The stunningly and powerful book Ordinary Men was written by Christopher R. Browning. Browning is a professor of History at the Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. He is a contributor to Yad Vashem s official twenty-four-volume history of the Holocaust. Browning also wrote many other books on this subject. His book Ordinary Men reveals the truth about how a unit of average, middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews. Reich says,
In the aftermath of Germany s defeat in World War I, a revolution broke out. The Order police resulted from the third attempt in interwar Germany to create large Police formation with military training and equipment. As the army dissolved, military officers and government officials who were afraid of being swept away by the revolution organized paramilitary units known as Freikorps. When the situation became stable in 1919, the Freikorps men merged with regular police into formation stations in barracks to combat further resurgence. The allies demanded the dissolution of these police units in 1920 as a violation of the clause of the Versailles Treaty that limited Germany s army to 100,000 men. (Remak 3)
In 1933, after the establishment of the Nazi regime a police army (Armee der Landespolizei) of 56,000 men was created. They were given full military training as part of Germany s covert rearmament. In 1935, when Hitler openly defied the Versailles Treaty and reintroduced military conscription, the police army was merged with the regular army to provide commissioned and non-commissioned officers. As of 1942, 97 Generals in the German army had served in the police army of 1933-35. (Browning 4)
Browning states the preservation of large military formations within the police had to await the appointment of Heinrich Himmler, already head of the SS as chief of German police in 1936, with jurisdiction over all police units in the Third Reich. The German police where divided into two branches, one being the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) with the Main Office of Reinhard Heydirch. Within the Security Police there was the Secret State Police (Gestapo) to combat political enemies and the Criminal Police (Kripo) which was a detective force. The second branch was the Order Police with the Main Office under Kurt Daluege. Daluege also commanded municipal police (Schupo) and rural police equivalent to county trooper (Gendarmerie). By 1938 Daluege had over 62,000 men under his command. The number of police battalions expanded to 101 by mid 1940. The Order Police where quickly an essential source of manpower for holding German-occupied Europe. (Browning 6)
Police Battalion 101 took over for Police Battalion 61 in the district of Lublin. The Police Battalion s main duty was to round up Polish and Russian Jewry. In September of 1939 Germany invaded Poland. Police Battalion 101 based in Hamburg was attached to a German Army group sent to Poland. In the Polish City of Kielce, they were involved in rounding up Polish soldiers and military equipment and guarding a prisoner of war camp. On December 17th 1939 they returned to Hamburg where a hundred or so Police men were transferred. To replace them, middle-aged reservist drafted in 1939 where brought in.
In May of 1940 Battalion 101 was sent to Warthegau, Posen, and Lodz to carry out resettlement actions, a demographic scheme of Hitler and Himmler s to populate them with racially pure Germans and eliminating all Poles, Jews, and gypsies which were so called undesirables. The 101 Police Battalion evacuated thirty-seven thousand people out of the targeted fifty-eight thousand. About twenty-two thousand escaped by fleeing. The Police Battalion rounded up all people without regard for whether or not they where old, sick, or children. In many cases the old and sick were shot and killed at the collection point.
At the undressing barracks the Order Police forced Jews to strip naked, where they searched them for valuables. Browning says, In most deportations, the Jews were instructed to take a few personal belongings with them, to give credence to the cover story of the resettlement. (Browning 39) After the strip search, the Jews were then allowed to put their underclothes back on before they were marched to the train station. It was then, that they were packed into train cars like cattle. (Browning 40) The Police Battalion then took them to labor camps and some were taken directly to gas chambers. In the labor camps the Jewish men worked long days for the Germans. Waking up hours before dawn and going to bed hungry. These men were separated from their families, later on finding out that their wife and children have been murdered. (Langer 98)
On July 11th 1942, Major Trapp of 101 Police Battalion received orders for their special actions from SS and Police Leader Odilo Globocnik. They were to round 18,000 Jews in the city of Jozefow. At this time most of the male Jews of working age were to be sent to Globocnik s camp in Lubin. All of the women, children, and elderly were to be executed. Major Trapp called up all the units stationed in nearby towns for support and assembled in Bilgoraj on July 12th. Major Trapp with his Company Commanders CPT. Hoffmann of Third Company, CPT. Wohlauf and Lt. Gnade of First and Second Company and gave them their orders for the next day. Major Trapp s assistant 1st Lieutenant Hagen informed the remaining battalion officers. Lt. Buchmann learned from Hagen about the details of the pending special action . At this time Buchmann made it clear to Hagen, that as a Reserve Lieutenant He would in no case participate in such an action, in which defenseless women and children are to be shot. (Browning 56) He asked to be reassigned and Hagen arranged for him to escort the work Jews . Buchmann s Company CPT. Wohlauf was informed of Buchmann s reassignment, but was not told the reason for it. This was the first time an officer of 101 reserve Police Battalion lost his military bearing .
As the 101 Reserve Police Battalion laid in bed, they were not informed of what the next day actions would bring. Little did they know the next days actions would remain in their memory forever. At 0200 hours they departed from Bilgoraj in trucks and arrived in Jozefow at daybreak. Browning explains, Major Trapp assembled his men in a half-circle and then explained the Battalion s murderous assignment and made his extraordinary offer: any of the older men who did not feel they could perform this task could step out . A total of twelve men stepped forward and turned in their rifles and awaited future assignment. The assignments were; two platoons were to surround the village and shot anyone who tried to escape. All the remaining men were to round up the Jews and take them to the marketplace in the center of town. The sick, the old, as well as infants and anyone trying to escape were to be killed on the spot. (Browning 57)
Then the Jews were to be loaded on trucks and taken from the market place to the forest to be killed. After making the assignments Maj. Trap spent the rest of the day in town not including himself in the assignment. As the round up was completed, first company was withdrawn. They were instructed by the company physician on how to shoot to cause immediate death. They were to fix their bayonets and put the point at the shoulders and use it as an aiming guide. As the special actions took place a break down of cohesiveness and loss military bearing took place. Because of this executions went on until sun down.
The killing in Jozefow, Poland was the first and largest mass murdering committed by the Reserve 101 Police Battalion. The 101 Police Battalion later were sent to many other different ghettos to perform collections and perform ethnic cleansing. The 101 Police Battalion killed of thousands of Jews. The reason why I choose this book is because of the present day situation in Kosovo with the Serbs killing the ethnic Albanians. The situation in Kosovo reminds me of the German war against the Jews in WWII. This book shows how a group normal hard working men of religious background, can murder torture and exterminate helpless people.
The 101 Reserve Police Battalion can be compared to the National Guard or Army Reserve because they originally were not Active Duty soldiers. Before 1939 the men who served in Police Battalion had jobs outside military such as businessmen, teachers, bankers, and merchants. After 1939 they were drafted and became apart of the military. These men were not career soldiers. This was evident during the breakdown of cohesiveness in their first major actions, during the extermination against the Jews in Europe. As time went on went on and on, the 101 Police Battalion became callus. I think at first they had sympathy for the Jews, then they began to hate their job. They were forced to do things and see things they did not want to. As the war dragged on manpower became short and supplies became scarce; being excused from this duty was no longer an option. The 101 Police Battalion had to spend days on the trains without food and had to bare the same conditions as the hopeless souls the were guarding. These conditions both physically and mentally drained away the humanity of the 101 Police Battalion.
In my opinion, this is just one of the many reasons where Hitler went wrong. First off, Hitler thought he was a military genius when he was not. I think he did not know how to run an army. Hitler was more interested in personal glory and self-interest, then planning out military victories. He had the best Generals and best trained soldiers. Hitler also had some of the best scientific minds in the world working for him. The Battle of Britain was perfect example of Hitler s lack of military focus. At first he concentrated his air attacks on military targets, such as airfields, radar sites, and munntion sites. Although his forces paid a heavy price, the strangle hold placed on England by the blockade of U-boat Wolfpacks would have brought England to its knees by the end of the year. But in retaliation to English bombing in German cities, Hitler turned his attention away from military targets to English cities. This giving the Royal Airforce time to regroup and rebuild. (Ryan 79)
From a military point of view, Hitler wasted so much manpower, money, and time killing off all the Jews around Europe. Hitler almost had Europe on her knees, but Hitler s mistakes caused him to loose the war. Looking at the Holocaust from my own eyes, I see it as one of the greatest losses the world has ever known. Thousands of Jews died. They tried to escape and hide in the forest, in cells, barns, and anywhere they could squeeze their bodies into. Riech says, they were defenseless, naked, holding on to their children, stuffed into cattle cars, and shot in firing lines.
By the middle of March in 1942, 25 percent of the victims of the Holocaust had perished, prior to the 101 Police Battalions arrival in Jozefow, Poland. Only six months later, that number had reached 80 percent, leaving less than a quarter alive. (Reich 2). By March 1942, despite two and a half years of persecution and deprivation, every major Jewish community was still intact. Eleven months later, only the remnants survived in few ghettos and labor camps. The German attack on the Jews in Poland was carried out in a massive Blitzkrieg offensive. The offensive came when the German war effort in Russia hung in the balance. If the military offensive was a failure, the Blitzkrieg especially in Poland against the Jews was not.
The Jews they killed are human beings like you and I. I believe we are all equal and those who kill because of different religion color, or race is inhuman. Hitler thought killing all the Jews in Europe would be the final solution, Hitler was wrong.
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New York: Harpers Collins Publisher, 1992.
Langer, Lawerence L. Holocaust Testimonies.
Reich, Walter. The Men Who Pulled The Triggers. New York
Times Book Review. 12 Apr. 1992: 7p.
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Roth, Berenbaum, Michael. Holocaust.
New York: Paragon House, 1989.
Ryan, Bailey. Hitler v. Roosevelt.
New York: The Free Press, 1979.