I read this book years ago as a school lecture.
It made a deep impression on me.
The horror of it was, the protagonists of this book, the policemen from the 101st Reserve Police Battalion, were just like you. Like me.
They were not SS, or Gestapo, or ardent Nazi - they were clerks, office cleaners, waiters, ordinary policemen...
They didn't hate Jews and did not care much for Hitler's final solution.
Just ordinary men.
Therein lies the horror...
Powell's Books review:
On July 13, 1941, the 450 Men of the German Reserve Police Battalion 101 were driven to the Polish village of Jozefow. They were ordered to enter the village of 1,800 Jews, select several hundred young men for the work camp, and then kill the rest of the inhabitants. Over the course of 16 months, this battalion was responsible for the massacre of 39,000 Jews and the deportation to Treblinka of 44,000 more.
In this "staggering and important book" (Chicago Tribune), Christopher R. Browning asks what kind of men would carry out such a gruesome task and finds that they were ordinary men: elderly, poorly educated, and drawn from the lower echelons of society. Given the chance to refuse orders, only a small number of them took the opportunity to walk away. A remarkable examination of human nature, Ordinary Men concludes with the most disturbing question of all: If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men could not?
User review on the site:
These individuals were not hardened Nazi's nor fanatical SS; nor were they even that keen on gunning down Jews. The argument that Browning makes is that anti-semitism was created in these individuals by killing jews. In order to cope with murdering, they became anti-semetic. When their commander announced their first action, he was in tears and offered an exception to whomever did not want to do this. Soldiers cried, looked the other way when some jews tried to escape, establishing a character that challenges our assumptions.
As time went on, the soldiers became used to this, and would have to joke around with each other while shooting jews. There were some instances of drunken debauchery that will break your heart as well: instances of cruelty that boggles the mind!! I would also highly recommend reading Tino Georgiou's bestselling novel--The Fates--if you haven't yet!!
"If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men could not?"
Indeed... a very good question.
New pictures from Abu Ghraib - Warning: more disturbing than most of the stuff shown on US TV.
As with anything, there are heroes that one admires:
The case of General Taguba.
Col. Morris D. Davis, once chief prosecutor at Guantánamo Bay
"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), Russian novelist.
"Our enemies didn't adhere to the Geneva Convention. Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But every one of us -- every single one of us -- knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, that we, if the roles were reversed, would not disgrace ourselves by committing or countenancing such mistreatment of them." - John McCain, Republican US Senator.
"If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America -- even those designated as 'unlawful enemy combatants.' If you make this exception the whole Constitution crumbles." - Alberto J. Mora, former Navy General Counsel.