Ordinary men – Christopher Browning


Christopher Browning in his book ordinary men was trying to bring out a clear picture of how ordinary men got involved in history’s serious killings during the world war 11. During this period the Germany soldiers cleared Poland hoping to be the last solution of the problems. In this book, Christopher intends to explain the reasons why ordinary men could act to that extend. Details of ordinary reserve police is explained on how they change from being average to becoming cold blooded killers (Browning 188).

I. Outline the author’s main subject, argument, and major themes

These ordinary policemen from German, majority were middle aged men, some with families and working class ((Browning 189). Christopher made extra efforts to obtain enough information concerning these men especially through judicial interrogations of early 1960s. apart from the ordinary police from German there was also a group of order police whose main activity was to get rid of ghetto and expelling Jews through capital punishments.

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This execution was done in Poland. These groups of ordinary men were chosen just because there were no other people who could have served the purpose. They were not chosen because they were known to be hostile or their experience, but they later proofed to act in hostility. These 500 men were not to be included in the group of order police (Cesarani 420). The average ordinary police killed people mercilessly surpassing the expectations of the Nazi rulers.

In this book, Christopher gives out the sequence of events and personal reactions that made average ordinary men to become murderers. The arguments he displays in his text are sensible as there are no unnecessary assumptions. Christopher has developed well all his statement and arguments and their impacts and their major causes.

According to Browning (162), all the action that were meant for the order police was then made accountable to the average ordinary police. This book brings out the facts that these ordinary police were provided with a lot of opportunities to kill Jews. These opportunities made these ordinary men to exercise their powers and become experts in resettling Jews.

II. Main characters and how they joined the Battalion

There are several characters in this book who joined the police battalion some of the major ones being Heinrich Himmler who was the head of German police. Heinrich had the authority over the police units and decided to divide the police group into two major groups. Each group had to operate from its main office that was located in Berlin. One group was the order police while the other one was a secret police branch whose main operations were not, to be made known by everyone due to security purposes (Cesarani 142).

The second subdivision, of the police that was referred to as order police was made in charge of another character known as Kurt Daluege. He was the overall ruler of police in country side and in municipal areas. Towards the beginning of the year 1938, Kurt had brought together more than 62000 policemen to work under his authority and make the exercise successful.

Kurt worked hard and came up with the idea of organizing police companies that was approximately 9000 in numbers and composed of 108 policemen. These police companies were later used to form training units for other police to make the number of police growing big.

Another major character in the police battalion is Major Wilhelm Trapp who also had authority of a large group of policemen. Most of the time, he used to incite the men under him to kill Jews through claiming that they all possessed some demonic acts. Trap was a conflicted man as other time he would be heard betraying his fellow Nazi leaders on how they perceived the Jews.

In a certain point Trapp was identified crying due to those murderous acts and being distressed, that is the reason why he used to distance himself from giving orders direct from him to his policemen. After seeing what his orders have done to the Jews, he used to deny that the orders did not come from him. He was once heard saying “If this Jewish business is ever avenged on earth, then have mercy on us Germans” (Browning 212).

III. Three reasons why most of the men decided to participate in the mass killings

It has been a mystery on how these ordinary people turned into performing mass killings to the Jews, but Christopher has tried to unravel this mystery in his book through giving three major possible reasons. The first reason is stated as manipulation and pressure from the Nazi leaders.

According to the research that was done by Christopher, the backgrounds and the nationalities of these ordinary people who were selected unsystematically would easily lead to work under any pressure without applying any form of resistance. Their background status would not allow them to question the authority even on those serious matters of killing (Browning 202).

Most of these ordinary men could not question the authority as they also feared that the Nazi leaders may also act against them if they happen to oppose the given instructions. Among these ordinary police men, there were a small number of them who were loyal to the ruling of Hitler and could not do anything against the instructions whether there was pressure or not.

This group that wanted to proof their loyalty to the Nazi leaders worked through the motivation of the leaders. There made use of the opportunities that were offered to them to proof their loyalty. These people thought that by performing extra killings to the Jews would promote their image to the Nazi leaders (Housden 96).

The third reason of this mass killing by these ordinary police men as discussed by Christopher is that there is a group that found that as being a new opportunity to secure jobs. They imagined of killing more Jews would impress the Nazi leaders, an action that would lead them be employed as security guards or as clerks.

The fact is that these ordinary men knew that they were not selected because of their furiousness but just because there were no other men who could have served the purpose. The idea of being chosen due to their availability made them to proof to the leaders that they were harsh and equal to the challenge. Christopher has tried to analyze the human nature of killing one another that proofs that the way these ordinary men did was not the normal way but associated with other factors as discussed above.

These ordinary men were given ways on how to kill the Jews such as by either shooting them, using poisonous gases or drowning them, in the first they were seen behaving reluctantly to these orders, but later had n other option other than obeying the Nazi leaders (Browning 190). Pressure and the fear to confront the high men of Nazi made the ordinary men to work mercilessly and perform extra killings to the Jews.

The Major Wilhelm Trapp brought the police battalion together and explains to them on the killings would be conducted. In his speech he threatens those police who will be noticed fearing to shoot will be forced to step down. Through this speech it was clear that every policeman in the battalion would work to his level best in killing the Jews to secure his rank. As one policeman stated:

“Truthfully, I must say that at the time we didn’t reflect about it at all. Only years later did any of us become truly conscious of what had happened then. Heavy drinking helped: most of the other men drank so much solely because of the many shootings of Jews, for such a life was quite intolerable sober” (Browning 216).

IV. The concept of human nature and impact of Technology

Throughout the book, Christopher has tried to display a human nature, for instance when Major Trapp was trying to threaten policemen who would refuse to shoot, when he was seen weeping, and trying to imagine how the murderous act of the Jews would be revenged. These are true signs of showing how Trapp was disturbed by the whole act of killing Jews. On the other hand, the Nazi regime is seen to use its high capacity intelligence while recruiting as many killers as possible while still holding their international ranks.

The Nazi leaders made it public that all those individuals who were serving as ordinary policemen would not be given any chance in the military forces. This notification was to make regime have more power in achieving its goals and objectives of clearing the Jews, as well as putting the ordinary men into trap of not realizing what they were taken for.

Major Trapp as well had ordered the battalion police who feel that they are weak or they have children not to shoot. These ordinary men were full of humanity just like any other normal person.

However, due to the fact that these men had taken an oath before Hitler concerning any deviation against killing the Jews, this oath acted as a big obstacle among some of them to refuse the murderous actions. Browning has been arguing that, majority of the ordinary men who got involved in killings was out of peer pressure, and respect to the authority (Browning 132).

They didn’t kill the Jews because they hated them or being blood lust, but just because they wanted to obey the rules from the Nazi leaders. Browning states that anybody placed in a consistent crowd setting, there is a high likelihood of adhering to the rules even if there might be immoral. The probability of ordinary people to follow orders whether positive or negative is high; even if there is something calling for some clarification or rejection they tend to fear questioning the authority.

Moreover, the human nature is observed by Browning on both cases of the Nazi rulers and the Battalion policemen. The leaders did not want to be involved in the actual activity of killing but made use of these ordinary men. As the sense of humanity is observed, most of the acts that were done to the Jews were full show of inhumanity.

It remains as a mystery on how human beings were capable of doing such acts whether under pressure or not. As our society becomes more atomized, there is an increased risk to the human nature. For instance, in Dachau, horrible ways were used to kill the Jews; some were put in freezers until dead, some were being suffocated, use of gases and others doctors helped to kill them by denying them medicine or even pain relievers.

Currently, when the level of technology is high, there are other methods that can be used to kill a whole nation within a very short time. If some of these technologies were available during that time, all the Jews could be eliminated within a very short time for instance through the use of nuclear bombs. This is an implication that, as the society advances in technology, there is a more risk to the human nature.

IV. Personal views being in the same situation.

Taken back to the history of the book, I would be on the side of the ones avoiding killing. Even if Hitler’s believed in a continued killings until the Jews were completely evicted, that did not qualify for a continued peace. Instead, more problems resulted from these killings and whatever was intended to be achieved was not achieved only a continued genocide history in German.

This was a great shame in the country’s culture and a bad reputation as well. Even if 10 million Jews were killed and others made disabled, even the killers were later affected greatly by those murderous inhuman actions. They suffered psychologically whereby some were never to be considered normal human beings (Housden 85).

German created a bad image to the whole world full of shocks, and disgusts due to the death of millions of innocent people just because of land. The issue of holocaust makes people in the world imagine how powerful people can turn to be in search of wealth and fame. As much as the victims` generations still suffer, the killers as well were left suffering.

Those acts of killing could not be tolerated by a normal human being, hence why some were on drugs until the end, that later spoiled them. The spirit of those who were killed kept on haunting the killers until their deaths. This massacre left everyone suffering either physically or psychologically.

The Nazi leaders, who were giving orders, also were being tormented by their commands that led to the loss of more than 10 million people. Being in such a situation I would try to oppose the acts, give an opinion of the right way that would be better, even if not to be followed, but would be remembered. On the other hand, for someone being put in that situation is challenging, the pressure from the top authority and the fear to question the authority may lead to one committing such evil actions.

One may be peaceful and innocent within the heart but the pressure may be too much for one to act according to the will of the heart. Many are the times people wish to do good but the environment fails to allow for a favorable conditions. A certain group of ordinary men were trying to avoid shooting the Jews by giving excuses of being weak, others claiming that they have children, but the orders from the top authority could not allow them to escape the actions (Cesarani 345).

The same case would apply with anyone being put in such a situation; Hitler was very ready to order for murder of those who were reluctant to kill the Jews. Hitler did not mind anybody who was favoring the Jews, to him it was better for everyone to die who would tend to act as an obstacle of killing the Jews.

Majority of the policemen were not of the opinion of killing the Jews but they did not want to disobey the Nazi leaders. They knew by disobeying the Nazi leaders that would be the end of their lives’, they jobs and even to their generations. Most of people including Germans feared Hitler and his orders as he would order for anyone’s death that tended to oppose his opinions, he was known to be a dictator in the whole world.

V. Conclusion

The author of this book has tried to explain how ordinary human beings could do such immoral acts to a fellow human being. Its main strength is that, readers are made to understand how pressure of a powerful person may lead to a person doing the impossibilities. Its weakness is that it has not pinpointed whether the intended achievement of those killings was managed or not.

If the main issue was to get rid of the Jews, something else could be done to eliminate the whole generation from that land. Taking them in another land instead of drowning them and torturing them with diseases and hunger would be better (Browning 215).

This would have made the victims to be disturbed due to disorientation but still alive, and the killers would not be undergoing psychological torture due to their acts. Killing someone can never be considered as a solution of any problem rather it can only be considered as adding salt to the injury. It’s disgusting for any country to have a culture of genocide.

Works Cited

Browning, Christopher. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

Cesarani, David. Holocast: The “Final Solution”. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Housden, Martyn. The Holocaust: Events Motives and Legacy. London: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007.


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