”Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland” by Christopher Browning is a Must Read


I just finished this book. It is incredible (and incredibly disturbing). It should be required reading for everyone (especially the final chapter), especially as there are currently concentration camps being run by the US government (and funded by the citizens of the US) in operation throughout the country.

It documents the actions of the titular battalion as they commit mass shootings, ghetto-clearings, and deportation actions throughout their assigned district in Poland during 1942 and 1943. By Browning’s estimation (supported, in part, by the meticulous records kept by the unit), they ended up shooting at least 38,000 people and facilitated the deportation (to Treblinka) of at least 45,000 more.

The book seeks to understand why ordinary people are able to participate in genocide. It does so by using post-war interviews from members of the battalion as well as official reports and other primary sources from the war years and examining these through different lenses (psychological explanations, economic motivations, etc.).

Here are a couple of quotes that give a sense of the answer as to how/why people are capable of committing such horrific actions:

“A number of explanations have been invoked in the past to explain : wartime brutalization, racism, segmentation and routinization of the task, special selection of the perpetrators, careerism, obedience to orders, deference to authority, ideological indoctrination, and conformity. These factors are applicable in varying degrees, but non without qualification” (p. 159).

“The collective behavior of Reserve Police Battalion 101 has deeply disturbing implications. There are many societies afflicted by traditions of racism and caught in the siege mentality of war or threat of war. Everywhere society conditions people to respect and defer to authority, and indeed could scarcely function otherwise. Everywhere people seek career advancement. In every modern society, the complexity of life and the resulting bureaucratization and specialization attenuate the sense of personal responsibility of those implementing official policy. Within virtually every social collective, the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?” (P. 189)

All of those conditions resonate with me as I look at the state of the world. Books like this one underscore the vital importance of history in guiding us during challenging present times in the hope of creating a better future.

It’s a cliché but it’s true: we must learn from history in order to avoid committing the same mistakes over and over again. We (mankind) won’t, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.

Source: reddit post


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