Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners. It is interesting that he and Goldhagen approached Battalion 101 from diametrically opposite directions. Browning does not try to assess blame, but rather focus on the circumstances which led to the notorious killing spree of this battalion in Poland. Well researched with some very interesting case studies, Browning illustrates how ordinary men can be made into seemingly ruthless killers. Stalin used many of the same tactics in the Soviet Union, pitting one ethnic group against another, knowing that there would be little identification between ethnic groups in times of war.
Browning provides the background of the men that comprised the battalion and the early vascilation and indecision that took place before finally being used as an execution squad in the months leading up to the Final Solution. He takes the readers through the horrific scenes, showing just how easy it was to succumb to the dictates being handed down through a long chain of command. Browning sees it is a fault-line that runs through humanity and is not specific to any one racial or ethnic group, but is an outgrowth of the devastating conditions of war.
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127 of 146 people found the following review helpful By Rodney J. Szasz on July 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
Browning has written a very important book. He looks at the Reserve Police Battalion 101 from Hamburg made up of mostly middle-aged men mostly of artisans and working class non-career police reservists. The kind of men that were either too old for normal front-line service and those who had no desire to persue a career in the police outside their role in this reserve unit.

Browning uses incredible documentation from postwar German interrogations of men of this unit involved in wartime attrocities. He had access to more than 400 testimonies of the over 500 men that made up this unit during the war. As such he is able to analyse the actions and thinking in greater detail than most other German units.

He describes the insidious use of these units as first guards on trains to transport Jews to extermination camps, to their eventual use in rounding up Jews in the Polish Ghettos, and their use as actual shooters in the extermination of whole villages.

That this unit of 500 men --- made up of police reservists, not trained in combat, and seemingly tangential to entire holocaust programme --- could be directly responsible for the shooting deaths of 38,000 people and the transportion of 100,000s of thousands of others to their deaths, makes depressing reading indeed.

Unfortunately, although Browning documents the horror of this representative small unit, he does not really answer his question of how a father with loving kids in Germany, with no combat experience could one day, be ordered to a village in Poland and in the small hours of the morning kill women and children just because they are Jewish.
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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Walter Zapotoczny on December 9, 2009
Format: Paperback
Christopher Browning describes how the Reserve Police Battalion 101, like the rest of German society, was immersed in a deluge of racist and anti-Semitic propaganda. Browning describes how the Order Police provided indoctrination both in basic training and as an ongoing practice within each unit. Many of the members were not prepared for the killing of Jews. The author examines the reasons some of the police members did not shoot. The physiological effect of isolation, rejection, and ostracism is examined in the context of being assigned to a foreign land with a hostile population. The contradictions imposed by the demands of conscience on the one hand and the norms of the battalion on the other are discussed.

Ordinary Men provides a graphic portrayal of Police Battalion 101's involvement in the Holocaust. The major focus of the book focuses on reconstruction of the events this group of men participated in. According to Browning, the men of Police Battalion 101 were just that--ordinary. They were five hundred middle-aged, working-class men of German descent. A majority of these men were neither Nazi party members nor members of the S.S. They were also from Hamburg, which was a town that was one of the least occupied Nazi areas of Germany and, thus, were not as exposed to the Nazi regime. These men were not self-selected to be part of the order police, nor were they specially selected because of violent characteristics. These men were plucked from their normal lives, put into squads, and given the mission to kill Jews because they were the only people available for the task. Surprisingly, these ordinary men proved to be completely capable of killing tens of thousands of people.
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