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

Ratings and reviews for Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
4.4
based on 70 rating(s)
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Price: $15.99 $13.50 (16% off)
Trade In Value: $2.00
Author(s): Christopher R. Browning
Release Date: 4/24/1998
Binding: Paperback
Number of Pages: 271
Studio: Harper Perennial
Manufacturer: Harper Perennial
Dewey Decimal Number: 940.5318
Product Group: Book
Edition: Reprint
Sales Rank: 7147
Description: The shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews.
ISBN: 0060995068
UPC: 0060995068

Ratings
Reviews 1 to 10 of 70
Pageof 7
amazon logo Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Monsters
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 shootes 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.

Browning may be begging the question when he says "ordinary men" --- one thing that may have made them far from ordinary was the corroding and infective influence of racialist Nazi claptrap that came to be accepted truth in German society in the years leading up to the war. Browning's book does not go into this question, and it is not covered by the interogators, nor certainly not volunteered by those who were interogated. It is however the central question of how an ordinary husband could walk up to children, women and old men and shoot them on the spot with little remorse or, at best, a casuistic reasoning. It is the central question that needs answering: how much can racialist ideology, condoned and encouraged by society, lead to turning ordinary men into extraordinary monsters. That is the horror of this book and one that one should be encouraged to find out the answer to.

* Note this is not a light read. It will turn your stomach at times and wrench your heart.
97 of 112 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo HOW DO ORDINARY MEN BECOME COLD-BLOODED KILLERS?
"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+
102 of 106 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo The dark side of humanity
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.

78 of 87 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Fine Historical Narritive, but Ultimately Fails to Convince
"Ordinary Men" has two distinct parts. The first is a fine historical synthesis of primary documents. Browning follows German Reserve Battalion 101 from their beginnings in Hamburg through their introduction into genocide, to their becoming hardened and seasoned killers. Most of the book is devoted to telling the story of these middle-aged German men, through their own words and documents. This narrative is as disturbing as it is gripping. We follow the men as they commit murder, despite intial misgiving. The final chapter is the most important, as well as the best-known and most often cited, in which Browning tries to explain how and why a group of ordinary citizens became killers. Brownings' explantion, however, is very unconvincing. Browning argues that ultimately it was group pressure and obedience to authority that made the men kill unarmed civilians. Browning uses two famous pychological studies to illustrate his point. First, he notes the Zimbardo study, in which average American men were placed into a mock prison setting, with some becoming prisoners, and some becoming the guards. Things became so brutal that Zimbardo was forced to end the experiment. But the two situations are not analogous. Yes, harsh conditions create harsh behavior, and warfare always produces atrocities. But the brutal treatment of prisoners, and the systematic slaughter of unarmed people are not comparable. One is harsh. The other is murder on a mass-scale. The second experiment is of course the Milgram studies conducted after World War Two. Here again, the experiment and the reality of Reserve Battalion 101 are not analogous. In the Milgram studies, the subjects who "electrocuted" their victims due to obedience to authority did not see or hear what happened, while the German men were literally saturated in the blood of their victims. Part of the reason Browning turns to these explantions is because he mistakenly dismisses anti-Semitism as a cause of the murders. These men had lived in Nazi Germany for 10 years, with its rising tide of anti-Semitism. The fact that they had been socialized earlier in life does not mean they could not become racist, nor does it prove they were not anti-Semitic beforehand. Furthermore, as Browning admits, when these men were interviewed in the early 1960's, West Germany had a law stating that anyone who admits to undertaking violence because of racism was liable to imprisonment. Thus none of the men claimed anti-Semitism as a motive, and we would not expect them to either. We cannot discount racial hatred as a motive, and perhaps it was the primary one. In sum, Browning has made an important contribution to Holocaust literature. He has re-created for us the story of a group of ordinary men's descent into genocidal murder. He has also looked at the Holocaust from a new angle. But his explanation is simply not adequate. No one should think that ordinary Germans were somehow insulated from the racial hatred espoused in Nazi Germany. Nor should we necessarily agree with his closing statement "if the men of reserve battalion could become killers, what group of men could not?" The problem with this statement is that many ordinary citizens would most likely resist the systematic slaughter of innocent people. Does anyone who has read this book really think that they could murder innocent men, women, and children at point-blank range just because they were told to do so? I for one, could not.
28 of 48 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Extremely important look at the Final Solution
This book is just incredible; it is unfortunate the Christopher Browning even has to think twice about Daniel Goldhagen (the mere mention of whose name is giving unwarranted attention). This book has created one of the absolutely most important lenses through which to view the participation of "ordinary" Germans in the Final Solution. In the newest edition of the book, Goldhagen's conclusions are soundly dismissed (and it becomes obvious that Goldhagen is probably influenced by his own bias and bigotry towards the Germans).

Browning is fair in his portrayal of Police Battalion 101, showing that some men had little to no compunctions about killing, while others refused to participate. There are definitely no excuses being made for these men, but at the same time one can see that they are being swept up by the events and atmosphere of the day. The prevalence of alcohol at many of the Battalion's actions indicates the pain the men were dealing with at the time. They were definitely not Goldhagen's "willing executioners." Browning does much to assuage the guilt of ordinary Germans by pointing out the participation in the killings by non-Germans (the Croats, Romanians, and "Hiwis," for example). The German people should not necesarily be held responsible, for 99% of the guilt must lie with the Nazi leadership. This is not to say that the nation should be completely forgivin, though.

Anyone interested in Holocaust history or the "Goldhagen debate" must read this book!

29 of 42 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo A Review of Ordinary Men
Based upon court records, Christopher R. Browning's historical account, Ordinary Men, provides a chilling description of how the middle-aged, working-class German men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 become hardened killers while carrying out orders for Hitler's Final Solution in Poland. Throughout the monograph, the reader learns of the desensitization to killing 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. Nevertheless, despite peer pressure, some men resisted killing the Jews and other victims of Nazi cruelty. Browning forces the reader to question any and all preconceived ideas regarding German attitudes toward Jews at this time.

Instead of portraying the policemen as one-dimensional killers, Browning depicts them as ordinary men. He provides the reader with biographical information about the men's families and careers. Browning relates how one policeman remembers watching a Jewish movie theater owner from his hometown executed. Furthermore, the reader discovers that not only twenty percent of the battalion refuses to participate in the killings either before or during the massacres, but also others suffer physical ailments as a result of their revulsion to the killings. For readers who are unaware of the Nazi organization of the military, Browning provides an 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 surrounding the decisions of the policemen, he fails to note if religious convictions played a part in whether the men chose to kill. In addition, the book is written in an extremely matter-of-fact manner, yet Browning does not divulge the names of some policemen in order to protect them.

Despite Browning's failure to cover all aspects of the policemen's decisions, Ordinary Men remains a disturbing yet provocative look at a group of men and their decisions. The reader should be warned, however, that Browning's novel may be difficult for some to read because of the descriptive details of the massacres and the overwhelmingly depressing mood. By the time the 500 men of Police Battalion 101 disbanded in late 1943, "the ultimate body count was at least 83,000 Jews" (142).
29 of 38 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo How important stories get to be told the wrong way
Another brick from the the Professors' classroom. I got to page 148, which was quite a feat, believe you me. But important it is. I don't deny that, and true too.

Here's a token of the Professor's clear narrative style: "The portrayal of German-Polish and German-Jewish relations in these testimonies is extraordinarily exculpatory; in contrast, the portrayal of Polish-Jewish relations is extraordinarily damning. If we begin by examining the first two relationships as described by the former policemen, we can better see the asymmetry and distortion involved in their account of the third." Of the third! The third what? Do you know what he's taking about anymore?

Please, give me a break, mister. I believe the Lord gives gifts and talents to every one of His creatures. You can pick to be a bullfighter, a fireman, or a professor. But pick right.
4 of 36 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo Easy Reading
A thin quick little book to read. Has great insight into a small unit and there activities in Poland. Has a few good maps. No material related to World War 2. This is only about this particular unit and there exploits in occupied Poland. Great cover.
6 of 32 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo EVALUATING BROWNING
While thinking about books to assign for my course on the History of the Holocaust I came across the reviews of Browning's book.

I would like to add a few critical points.

Whatever one thinks of Goldhagen's interpretative faults, he did a great deal more research into police battalions than did Browning. Browning deserves credit for being amongst the first writers in English to use these sources, but Goldhagen dug much deeper.

Even if you disagree with Goldhagen you have to recognize that he did a great deal of research in a staggering variety of sources. Nevertheless, one of the problems with Goldhagen is his tendency to claim originality in areas where earlier historians did original and significant work.

Browning often seems to take literally the testimony of the murderers after the war. It is necessary to approach the testimony of the murderers with a more skeptical attitude. What they said when confronted by a prosecutor is very different from how they felt and acted in 1941 or 1942.

Browning's attempts at explanation and analysis are confused and confusing. In his analytical conclusion he present contradictory explanations of why the murderers acted the way they did. He greatly plays down the definite role of Nazi ideology in explaining the motivations of the murderers.

11 of 30 people found this review helpful.
amazon logo A brilliant study.
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!
23 of 29 people found this review helpful.

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