Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland - book cover
  • Publisher : Harper Perennial; Revised edition
  • Published : 28 Feb 2017
  • Pages : 384
  • ISBN-10 : 0062303023
  • ISBN-13 : 9780062303028
  • Language : English

Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

"A remarkable―and singularly chilling―glimpse of human behavior. . .This meticulously researched book...represents a major contribution to the literature of the Holocaust."―Newsweek 

Christopher R. Browning's shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews―now with a new afterword and additional photographs.

Ordinary Men is the true story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police, which was responsible for mass shootings as well as round-ups of Jewish people for deportation to Nazi death camps in Poland in 1942. Browning argues that most of the men of  RPB 101 were not fanatical Nazis but, rather, ordinary middle-aged, working-class men who committed these atrocities out of a mixture of motives, including the group dynamics of conformity, deference to authority, role adaptation, and the altering of moral norms to justify their actions. Very quickly three groups emerged within the battalion: a core of eager killers, a plurality who carried out their duties reliably but without initiative, and a small minority who evaded participation in the acts of killing without diminishing the murderous efficiency of the battalion whatsoever.

While this book discusses a specific Reserve Unit during WWII, the general argument Browning makes is that most people succumb to the pressures of a group setting and commit actions they would never do of their own volition.  

Ordinary Men is a powerful, chilling, and important work with themes and arguments that continue to resonate today.  

Editorial Reviews

"A staggering and important book, a book that manages without polemic to communicate at least an intimation of the unthinkable." -- Chicago Tribune

"Helps us understand, better than we did before, not only what they did to make the Holocaust happen but also how they were transformed psychologically from the ordinary men of [the] title into active participants in the most monstrous crime in human history." -- New York Times Book Review

"It is the care with which Browning examines the evidence, as well as the soberness of his conclusions, that gives this work such power and impact." -- Kirkus Reviews

"A remarkable-and singularly chilling-glimpse of human behavior. . .This meticulously researched book...represents a major contribution to the literature of the Holocaust." -- Newsweek

Readers Top Reviews

Aesir InksRobert S.O
Not great bed time reading, more like ESSENTIAL bed time reading - although you will possibly have difficulty sleeping. This book elicited emotions that I have not felt since watching ‘The World At War’ as a young teenager over forty years ago. A warning as to how groups of conscripted ‘ordinary men’ can be manipulated, coerced and encouraged to carry out acts of dehumanising evil. ending in slaughter and cold hearted murder on an industrial scale. While some soldiers refused to carry out their orders, others relished the murder, The frightening point of this book is that the majority of conscripts simply shrugged their shoulders and got on with the ‘job’ at hand. Mass murder and genocide have happened more than once throughout human history, they will very probably happen again. None are so blind as those blinded by ideology and labouring under the illusion of ‘a grand destiny’. Then there are those who harden their hearts and either ‘just follow orders’ or simply ‘look the other way.’. Truly terrifying food for thought.
This book is a very detailed and neutral account of the mass murder of Jews around Germany by Nazi reserve police. Naturally, it can be quite graphic at times, even describing the exact methods they learned to shoot as many people as possible with the least amount of mess and trauma. The reason this is an IMPORTANT read is that it gives you a glimpse into the capacity that all humans have to do evil. It forces you to think and consider that, to embrace it, so that you can think on how you might avoid doing things like some of these men did. These were ordinary men - middle aged men with families who mostly joined reserve police as a way to avoid frontline combat or who had a lineage of policing. They never signed up to become mass murderers, but 90% of them did anyway. This book also clears the misconception that these men had no choice to do what they did. Those that refused to participate never faced any real consequences except for social stigma. Think on that. Overall, a difficult but good read.
Jeremy David Stevens
Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland is a nonfiction account of the genocidal journey of a police battalion conscripted into Hitler’s Final Solution, mostly from first-hand accounts of the men themselves (from their interrogations when they were put on trial in the 1960s). The term “ordinary men” refers to the types of men they were before they became part of the war effort. Many (if not the majority) were cigarette salesmen, bakers, metropolitan police officers, and bankers. They were middle-aged men deemed too old to be conscripted into the regular army. In short, they were not the kinds of people you might expect would go on to become mass-murderers. The first mass murder takes place in a Polish town called Jozefow. The commander of the unit was teary-eyed and choked up when he gave the order to his men. Accounts hold that he even gave them a way out, stating that if any man didn’t think they were up for the challenge (of murdering thousands of Jews on that day), they were free to step down. About twelve men (among hundreds) decided to step down and opt out of the killing. As a side note, these are the men we should really be studying, because if every man had their courage, we may have avoided the Holocaust altogether. Nevertheless, 1,500 Jews were shot in the back of the head and neck that day. Many were killed on the spot, and many were gravely injured, but left in the mass grave to suffer a slow, more painful death, being suffocated by their friends and family as they fell on top of them. The book follows the battalion through other such mass killings, Judenjagd (“Jew Hunt”) in the Polish countryside, and their participation in gathering up and deporting Jews to Treblinka (a literal death sentence). Ultimately, these bakers, salesmen, and police officers were directly responsible for the deaths of 38,000 men, women and children through mass-shootings, and another 45,200 through collecting people from the ghettos and forcing them onto trains for Treblinka (a Nazi extermination camp). Browning offers up a variety of reasons that these ordinary men participated in genocide, some more pertinent than others. Among those reasons are deference to authority, psychological need for conformity, fear of a brutal regime, fear of looking “weak” in front of other members of the battalion, detachment from the people they were killing, and indoctrination via the Nazi propaganda machine. None of these individual reasons would have been enough to drive ordinary men to mass murder, but altogether, the reasons became enough for many of them. “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 matter.” -Christop...
Rev. Gallard
Humbling and fascinating look at what has happened during the Holocaust, something to reminds us that not everyone who perpetrates monstrous acts is, inherently, a monster: One need not be born a monster to become one, and if we arrogantly ignore that fact we risk repeating these same mistakes. This should be required reading in schools, if you were to ask me. I cannot recommend it enough.
I listed to Professor Jordan Peterson on YouTube. He recommended this book to read an example of how, generally, ordinary men, not necessarily anti Jewish, could turn into mass murderers. These men were not forced to do these things, but bought into killing, and rounding up defenseless Jews—and others—not to be considered not a friend of the rest. Interesting was a police captain, who could not bring himself to commit (actually, from after the first murders, he couldn’t bring himself to even go to where the murders would take place) the murders, gave this subordinates the orders of exactly what to do, who to do it to, and how—from his “sick bed.” As soon as the murders were completed, he was miraculously cured. There were men ( actually, two) who refused, from the first order to murder, to engage in the holocaust the the Germans were perpetrating. Nothing happened to them—except that they were considered, by their fellow policemen, to be weak, and were not trusted. The author’s direct conclusion is that anyone, you or me, given the right circumstances, could be a concentration camp guard, mass murderer, or Soviet Gulag camp guard and murderer. Another experimenter disagrees, and tries to use the Theodore Adorno list of the traits of the Nazi (authoritarian) personality. The author defeats this. Consider today’s hatred for president Trump and the people who elected him: We hear, and read, from the Left how those people must be destroyed. Not “defeated”, but “destroyed” and never to be heard from again. Does anyone, listening to them, not think that, if they actually gained total control of the government, they would not become mass murders themselves?