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Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland Paperback – February 28, 2017
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“Helps us understand, better than we did before, not only what they did to make the Holocaust happen but also how they were transformed psychologically from the ordinary men of [the] title into active participants in the most monstrous crime in human history.” (New York Times Book Review)
“It is the care with which Browning examines the evidence, as well as the soberness of his conclusions, that gives this work such power and impact.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“A remarkable—and singularly chilling—glimpse of human behavior. . .This meticulously researched book...represents a major contribution to the literature of the Holocaust." (Newsweek)
From the Back Cover
Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as roundups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of moral norms to justify their actions. Very quickly three groups emerged within the battalion: a core of eager killers, a plurality who carried out their duties reliably but without initiative, and a small minority who evaded participation in the acts of killing without diminishing the murderous efficiency of the battalion whatsoever.
While the book discusses a specific reserve unit during World War II, the general argument Browning makes is that most people are susceptible to the pressure of a group setting and committing actions they would never do of their own volition.
Ordinary Men is a powerful, chilling, and important work with themes and arguments that continue to resonate today.
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062303028
- Product dimensions : 5.31 x 0.86 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Revised edition (February 28, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #7,022 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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This should be required reading in schools, if you were to ask me. I cannot recommend it enough.
The first mass murder takes place in a Polish town called Jozefow. The commander of the unit was teary-eyed and choked up when he gave the order to his men. Accounts hold that he even gave them a way out, stating that if any man didn’t think they were up for the challenge (of murdering thousands of Jews on that day), they were free to step down. About twelve men (among hundreds) decided to step down and opt out of the killing. As a side note, these are the men we should really be studying, because if every man had their courage, we may have avoided the Holocaust altogether. Nevertheless, 1,500 Jews were shot in the back of the head and neck that day. Many were killed on the spot, and many were gravely injured, but left in the mass grave to suffer a slow, more painful death, being suffocated by their friends and family as they fell on top of them.
The book follows the battalion through other such mass killings, Judenjagd (“Jew Hunt”) in the Polish countryside, and their participation in gathering up and deporting Jews to Treblinka (a literal death sentence). Ultimately, these bakers, salesmen, and police officers were directly responsible for the deaths of 38,000 men, women and children through mass-shootings, and another 45,200 through collecting people from the ghettos and forcing them onto trains for Treblinka (a Nazi extermination camp).
Browning offers up a variety of reasons that these ordinary men participated in genocide, some more pertinent than others. Among those reasons are deference to authority, psychological need for conformity, fear of a brutal regime, fear of looking “weak” in front of other members of the battalion, detachment from the people they were killing, and indoctrination via the Nazi propaganda machine. None of these individual reasons would have been enough to drive ordinary men to mass murder, but altogether, the reasons became enough for many of them.
“But those who killed cannot be absolved by the notion that anyone in the same situation would have done as they did. For even among them, some refused to kill and others stopped killing. Human responsibility is ultimately an individual matter.” -Christopher Browning via Ordinary Men Chapter 18
While reading Browning’s conclusions, I couldn’t help but think about the conclusions of other men who have grappled with the evil deeds of men. In their own ways, both Jung and Solzhenitsyn tell us that we all have the inherent capability for malevolence. Jung adds that being hyper-aware of that fact is essentially our only shot at preventing us from acting upon it.
“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn via The Gulag Archipelago
“…inasmuch as I become conscious of my shadow I also remember that I am a human being like any other.” -Carl Jung
Final say: 4/5 stars. This is a very powerful book that is difficult to read at times due to the (necessarily) graphic depictions of violence. If you are at all interested in human nature or World War II, read this book.
The reason this is an IMPORTANT read is that it gives you a glimpse into the capacity that all humans have to do evil. It forces you to think and consider that, to embrace it, so that you can think on how you might avoid doing things like some of these men did. These were ordinary men - middle aged men with families who mostly joined reserve police as a way to avoid frontline combat or who had a lineage of policing. They never signed up to become mass murderers, but 90% of them did anyway.
This book also clears the misconception that these men had no choice to do what they did. Those that refused to participate never faced any real consequences except for social stigma. Think on that.
Overall, a difficult but good read.
This would be a one-star book if it were not for the excellent discussion of the Stanley Milgram experiments and their relevance at the end, with more detail than I have previously seen on those events.
Top reviews from other countries
A warning as to how groups of conscripted ‘ordinary men’ can be manipulated, coerced and encouraged to carry out acts of dehumanising evil. ending in slaughter and cold hearted murder on an industrial scale. While some soldiers refused to carry out their orders, others relished the murder, The frightening point of this book is that the majority of conscripts simply shrugged their shoulders and got on with the ‘job’ at hand.
Mass murder and genocide have happened more than once throughout human history, they will very probably happen again. None are so blind as those blinded by ideology and labouring under the illusion of ‘a grand destiny’. Then there are those who harden their hearts and either ‘just follow orders’ or simply ‘look the other way.’. Truly terrifying food for thought.
A truly brilliant account of the horrors of the Nazi regime and how easily they could happen again.
The sad thing is the book also shows how little justice has been served for the most cruel murders of thousands of men, women and children. When the legal system did act, the punishment was laughably inadequate and almost certainly didn't affect the most serious offenders. Policeman murdering Jews during the war serving also as a policeman after the war is telling us possibly more than the author intended... It shows that Nuremberg trials have only given us "feel good illusion of justice" while most of the "ordinary murderers" were not only not punished but lived their lives even in positions demanding respect.