Monday, December 4, 2006

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 (1998) describes how the Germans organized and carried out the destruction of the widespread Jewish population in the smaller cities and towns throughout Poland. In a period of eleven months, about the remaining 75% of the Jewish population was eliminated by a short, intense wave of mass murder.

My Rating: Good (***). A well researched and scholarly book, providing insight into the enactment of the "final solution" by Nazi Germany.

The author sought the answer on how this was achieved by researching the post-war legal prosecution of the Reserve Police Battalion 101. The prosecution was carried out by the State Prosecutor in Hamburg. The proceeding show how ordinary men in a reserve police battalion were used to effectively carry out the extermination of the Jewish population in their area of authority. "They were middle-aged family men of working- and lower-middle-class background from the city of Hamburg. Considered too old to be of use to the German army, they had been drafted instead into the Order Police. Most were raw recruits with no previous experience in German occupied territory. ... the orders came from the highest authorities. ...The male Jews of working age were to be separated and taken to a work camp. The remaining Jews--the women, children, and elderly--were to be shot on the spot by the battalion. Having explained what awaited his men, [the commander] then made an extraordinary offer: if any of the older men among them did not feel up to the task that lay before him, he could step out." (pp. 1-2)

Many Germans were anxious to join the Order Police since they avoided serving in the regular army and could avoid the Eastern Front fighting the Russians. As the German advances were made, an occupation force was needed so the Order Police were used. The Order Police also recruited and supervised native police in the area of occupation. Poland was not the first place the Order Police were used for the extermination of the Jews. In 1942, in the Pinsk region of Russia, the Order Police were involved in extensive killing of Jews. "There was a tendency to assign the actual shooting duties to [native populations of auxiliary] units, in order to shift the psychological burden from the German police to their collaborators. This psychological burden was serious even to Bach-Zelewski himself. ...the SS leader was suffering especially from visions in connection with the shootings of Jews that he himself had led, and from other difficult experiences" (pp. 24-25).

"... one comes away from the story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 with great unease. This story of ordinary men is not the story of all men. The reserve policemen faced choices, and most of them committed terrible deeds. 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 affair." (p. 188)

Click Here to buy "Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland"

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