Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

by Christopher R. Browning


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“A remarkable—and singularly chilling—glimpse of human behavior. . .This meticulously researched book...represents a major contribution to the literature of the Holocaust."—Newsweek 

Christopher R. Browning’s shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews—now with a new afterword and additional photographs.

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 round-ups 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, rather, 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 this book discusses a specific Reserve Unit during WWII, the general argument Browning makes is that most people succumb to the pressures of a group setting and commit 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.  

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062303028
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/28/2017
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 28,644
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Christopher R. Browning is professor of history at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. He is a contributor to Yad Vashem's official twenty-four-volume history of the Holocaust and the author of two earlier books on the subject.

Table of Contents

Illustrations xi

Preface xv

1 One Morning in Józefów 1

2 The Order Police 3

3 The Order Police and the Final Solution: Russia 1941 9

4 The Order Police and the Final Solution: Deportation 26

5 Reserve Police Battalion 101 38

6 Arrival in Poland 49

7 Initiation to Mass Murder: The Józefów Massacre 55

8 Reflections on a Massacre 72

9 Lomazy: The Descent of Second Company 78

10 The August Deportations to Treblinka 88

11 Late-September Shootings 97

12 The Deportations Resume 104

13 The Strange Health of Captain Hoffmann 114

14 The "Jew Hunt" 121

15 The Last Massacres: "Harvest Festival" 133

16 Aftermath 143

17 Germans, Poles, and Jews 147

18 Ordinary Men 159

Afterword 191

Twenty-Five Years Later 225

Appendix: Shootings and Deportations by Reserve Police Battalion 101 293

Notes 295

Index 333

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Ordinary Men 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am fascinated by World War II and the Holocaust. Ordinary Men is an incredible book about how Hitler and his top officers manipulated and changed regular citizens into mass murdering machines. It is very graphic at times. I am not a huge reader but I could not put this book down.
Cougar_H More than 1 year ago
The book i read, Ordinary Men, by Christopher R. Browning. I must start by ssaying that this book was extremely distrubing. The atrocities the police comitten are descired in graphic detail. These men did not start out as killing machines. Just regular civilians from the urban area, in a way transformed into mass murders, "killing machines". This author took me as an ordinary human being, through process of intial shock to a troubling feeling of nothingness. Throughout the monograph, the reader learns of the desensitization to killig of the majority of the policemen. After some months of killing, for example, the policemen are able to talk with ease about killing women and children. It shocks me how they can change from being a really loving and caring person to this, "in-human" person and be able to speak of his wrongs in a way/sense of well being. You would normally think that doing such a thing would in terms, mess you up, which it didn't seem to do to these men.. Browning provides and in-depth look at the history of the Order Police, of which Battalion 101 is a part. While Browning discusses the political, social, and economic circumstances surronding the decisions of the policemen, he fails to note if religious convictions played a part in whether the men chose to kill. I think a crucial piece of information because if in fact these men were religious in such a way to not want to take part in the killing of men, women and children, what happened to them? They die? Were they forced to work? Many questions unanswered.
AvidReader711 More than 1 year ago
This is a painful book to read because Browning clearly and concisely presents the facts surrounding one of the Nazi killing squads that murdered Jews in Poland ...we are shown how these "ordinary men," many of whom were older career soldiers who had fought in WWI, men who typically went to church on Sunday and were devoted to their families, slowly became capable of murdering Polish civilians for the simple reason that they were Jewish. The book challenges us to ask the hard questions: how capable are we of critical thinking? Would we resist unjust orders? Would we question authority? Would we risk our career if we were ordered to do something fundamentally and heinously immoral? Browning doesn't preach and there are no histrionics here...just the careful work of a world-class historian. He obviously cares about the issues but he lets the reader grapple with the information that he has painstakingly compiled through long hours spent in archives in Germany and Israel. The only way I got through this book was to read a book by one of Browning's protégés, a historian named Mark Klempner, who wrote a book called "The Heart Has Reasons" about righteous gentiles that were risking their lives to hide and help Jews in Holland, even as the killing squads were terrorizing their own county and an all-out effort was underway by the Nazis to make Holland "Jew-free." As Browning writes in the forward, "If the Holocaust is a story with all too many perpetrators and victims, and all too few heroes, the goodness of the rescuers is as difficult to explain as the evil of the perpetrators." Klempner, unlike Browning, used an oral history approach and actually interviewed the rescuers so that they could explain in their own words how and why they did what they did.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First, I must start by saying that this book was extremely disturbing. The atrocities the police committed are described in graphic detail. These men did not start out as killing machines. They were older, blue-collar workers from an urban environment, the very antithesis of those people drawn to Nazi ideology. What Browning does is to follow these men from their first 'clean up' mission, when many of the men are horrified by their actios, right through to the Nazi's Final Solution, when these same men began to volunteer for murder missions. Browning graphically portrays how no human being can HONESTLY say they would never be caught up in this type of situation. This book will disturb you, and leave you with many questions about humanity...and yourself...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was an assigned reading for a European history class I took two years ago. I have never been impacted so much by a book in my life. The text very explicitly confronts the reader with the terrible realities of the holocaust. I did not 'enjoy' reading this book. I cried and had trouble sleeping at night after reading only the first half of it. I found the second half easier to swallow, although it was just as violent. I felt desensitized, which was comforting but frightening at the same time, because this author took me, as an ordinary human being, through the process of initial shock to a troubling feeling of nothingness. These were ordinary men that committed unspeakable atrocities. In order to prevent the repetition of history we must embrace the knowledge learned first-hand by our parents and grandparents. I have lent this book out to many of my friends with high reccomendations and I encourage you to read it and do the same.
Travismordechai More than 1 year ago
Mr. Browning presents a lot of numerical statistics in this book which dehumanize the actual victims and takes away any amount of emotion the reader should garner from an historical account of the slaughter of 6 million Jews. He focuses mainly on the personality of a group of german police auxiliary officers who are sent to Poland to murder Jewish men, women and children. He recites a few examples where these-mostly older- germans express either some hesistation or illness either after shooting people or when told what they are going to do but most of the book is practically "justifying" the thoughts and actions of "ordinary men". ORDINARY men do not shoot innocent people. At the end of the book (which is rather abrupt) he dedicates a chapter to refuting all of the ideas and facts that the author Daniel Jonah Goldhagen puts forth in his own award-winning book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners." This chapter infuriated me so much that I found my receipt and returned the book to the store I had bought it at. If anything, Browning's book, Ordinary Men, seems to defend the civilian older men and boys, who volunteered for the german police and ss bands and participated in the murders of thousands of men, women and children with a coldness that is not part of humanity. If you want to read a worthy, well-written, fully-researched, factual book about the willing participation of the average german civilian in the murders of 6 million Jewish men, women and children, skip this book and pick up a copy of Goldhagen's "Hitler's Willing Executioners." That is an Excellent book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Ordinary Men' seemed like an interesting title in relation to the content of this book. However, apart from very few generic facts about the members of Reserve Police Battalion 101, I failed to see what made these men so common, especially in comparison to any other average German soldier conscripted during World War II. The saving grace of this book for me, was in its illuminating data about the actions Reserve Police Battalion 101 participated in as well as the informative insight into the logistical methods it employed. The author argues that changing names due to privacy requests does not alter the historical significance of this work - and I agree. However, the Afterword in this book seems highly unnecessary. The author defends his work against another book written from a different perspective and study of the same documents used for 'Ordinary Men'. To me, this took on a tone of the author begging the reader to 'believe his account' of these events and to disregard the other book. 'Ordinary Men' is a fascinating account of Reserve Police Battalion 101 but the title seems inappropriate as there is very little examination into the alleged mediocrity of the men in question.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book will leave you questioning whether or not you, too, would obey commands to murder your fellow man. The path that the men from police battalion 101 took from normal citizen to dehumanizing murderer is a shocking one -- the same man who lost his lunch at the thought of killing innocent Jews became the most eager to participate at the close of the book. Browning also broaches the subject of what happens when a battalion-member says 'no' to the killing -- veritably nothing (he is scoffed at for being weak, perhaps, or sent home in 'shame'). I also agree with Browning's approach to this subject, in that he did not teleologically examine the Holocaust and attempt to say that the Germans were heading in that direction for the past, say, 1,000 years. I have not read Hitler's Willing Executioners, but from a prior review it seems that Goldhagen adopts the teleological explanation, which does not place the proper emphasis on the uniqueness of Nazism and the time period in which it arose. In other words, lots of factors (political, economic, social) contributed to the Holocaust¿it wasn¿t merely a Hitler+Germany summation. Therefore, I feel that the prior reviewer's criticisms in this area were unjustified. I would also like to reiterate a point that another reviewer made, in that Browning does an exceptional job portraying the men in the battalion as multi-dimensional and real, which makes the book even more disturbing. This book is powerful, well written, and thought provoking, guaranteed to spark intelligent conversation about the role that obedience to authority and ¿ordinary men¿ played in the Holocaust.
bibliobeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very difficuly read, but a very important book. Alex Haslam, one of the psychologists who replicated Zimbardo's Prison Experiment in conjunction with Exeter University and the BBC recommended this when he came to speak to our students. He spoke about how ordinary men can do extraordinarily horrific things when in certain situations. Everything about this book is traumatic - from the photo on the cover to the very last page, but the message is clear - we can't hide from what happened and we should never forget. The book is an intensely detailed account of the men who formed Police Battalion 101 and how they went from mundane tasks to murder in Poland. Browning has undertaken the unenviable meticulous research of hundreds of hours of judicial interviews and transcripts which make up this hugely important document of the holocaust.
kimbee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read it for my Holocaust class. The main thing I'll take away from the class and this book is that everyone had a choice during the war of race and space
FPdC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A modern classic. This book, first published in 1992, is an extremely important study about the Holocaust. Browning describes how a unit of ordinary, middle-aged, conscripted reserve policemen without the special ideological indoctrination of the type received by the members of the SS, became active participants in the murder of several thousands of Polish jews. The book starts by an analysis of the first occurences of Final Solution policies in occupied Russia in 1941, and then describes the actions of the Reserve Battalion 101 in Poland in the fall of 1942 and in 1943. The last two chapters contain extremely insightful and penetrating observations about the processes that could have transformed five hundred ordinary men into a group of mass murderers. In the Afterword to this British edition the author examines the critique the original American edition was subjected to by Daniel Goldhagen in his best-selling book Hitler's Willing Executioners. Goldhagen's biased methodology, lack of consistency, his double standards, and his skewed use of, and sometimes disregard for, the sources, is here brilliantly and devastantingly exposed. This book is a remarkable work of serious scholarship that do help us to understand (in)human behaviour not only in Nazi Germany but also in our own time. Indispensable!
davidpwhelan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Ordinary Men" came on my radar after reading the Wikipedia.org entry on the Belzec concentration camp, a place I'd never heard of, which in turn was surfaced after learning about Jane Yolen's "The Devil's Arithmetic". This book looks at a 400-500 man paramilitary (not active or regular military) unit that assisted in the deaths of thousands. The early-middle and middle-aged Hamburgers are startled by their first murders but then we follow the group as some continue and grow proficient while others try to avoid further killing.Browning does a tremendous job of walking through the history of this unit, based on German government documents and other sources. It's a horrific business as he approaches each massacre or other action in a scholarly, almost antiseptic way. In this way the text is a bit mechanical, but heavily documented and supported with citations. The author walks you through the descent of this group into its significant participation in Hitler's Final Solution.If the idea of reading the historic accounting of these murderers is too much, skip to Chapter 18. Browning looks at the possible reasons that ordinary, non-descript, not terribly partisan individuals could make these choices. He calls on pyschology research done by Milgram and others, looks at Nazi indoctrination, and other variables that might cause people to choose murder. Browning doesn't see any of these variables as exculpatory, but it's interesting to see him draw the threads together and gain the vantage of what being a member of this police unit might have entailed.
bakabaka84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting read on how ordinary men can become willing killers if the circumstances are right but that eventual everyone had a choice to comply or object. Some objected, most did not or were indifferent. Highly recommended
sgtbigg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Browning reviewed hundreds of interviews conducted with former members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 during the 1960s. He used these to explain how "ordinary men" could commit the crimes of the holocaust and what made those men different from us. The disheartening answer is nothing made them different, they're just like us. About 20% of the members took no or little part in the killing, about 20% were glad to take part, and the remaining 60% just went along. A very interesting and informative book and one that I highly recommend.One interesting thing was Browning's inclusion of an afterward in the paperback edition which responded to the publication of Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust by Daniel Goldhagen. Goldhagen's book drew in large part from the same records Browning used but came to vastly different conclusions. Browning used the afterward to refute Goldhagen's conclusions, as well as to defend accusations made against his research by Goldhagen. Goldhagen concluded that ordinary Germans took part in the holocaust because they had historically hated Jews (obviously an oversimplification of his argument). As an aside, I had a military history professor who said that Goldhagen's book proved that even in academia crap can get published.
sgerbic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reviewed May 2006 Wow - very intense book, I only read maybe 6 pages before crying then having nightmares. This book along with ¿Hitler¿s Willing Executioners¿ is the focus of a paper as well as a quiz for class (I got 100%). the two authors battle back and forth in their respective afterwards. In a nutshell Browning feels that Germans killed because of peer pressure and felf pretty bad about it later. Goldburg feels that Germans killed because they wanted to, were given permission and didn¿t feel bad about it later. Both authors agreed that antisemitism played a part. Goldburg feels that it played a much bigger role than Browning does. both men also agreed that ordinary men and women did kill with little encouragement. The debate is healthy, an still waging in the Holocaust field of study and amongst Germans. A good argument can be made for each book. 7-2006
schatzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd bought this book years ago after it was recommended by a professor in college, but it took me a while to sit down and actually read it. The author attempts to explain how a group of five hundred "ordinary men" from Germany could become cold killers of Jews in Poland. The transformation is chilling. The book starts out with the unit's leader, Major Trapp, tearfully informing his soldiers that they were to undertake a "frightfully unpleasant task," which turns out to be the murder of Jews. And not just any Jews, mind you; the Jews that were mowed down by Police Battalion 101 were often women, children, babies, and the elderly. And then Major Trapp gave them an extraordinary choice: anyone who felt that he was incapable of performing this task should step forward and he would not be required to kill. Only a few took this offer. And though most of the men had a "distaste" for killing, eventually most of them grew immune to it - and some grew to enjoy it a great deal. I think the picture on the cover says it all. The photograph features member of the battalion in Lukow in 1942, as they were liquidating the ghetto there. The entire photo is included in the book; you can see the Jews with their hands up, and yet these policemen are smiling. Wow. In the end, Dr. Browning tries to draw some conclusions from the material presented in the book. It's difficult to explain how such a group of "ordinary men" became killers. He explores different theories; Milgram, Zimbardo, and Steiner are all mentioned. But in the end, there is no real answer, and the book itself ends with a question: "If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?" Indeed.This book isn't for the faint of heart, but it does a good job of drawing on primary and secondary source material to paint a sickening picture of what happened in Poland during the Holocaust. It is difficult subject matter, as it should be. And it will likely leave you with unsettling questions about just how far you would, or could, go in a similar situation. This is an excellent work in the field of Holocaust studies.
lriley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Book details atrocities of German police operations in occupied Poland during World War II. Examines the psychology of ordinary middle-aged conscripts thrown into extraordinary situation. The police unit in question at first is appalled by the murders they are being asked to commit of mostly peaceful jewish civilians. With a few notable exceptions all the members of the unit are drawn into these atrocities--some becoming more willing in time and others doing what they can to avoid. Browning sorts through the court records and interviews and tries to explain the varieties of psychologies at work of those who survived the war. One of the main ideas he posits is that people are capable of much more than they may think--and under pressure from cultural and authoriatarian forces are much more easily manipulated. It's an interesting read and Browning keeps it moving along.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very informative!
FireandBlood More than 1 year ago
Very interesting book, fascinating and highly disturbing. I would recommend this book not just to those interested in history, but also those interested in the psychology of war and the human condition. 
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ordinary Men, Great Killers Ordinary Men is a book by Christopher Browning explaining the life experiences of the order police assigned to concentration camps in Poland. Browning wrote this book with the belief that ordinary men were not all for killing the Jews with a poor excuse of them just being Jewish. He believed the leaders of the Nazis were in total control and not everyone was as heartless as them. Although some were opposed to killing many would come up with excuses to tell themselves in order to keep a guilt free conscience. A common excuse told by them was that the Jews and poles accepted death and didn’t do anything about it so that somehow made it okay. Many of them would try and show off their abilities at killing to other officers and even family members. After reading this book it easily can be established that even ordinary men are able to kill with out having any problem with it after being told it is for the good of mankind. The main message of this book is any one is capable of doing something horrible if they are taught that it is somehow for the better of everyone. I liked how this book showed the perspectives of many different people who experienced the holocaust and were apart of it. My only dislike would be the stories are a little repetitive and all follow the same story line. This is a great book for someone to read because it shows the German perspective on the holocaust instead of the usual Jewish side. This book was an entertaining book that you had to keep reading and in my opinion deserved a 4.5 out of 5 stars. If there was a book I had to recommend after reading this it would be either Night by Elie Wiesel or The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne because it offers the other perspective of the Jews and what they had to endure from Germans with no way to fight back.
jflash22 More than 1 year ago
Ordinary Men is a book by Christopher Browning explaining the life experiences of the order police assigned to concentration camps in Poland. Browning wrote this book with the belief that ordinary men were not all for killing the Jews with a poor excuse of them just being Jewish. He believed the leaders of the Nazis were in total control and not everyone was as heartless as them. Most of the men were ages 37-42. “By virtue of their age, of course, all went through their formative period in the pre-Nazi era. These were men who had known political standards and moral norms other than those of the Nazis. Most came from Hamburg, by reputation one of the least nazified cities in Germany, and the majority came from a social class that had been anti-Nazi in its political culture. These men would not seem to have been a very promising group from which to recruit mass murderers on behalf of the Nazi vision of a racial utopia free of Jews. (Browning 48). Most of the officers weren’t forced to kill people on the spot if they weren’t comfortable with it and they would be sent to occupy a different job somewhere else, but only about fifteen percent of the men refused. Although some were opposed to killing many would come up with excuses to tell themselves in order to keep a guilt free conscience. A common excuse told by them was that the Jews and poles accepted death and didn’t do anything about it so that somehow made it okay. Most of the German’s found it hard at first to kill the innocent Jews but somehow found a way to get through it and then it came easy to them almost like a routine. When they started off killing the Jews the only way to do it was by firing squads but after thinking about a loss of manpower it would be easier with a gas chamber. Once this started they would send the strong and healthy prisoners to work at camps and build supplies for them so they could have more time to round up the rest of the Jewish population in Poland. Many of the policemen were supplied with flasks filled with alcohol to drink before shooting the Jews in forests so it wasn’t public. One doctor changed there shooting pattern from shooting anywhere at them to only shooting the back of the neck that way they died a quick death. After the officers got used to killing the Jews they found out many were trying to escape from the forests, camps, and homes so a Jew hunt became a sport to most officers. Many of them would try and show off their abilities at killing to other officers and even family members. After reading this book it easily can be established that even ordinary men are able to kill with out having any problem with it after being told it is for the good of mankind.
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