Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland is an amazing book that should be mandatory reading in schools. It’s a case study of a group of around 500 police officers who were initially devastated by their participation in a massacre, but ultimately rounded up and killed 85,000 Jews, either by shooting them or by putting them on trains to extermination camps.
What the book is really about is the way everyone dealt with their ambivalence.
It’s an interesting fact that, when the battalion was given the orders for its first “Jewish action,” the person giving the orders was tearful and said that anyone who didn’t want to kill a bunch of innocent men, women, and children didn’t have to. Only about a dozen people opted out at first! Note that there isn’t a single documented case of anything especially bad happening to someone for refusing to participate in killings. Like, according to the prosecutors.
The book talks about the history of the Order Police.
The Order Police resulted from the third attempt in interwar years to create large police formations with military training and equipment. In the wake of the German defeat in World War I, revolution broke out in Germany. As the army dissolved, military officers and government officials fearful of being swept away by revolutionary forces organized counterrevolutionary paramilitary units known as the Freikorps. When the domestic situation stabilized in 1919, many of the Freikorps men were merged with police into large formations stationed in barracks and on hand to combat any further resurgence of the revolutionary threat. The Allies, however, demanded the dissolution of these police formations in 1920 as a potential violation of the Versailles Treaty limiting Germany’s standing army to 100,000 men.
After the Nazi regime was established in 1933, a “police army” (Armee der Landespolizei) of 56,000 men was created. These units were stationed in barracks and given full military training as part of Germany’s covert rearmament.
These units were used for killings starting in Russia. Below is a letter from a horrified German civil administrator. We should remember that it’s become fashionable to read this kind of stuff with a hard-on, as an inspiration. That’s what the other side does openly.
Slutsk, 30 October 1941
Regional Commissioner Slutsk
To: General Commissioner in Minsk
Concerning: Jewish action
In reference to my telephone report of October 27, 1941, I submit the following to you in writing:
On the morning of October 27 about 8 o’clock, a first lieutenant of Police Battalion 11 from Kovno (Lithuania) appeared. He introduced himself as the adjutant of the battalion commander of the Security [sic] Police. The first lieutenant declared that the police battalion had been assigned the task of carrying out the liquidation of all Jews in the city of Slutsk within two days. The battalion commander was approaching with a force of four companies, two of them Lithuanian auxiliaries, and the action had to begin immediately. I thereupon answered the first lieutenant that in any case I first of all had to discuss the action with the commander. About one-half hour later the police battalion arrived in Slutsk. As requested, the discussion with the battalion commander then took place immediately after his arrival.
I explained first of all to the commander that it would scarcely be possible to carry out the action without prior preparation, because all [the Jews] had been sent to work and there would be frightful confusion. At the very least, he was obligated to give one day’s notice. I then asked him to postpone the action for one day. He nonetheless rejected this, noting that he had to carry out actions in the cities all around and only two days were available for Slutsk. At the end of these two days Slutsk had to be absolutely free of Jews.
I immediately lodged the sharpest protest against this, in which I emphasized that a liquidation of the Jews could not take place arbitrarily. The larger portion of Jews still present in the city consisted of craftsmen and their families. One simply could not do without the Jewish craftsmen, because they were indispensable for the maintenance of the economy. Furthermore I referred to the fact that White Russian craftsmen were, so to say, utterly unavailable, that therefore all vital enterprises would be paralyzed with a single blow if all Jews were liquidated. At the conclusion of our discussion I mentioned that the craftsmen and specialists, insofar as they were indispensable, had identification on hand, and that these Jews were not to be taken out of the workshops. It was further agreed that all Jews still in the city, especially the craftsmen’s families, whom I also did not want to have liquidated, should first of all be brought to the ghetto for the purpose of sorting. Two of my officials were to be authorized to carry out the sorting. The commander in no way opposed my position, so in good faith I believed that the action would therefore be carried out accordingly.
Several hours after the action began, the greatest difficulties were already becoming apparent. I discovered that the commander was not at all abiding by our arrangement. Contrary to the agreement, all Jews without exception were being taken from the factories and workshops and sent off. A portion of the Jews were in any case taken through the ghetto, where many were grabbed and selected out by me, but most were loaded directly on trucks and without further ado liquidated outside the city.
Shortly after noon, complaints were already coming from all sides that the workshops could no longer operate because all Jewish craftsmen had been removed. Because the commander had driven on to Baranovichi, I contacted the deputy commander, a captain, after a long search and demanded that the action be immediately stopped, because it was not taking place according to my instructions and the economic damage already inflicted could not be made good.
The captain was astonished by my viewpoint and explained that he had received instructions from the commander to make the city free of Jews without exception, as they had also done in other cities. The cleansing had to take place on political grounds, and nowhere had economic factors so far played a role. Upon my energetic interventions he then nonetheless stopped the action toward evening.
What else concerns this action, I must to my greatest regret emphasize, is last of all that it bordered on sadism. During the action the city itself offered a horrible picture. With indescribable brutality, by the German policemen as well but especially by the Lithuanians, the Jews and also White Russians were taken out of their lodgings and driven together. There was shooting everywhere in the city, and in individual streets bodies of Jews who had been shot piled up. The White Russians had the greatest difficulty in extricating themselves from the roundup. Aside from the fact that the Jews, among them also craftsmen, were brutally mistreated in a frightfully barbarous way before the eyes of the White Russians, the latter were likewise beaten with truncheons and clubs. One can no longer speak of a Jewish action, it appeared much more like a revolution.
I and all my officials were in the midst of this all day without a break, in order to save what could still be saved. Repeatedly I literally had to drive German police officials as well as Lithuanians out of the workshops with drawn revolver. My own gendarmes were given the same task but because of the wild shooting often had to get off the streets in order not to be shot themselves. The entire scene was altogether more than ghastly. In the afternoon a large number of horse-driven carts without drivers stood around in the streets, so that I had to assign the city administration immediately to take care of them. Afterward it turned out that they were Jewish wagons that had been assigned by the army to transport ammunition. The Jews had simply been taken down from the wagons and marched off, without anyone caring for the wagons.
I was not present at the shootings outside the city. Thus I can say nothing about the brutality. But it suffices when I emphasize that long after being thrown in the grave, some of those shot worked their way out again. Concerning the economic damage I note that the tannery was most frightfully affected. Twenty-six experts worked there. In one blow fifteen of the best specialists among them were shot. Another four jumped from the wagons while underway and escaped, while seven avoided being seized through flight. Five men worked in the wheelwright shop, four of whom were shot, and the shop must now be kept going with only one wheelwright. Still other craftsmen are missing, such as cabinetmakers, smiths, etc. So far it has not been possible for me to get a precise overview.
As I already mentioned at the beginning, the families of the craftsmen were also supposed to have been spared. Today it appears, however, that in almost every family some people are missing. Reports come in from everywhere, from which it can be concluded that in some such families the craftsman himself, in others the wife, and in yet others the children are missing. Thus almost all families have been torn apart. In these circumstances it must be very doubtful if the remaining craftsmen are enthusiastic about their work and produce accordingly, the more so in that at the moment they are still walking around with faces beaten bloody on account of the brutality. The White Russians whose full trust had been won, stood there aghast. Although they are intimidated and do not dare to express their opinions freely, one nonetheless hears it said that this day represented no page of glory for Germany and that it will never be forgotten. I am of the opinion that through this action much has been destroyed that we had achieved over the last months, and that it will be a long time before we can again win the trust of the population.
In conclusion I find myself compelled to point out that during the action the police battalion plundered in an outrageous way, and indeed not only in Jewish houses, but just as much in the houses of the White Russians. They took with them anything useful, such as boots, leather, textiles, gold, and other valuables. According to the accounts of members of the army, watches were torn from the arms of Jews publicly in the streets, rings were pulled off fingers in the most brutal way. One senior paymaster reported that a Jewish girl was ordered by the police immediately to fetch 5,000 rubles, then her father would be released. This girl is said to have run around everywhere trying to get the money. Also within the ghetto the individual barracks that were nailed shut by the civil administration and provided with a Jewish inventory were broken into and robbed by the police. Even in the barracks in which the unit was lodged, window frames and doors were torn out for the camp fire. Even though I had a talk with the commander’s adjutant on Tuesday morning concerning the plundering and he promised me in the course of the conversation that no police would henceforth enter the city, several hours later I was forced once again to arrest two fully armed Lithuanians, because they were caught looting. On the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, the battalion left the city in the direction of Baranovichi. The population was manifestly happy as the news spread through the city.
So much for this report. I will come to Minsk in the near future in order once again to discuss the matter orally. At the moment I am not able to contniue the Jewish action. First peace must return. I hope to be able to restore peace as quickly as possible and despite the difficulties to revive the economy. I now ask only that one request be granted me “In the future spare me without fail from this police battalion.”
The important psychological factors are identified. These things desperately need to be understood by liberals:
Along with ideological indoctrination, a vital factor touched upon but not fully explored in Milgram’s experiments was conformity to the group. The battalion had orders to kill Jews, but each individual did not. Yet 80 to 90 percent of the men proceeded to kill, though almost all of them–at least initially–were horrified and disgusted by what they were doing. To break ranks and step out, to adopt overtly nonconformist behavior, was simply beyond most of the men. It was easier for them to shoot.
Why? First of all, by breaking ranks, nonshooters were leaving the “dirty work” to their comrades. Since the battalion had to shoot even if individuals did not, refusing to shoot constituted refusing one’s share of an unpleasant collective obligation. It was in effect an asocial act vis-a-vis one’s comrades. Those who did not shoot risked isolation, rejection, and ostracism–a very uncomfortable prospect within the framework of a tight-knit unit stationed abroad among a hostile population, so that the individual had virtually nowhere else to turn for support and social contact.
This threat of isolation was intensified by the fact that stepping out could also have been seen as a form of moral reproach of one’s comrades: the nonshooter was potentially indicating that he was “too good” to do such things. Most, though not all, nonshooters intuitively tried to diffuse the criticism of their comrades that was inherent in their actions. They pleaded not that they were “too good” but rather that they were “too weak” to kill.
Such a stance presented no challenge to the esteem of one’s comrades; on the contrary, it legitimized and upheld “toughness” as a superior quality. For the anxious individual, it had the added advantage of posing no moral challenge to the murderous policies of the regime, though it did pose another problem, since the difference between being “weak” and being a “coward” was not great. Hence the distinction made by one policeman who did not dare to step out at Jozefow for fear of being considered a coward, but who subsequently dropped out of his firing squad. It was one thing to be too cowardly to even try to kill it was another, after resolutely trying to do one’s share, to be too weak to continue.
Insidiously, therefore, most of those who did not shoot not only reaffirmed the “macho” values of the majority–according to which it was a positive quality to be “tough” enough to kill unarmed, noncombatant men, women, and children–and tried not to rupture the bonds of comradeship that constituted their social world. Coping with the contradiction imposed by the demands of conscience on the one hand and the norms of the battalion on the other led to many tortured attempts at compromise: not shooting infants on the spot but taking them to the assembly point; not shooting on patrol if no “go-getter” was along who might report such squeamishness; bring Jews to the shooting site and firing but intentionally missing. Only the very exceptional remained indifferent to taunts of “weakling” from their comrades and could live with the fact that they were considered to be “no man.”
The book has an important conclusion (1992):
Most of all, one comes away from the story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 with great unease. This story of ordinary men is not the story of all men. The reserve policemen faced choices, and most of them committed terrible deeds. 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.
At the same time, however, 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 [early refusers cited their lack of ambition to climb the police hierarchy]. 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?
After learning these important facts about the Holocaust, isn’t it disturbing that, under present conditions, people are struggling mightily to condemn obvious neo-Nazism? Don’t we see people pointing out that, like, we really need illegal immigrants to keep our produce cheap? Won’t somebody think of the economy?
For Germans during the Holocaust, simple nonparticipation was about as bad as being vegan. Everybody hates you, but it’s allowed. Someone else will do the killing and it won’t change much, but it’s the least that you can do.
People that buy into Nazi assumptions but feel repulsed by Klan marches shouldn’t feel so comfortable. Feeling intense personal revulsion is 100% compatible with being a mass murderer. What’s terrifying is that people seem to think revulsion at personally killing someone proves anything. It’s terrifying because it reveals basic ignorance of how the Holocaust went down.
Liberals are the people who want you to feel sorry for them because they gave a kid a teddy bear on the way to the gas chamber. When I have a problem with liberals, I’m not saying that they’re bloodthirsty. I’m saying that they’re chickenshit when it counts.
Nazism is that thing where someone is getting bullied and people do nothing.