In the book Ordinary Men, Christopher Browning, the author, offers a detailed description of the Holocaust, one of the deadliest genocide ever to be witnessed in the history of the Jewish community, that is the setting of Ordinary Men. He described the reasons that prompted the ordinary German Men to commit the atrocities against the Jews. Browning gives a glimpse of the perpetrators, the factors that facilitated their involvement and the impact this experience had on their lives. Also, the author went a great length to explain how the German Nazi leaders influenced the work of these men based on their initial response to the killing, that represents themes of Ordinary Men.
Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning Summary
The Nazi Holocaust took place in Poland during the Second World War (Browning 2). During the period, German soldiers carried out an intense short wave of mass murder. According to Browning, these perpetrators were ordinary people who lived a normal life. They were not brutes and sadists with no moral sensibility who decided on their volition to indulge in killing innocent Jews for pleasure and thrills like depraved beasts. In his assessment, Browning pointed out that the perpetrators of the mass killing were as human as we are but they were influenced by their leaders to commit the horrific deeds (Browning 4). In the book, the author unmasked them and offered an insight of who they are.
Christopher Browning on the Holocaust in Ordinary Men
Browning noted that the German soldiers were mobilized to oppress and kill the Jews. A large number of soldiers had to be mobilized because this mass killing occurred in Poland outside German territory. Apart from plotting a plan to use thousands of soldiers, the leaders and the commanders ensure they carry with them massive and deadly weapons (Browning 8). According to the author, such meticulous organization indicates there was prior planning to stage the genocide against the Jewish community living in Poland.
Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101
As revealed by perpetrators interviewed by Browning, the Commander of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 that carried out the massacre ordered the soldiers to round up Jews in different villages. They were ordered to separate men (who had attained the working age) from children, elderly and women before shooting so that they would be sent to concentration camps (Browning 6). Thereafter, they were required to shoot all the children, women and the elderly without leaving any survivors. As directed by their commander, the soldiers were assured that it was okay and justified to exterminate all innocent Jewish men, women, and children. Hitler hated the Jewish community, and he ordered his administration to wipe out their presence on the Eastern Front. The escalating hostility never originated from the soldiers, but it was the command handed down from the top brass of German leadership. This command as revealed by Browning was popularly known as the Commissar Order.
Hitler claimed that the Jews were Anti-German. This claim coupled with anti-Semitism generated an intense provocation that prompted the immediate execution of the Jews (Browning, 11). The soldiers experienced the guilty of engaging in mass murder of innocent Jews. Before this command was executed, soldiers unwilling to participate in the mass killing were requested to withdraw. For instance, about thirteen soldiers are reported to have heeded the call and abstained from shooting. However, the vast majority of the soldiers who obeyed the order opted not to kill by intentionally missing the victims, taking extra time in the roundup and in some instances hid from their officers while they participated in the firing squad (Browning 62).
Because of the awful experience of taking part in the execution, most soldiers who participated in the first wave of mass killings declined to take part in further shootings. As described by Browning, the soldiers witnessed bloody incidents where the victims were shot point-blank at closer range. For instance, the perpetrators often shot the head of the victim thereby tearing apart their entire skull spilling and spraying everywhere the blood and bone splinters (Browning 64). Therefore, after completing the day's mass killings, the soldiers returned to their barracks heavily depressed and distressed, with the only option to relieve themselves was to get drunk in vain attempt to suppress the sorrowful memories and experiences of the massacre they participated in.
Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
Since the majority of soldiers declined to participate in further shootings, the German Nazi leaders decided to order the deportation of the remaining Jews. However, those who evaded execution and deportation were required by the leaders to be sought in their hiding places to ensure the Lublin district of Poland, known as Jewish territory, was cleansed (Browning 2). The small death squad was ordered to pursue them in forests alleged to have been hiding. These pursuits were more personal in that soldiers had the freedom to do what they deem right, for instance, they had the choice to decide whether to kill or not. Browning reported that the majority of them opted to shoot and kill any survivors. This is because when this decision by the leaders came, most of the soldiers had encountered a significant change of attitude mainly because they had become used to it.
Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. 1998. Harper Perennial
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