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Boston, US
Posts: 288


Excerpt from Christopher Browning’s book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, chapter 1 (pages 1-2) and chapter 7 (pages 55-70).

Reading Christopher Browning’s text on the Józefów massacre—a chapter of his book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, one of the most brilliant and horrifying books ever written about the Nazi era--it is impossible not to wonder: what happened there? I don’t know about you, but I find his account and the reality of what happened there to be profoundly and deeply disturbing.

Here’s what I want you first to address in this post. Why did these men do what they did? Why did some men participate and some men choose not to? What were the real repercussions if you chose not to participate? Why didn’t more of the men do that? What seemed to be “going through their heads”? What do you make of Major Tripp’s views and actions? Why were these actions—these massacres by teams that served as “einsatzgruppen”—special killing squads—so problematic for the Nazis in the short-term and in the long term?

Then, consider this. At the end of the Second World War, a psychologist named Theodor Adorno argued that there was a "Fascist Personality Type" that was prone to genocide. According to Adorno, it made folks feel good to know that this behavior was "just the way Germans are."

Then, in 1961 Stanley Milgram did what became his classic experiment on obedience and taught us about the power of the situation and how ordinary people are willing to obey authority. We will be looking at this experiment next week.

Since Milgram did his research, we have learned a lot about obedience and the potential for people to change their behavior through the power of the situation. Philip Zimbardo did a classic study at Stanford University in which students took on the role of guards and prisoners - with rather frightening results. Other researchers, like Mike Fatouros studied how someone goes on to become a torturer by a systematic psychological process. Lastly, other theorists, like Irving Janis, argue that we go into something called "Groupthink" where we are unable to make rational decisions because of our loss of perspective of the greater world.

Browning, along with these psychologists, have helped us to understand the question of this rather dark side of human behavior. But as a student last year asked, in response to this article: So what? She felt that Browning's article, in trying to make us understand the origins of their behavior, was asking us to have some sympathy for the perpetrators in the unit.

So, here is that question. So what? What does it mean for us if the answer is that "the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions”? Does this in some way lessen the horrible nature of their crimes? Does it mean that the perpetrators are in some way less responsible?

In your response, be certain to make specific reference to what you saw with the Einsatzgruppen, from Browning, and from his findings in this chapter from his ground-breaking book. This is perhaps one of the most thought-provoking and essential readings and posts we will have all year.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 25

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Browning's book, Ordinary Men, achieves the purpose of persuading readers that anyone can be capable of anything. Through his book he shares how these seemingly “normal” men were able to kill and massacure groups of innocent people. For Einsatzgruppen, and the Reserve Police Officers, they had the ability to not pull the trigger on thousands of innocent people, but due to social pressure and by their orders, they personally felt that they had no choice but to shoot. Most of these men came from lower or middle class so this was a new oppurtunity for them, and they feared the opposition and embarrassment that they would face if they chose not to participate. They did have the option to not shoot others but if some of their peers did it, they would follow since they didn't know these Jews personally, so it doesn’t matter.

I don’t think that the excuse of "the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions”, since they still chose to do these inhumane acts when given the chance to not. At the beginning some did opt out as they were all told that they would be killing Jews, and Tripp offered them a way out. I appreciate that Tripp gave them the option, but this also shows how it wasn’t just leaders who controlled this, many men chose to take part in this and contributed to these mass deaths so that they wouldn’t feel ashamed of themselves. In Browning’s book one of the men, after killing Jews, ran into the forest and punished himself as he got sick because of his actions. This confused me why this man wouldn’t have just opted out in the first place, as he knew it was immoral and wouldn’t make him feel good. Some of these soldiers were completly fine killing Jews while others were disgusted in themselves. All these actions led up to another and could have been prevented if soldiers opposed. By rounding up Jews into the camps, forcing them to an area, and pulling the trigger, all these soilders equally participated in these crimes.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 28

The dynamic between a perpetrator and their victims is one that we believe to be simple and straightforward--the perpetrator purposefully brings harm onto the victim with no remorse or sympathy. Therefore, when it comes to tragedy that was the Holocaust, we define the relationship between Nazis and the Jews along the lines of that same perpretator-victim dynamic, when in reality, the pyschology of such an event is far more complex than we’ve anticipated. This of course doesn’t dismiss the brutality and vast horror endured by all those targeted by the Nazi Party. However, it’s still important to consider the the vast manipulation, coercion, and forced obedience endured by most of the men enlisted in the Einsatzgruppen; A critical detail about this men is also their previous occupations: most of the men had little to no military background (barbers, cigarette salemen, etc).

When it came to the Jozefow massacre, in which around 1,800 Jews were rounded up and executed, the battalions responsible were left in the dark as to why they were in Jozefow. The meer fact that these men were told of their assignment suggests that, if the commanders/lieutenents did inform their men, most would opt out of the mission. The mission at hand was to round up the Jews, load the able-bodied Jewish men to be sent to labor camps while the women, children, and elderly would be shot at the spot. Any individual with emotions would clearly avoid such a gut-wrenching and scarring task, however, these men couldn’t easily avoid this fate as they were already at Jozefow with their comrades and superiors. The sheer authority these lieutenants had over these men would only make abandoning the mission seem even more disagreeable. This is seen when Otto-Julius Schimke was the first to step down from the assignment, infuriating Captain Hoffman of the Third Battalion; After Otto stepped down, several followed, revealing the intense hesitation the men had about their mission. However, several of the men didn’t step forward--why is that so? If they had the freedom to step down, why didn’t they all refuse to go into Jozefow to avoid slaughtering the Jewish citizens? The answer isn’t simple, considering there were men of various backgrounds, ideologies, and values, but a likely explanation for their obedience could be explained by the Yale Study we viewed in class. In the study, two men were assigned to be either a ‘teacher’ or a ‘learner’; when the learner got a question wrong, the teacher delivered a shock that increased in voltage with every incorrect answer. Despite his concern for the learner and objection to the use of electric shock, the teacher continued with the treatment as the lab facilitator repeatedly insisted that he continue shocking the learner. This obedience to static authority could explain why a majority of the Einsatzgruppen battalions went through with the execution despite their complaints.

The extreme dislike for this massacre was a mutual feeling among several within the Einsatzgruppen. For example, Lieutenant Trapp, who accompanied his men into Jozefow, was reported to have broken down several times throughout the massacre, and he ultimately spared a young girl that had survived the executions. When it came to the executions themselves, the men reiterated their inability to carry on with the task, especially when it came to killing young children and elderly. Once again, these men didn’t leave Jozefow, but they found ways to avoid further executions: they would prolong sweeps in the town, hideout in the marketplace, or take different assignments (guarding the forests/outside of the town, etc). Additionally, to ‘ease’ the soldiers’ guilt, a battalion physician named Dr.Schoenfeld taught the men were to shoot the victims to kill them quickly and ‘painlessly,’ but because of the men’s lack of military/police background, their executions were extremely gory and traumatizing. Near the end of the Jozefow massacre, no one within the Einsatzgruppen objected to the fact that the mission was extremely traumatizing. The multiple cigarette and alcohol breaks between executions as well as the shame/horror that plagued the barracks show how most of these perpetrators were ultimately scarred by their assignment as it breached every aspect of their morality.

In the end, the Jozefow massacre was not only a display of mass murder and anti-semitism, but also an example of the psychological effects of manipulation, pack-like thinking, and obedience. It’s safe to say that the perpetrator-victim relationship between Nazis like the Einsatzgruppen and Jews was complex and hard to generalize.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 25

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Multiple times in class we have asked and wondered if any of us believe we would be capable of doing something unethical or if we knew someone who we knew would do something unethical. And almost every single time we’ve all answered yes. But yet I don’t think any of us really understand why we would do so or we would at least like to believe that we would do so to help ourselves or someone else. Christopher Browning’s text doesn't exactly have an answer to these questions either. However, we’re able to infer what the possibilities are based on the accounts of men from the battalions and different police officers. After reading the piece, I ultimately believe that the men that were part of the experiments did what they did because they genuinely believed that they had no choice but to do so. Maybe they were sensitive when it came to authority figures, they would have felt intimidated by the people giving them orders, whatever it may be I believe the best explanation is that they felt there was no better option than to just follow orders.

I do believe that the men were aware that what they were doing was wrong because of how many of them reacted after they were given their orders. One of the examples that stood out the most to me was one of the men, Trapp, was freaking out when he first got the order and said that he didn't understand why he had been given these orders in the first place. He later said that this job doesn't “suit” him “but orders are orders” (58). It’s interesting how quickly he went from almost grieving to just accepting his fate, even though it wasn't his fate. Trapp continued to complain and weep but he and his battalion still continued their tasks and didn't do much to stop it. It was also noted that the men avoided shooting infants and women “at all costs” and if they did, they didn't walk away joyfully (59-60). Almost as if they attempted to comfort themselves in a “I’m doing something wrong but at least it's not completely wrong” kind of way.

It’s also possible that the men just didn't have enough time to process everything they were doing. They could quickly process that yes, what they were doing was wrong, but they couldn't process or bring themselves to process what they could do to get out of the situation. We read that the shootings would go on all night and there would not be a pause during them. Everyone just did what they were told and didn't stop to question it. It was only after that the men would question or doubt what they had done (61-62). Perhaps this could have even been some kind of trauma response and a way for them to protect themselves. Maybe they did not want to be next, and protecting themselves was worth more than protecting the people they were killing.

All of this is not to say that what they did was justified by any means. These are just potential explanations for us to somewhat understand what and why any of this happened. I think it’s hard for the murder of a human being to be justified but specifically in this instance I absolutely do not believe that the actions were justified. Although it is possible that humans do lose the ability to make rational decisions when a situation’s power is so strong because deciding to not kill someone isn't just the rational decision because it’s not typically something you need to weigh the facts and evidence on, you kind of just know. However, that can be very easy to say for someone who has never been in the situation.

Chestnut Hill, MA, US
Posts: 28

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

An authoritative upper hand in a situation can ultimately decide what someone would or wouldn't do. Because of power dynamics and the common knowledge that those above us, even in daily life -- bosses, teachers, mayors, etc --, are not necessarily people we must fear, but should indeed keep an eye out on as their choices can personally harm or benefit us. Throughout the year in Facing History, I've come to be aware of the lack of upstanders seen in the past and even in the present. Although I'd like to think I could never hold back on a situation that I may find concerning or unethical, it has become rather apparent that this is more of an "easier said than done" kind of thing. According to a chapter in Christopher Browning's book on the Jozefow massacre, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, we see this social pressure and influence control common men's choice to kill innocent people. Even though there's a side of the argument where people may point out that this was a choice made not an end-all-be-all, meaning they could've not pulled the trigger, the thought of not obeying orders completely took over and left no room for ethics or morals. This, however, doesn't quite excuse or justify what the men did by any means; it actually opens the discussion up to why humans are so quick to adhere to orders, even inhumane and barbaric ones? Additionally, in the chapter, it states that "some had at least a hint of what was to come" (56) so backing out prior to the massacre could've also been a way out if the men truly wanted to.

In 1961, Stanley Milgram performed a classic experiment on obedience which displayed this willingness to obey authority. With one man being assigned as a "teacher" and another as a "learner", a beginning power division was already initiated. Following that, the teacher was advised to increase the shock levels every time the learner got a question wrong -- some experiments varied between whether or not the two had met each other prior, were in the same room, etc. In one of these trials and in the video watched in class, we saw this growing concern by the teacher as he gradually increased the shock value. The thought of the learner getting hurt or even dying, which the teacher acknowledged, wasn't enough for him to stop the experiment. When he expressed his supposed unwillingness, he was simply told: "the experiment must continue". Even though the man volunteered to be a part of this experiment and didn't know if there were consequences, he still felt obliged to continue. When the Q&A occurred and he realized it was all an act to actually test him, he avoided all questions regarding why he didn't stop or if the learner could've done anything else to try and convince him to stop -- although the learner was screaming. Because of this denial to listen to the one with a lower power stance but more vulnerable and in need than the people running the experiment, it shows this ideology of perpetrators being appealed to staying on the side with power.

West Roxbury, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 25

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

What does it mean for us if the answer is that "the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions”? I think it is crucial for us to understand the power of the situation in these scenarios. We often like to say that if we were the one in the scenarios we would not make the same decisions these people did. We like to think of ourselves as being above being unethical. In reality, we have no idea what we would do because we do not fully understand the power of the situation. We could deny orders and be upstanders but realistically we probably would have tried to stay out of trouble and followed orders like most people. People during these events were more worried about their safety than they were about being an upstander. Browning addresses this idea in his book. Browning talks about the importance of understanding the pressure these people faced. Many of these people felt they had no other choice. These people did not realize the effects their actions had on the world until after they were committed. Does this in some way lessen the horrible nature of their crimes? Does it mean that the perpetrators are in some way less responsible? No, I do not think that this lessens the nature of the crimes. I still believe that you have to be a sick and twisted person to physically take someone else's life, no matter the context. But, I do think that it takes away some responsibility from the perpetrators. I think that the people barking orders and enforcing laws are the most responsible. These are the people who forced people to kill other human beings for their benefit. For example, in the Milgram experiment, I believe that the authority figure is more responsible than the "teacher". It is part of human nature to try to stay out of trouble which is why I believe that the perpetrators do not hold as much responsibility as those in power.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 28

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

When put in a situation where you are persuaded and pressured to do something, it is hard to believe that there is any other option. We saw this in the experiment conducted by Stanley Milgram in 1961. Stanley Milgram’s experiment demonstrates how a constant voice pressuring you to do an act eventually breaks through your self-conscience to a point where you simply follow directions without a second thought. Although the “teacher” attempted to do the right thing at first, frequently questioning the safety of the “student,'' he continued with the experiment. There were times when it seemed like the teacher would stop, but he ultimately continued with the experiment. Seeing the change in the teacher’s questioning as the experiment progressed is a visual demonstration of the influence extensive pressure has on emotions and thoughts behind actions. The more a person is pressured, the more they start forgetting about their own power.

Similar to the bystander effect we learned about previously in Facing History, humans are just as likely to do an act if everyone else is doing it. Humans are inclined to follow an authority figure because of social pressure. Thus, we get the answer that "the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions.” In the Jozefow massacre, the men had the option to leave, but they chose to stay because a majority of their fellow soldiers did not speak up. It takes a lot of courage to break out of the mold that is expected of you when you are in a group because you don’t want to be singled out. I know personally that I always try to blend in with the crowd out of fear of being seen as an “outcast.”

It could be reasoned that even though the men in the Józefów massacre were given the option to not participate in the massacre, many did not speak out partly because of “the reality of what they were about to do, and particularly that they themselves might be chosen for the firing squad, had probably not sunk in” (62). The events of the massacre unfolded so quickly that they were not able to process what was going on.

They were also influenced by the actions of their fellow soldiers. The recount of the Józefów massacre shows that even when the authoritative figure does not wish to comply with their own order, subordinates continue to carry out the orders because of their group mates. As Christopher Browning’s text said, “While Trapp complained of his orders and wept, his men proceeded to carry out the battalion's task” (58). This shows that an authoritative power does not only come from one person. It can come from a group of people. In this case, it was the power of the group that seemed to be pressuring individuals to carry out the killings.

Nonetheless, this psychology that people are inclined to “groupthink” does not take away from the responsibility of the perpetrators because individuals still have the ability to speak out and refuse to do something. There were about 35% of the “teachers” in Milgram’s experiment who did not continue with the experiment. The men in the Józefów massacre also had multiple chances to say that they did not want to be assigned to the firing squad. For example, Otto-Julius Schimke was the first to use the opportunity to step down from the assignment. There were also no repercussions for those who chose to speak out because as one witness who asked to be reassigned recounted, “They showered me with remarks such as “shithead” and “weakling” to express their disgust. But I suffered no consequences for my actions” (66). In the end, it was the men’s decision to participate. Though it can be partially blamed that the power of an authoritative figure or “groupthink” was too great on them to refuse to participate, the men had the final say.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 28

Every individual wants to be able to say that they made the right choice– that they made the moral and selfless decision. This, however, is often not the case. In July of 1942 amidst the Nazi era, the Józefów massacre took place, resulting in the rounding up and murder of a town with about 1,800 Jewish people. This terrible attrocity was committed by men of the Reserve Police Battalion 101, yet they were ordered by people in higher ranked positions. The men, therefore, didn’t choose to carry through with this massive massacre of innocent women and children– they were following orders. This was primarily out of selfishness. The men cared more about their own safety and were willing to do things that went way beyond their morals.

Nevertheless, in Christopher Browning’s book, he makes it clear that the men were given an optino to opt out. Before the massacre began, all older men had the opportunity to step back. As the killing progressed, several men were also able to go to generals and find a way out. Anyone that chose to continue with the killing, regardless, means that the killing wasn’t necessarily a full obligation for them. To some extent, this option could imply harsh consequences later, and I believe this is something that the soldiers understood. If they chose not to participate in the killing, they were more likely to be punished or treated differently later on. Those that chose not to participate in the killing were ordered “to turn in their rifles and [were told to] await a further assignment from the major” (Browning 57). This command is somewhat vague, and I think the men understood that. The men seemed to know that stepping back could hurt their reputation. This is exactly why it was selfishness that overpowered their ability to make the morally right decisions. Selfish acts like these, however, do not rid the men of responsibility for their actions. The fact that they put a gun to the necks of innocent women and children is not excuseable in any way whatsoever.

It is also important to remember that these men were part of this battalion for a reason. Signing up for something like and being a part of the Nazi party would likely mean that you have to carry through with immoral acts. Throughout the first chapter, Browning attempts to emphasized the fact that the men continuously “missed” when shooting their victims because of how disturbed they were. It appears, however, that many men eventually opped out throughout the course of the massacre not because the idea of killing innocent Jewish people bothered them, but rather seeing it happens was too disturbing. Once again, even their actions of deciding to stop participating was, in many ways, a selfish choice. One of the men explained that “the entire backs of victims’ heads were torn off, so that the brains sprayed all over. I simply couldn’t watch it any longer” (Browning 68). This man chose to stop participating because the murder of these people was, in some ways, an inconvenience towards him. Massacres like these would be disturbing to almost any human being. Only the worst of the worst are so messed up that killing doesn’t even bother them. They knew it was morally wrong, in fact, surplus amounts of alcohol were availble to help the shooters cope. When thinking about this, it is important to recognize not the fact that it disturbed them, but the fact that they did it anyways–that, is concerning.

Browning exemplifies several individuals who were wrapped up in the situation, but made deliberate efforts to avoid participating. For example, when Lieutenant Heinz Buchmann learned about what was going to happen, he made it clear that he “would in no case participate in such an action, in which defenseless women and children are shot” (Browning 56). Although his actions shouldn’t necessarliy be treated with honor or dignity, as he still let the massacre happen, he does not carry the same amount of responsibility as the men who participated in the shooting. After all, any man that choose to step back and not participate before the massacre started does not carry as heavy of a responisiblity. They chose to lead with their morals, even though they knew that the consequences of their choices could potentially hurt them.

Similarly, Browning talks a lot about Major Wilhelm Trapp, explaining that “Trapp’s distress was a secret to no one” (Browning 58). Trapp demonstrated extreme distress—crying, complaining of his orders, and refusing to be near the shooting. Trapp was in a situation where he had no option to say no. As he explained, “orders are orders” (Browning 58). If he chose not to follow through, he was likely to be punished severely, so he had to live with the consequences. Trapp was the only individual who showed extreme remorse and it is clear he saw the Jewish people as human. He took a ten-year-old girl and embraced her, promising her that she will live, and prevented a second massacre, then telling the Jewish people who were trying to kiss his feet to stop.

All of this goes to show how complicated this is. When it comes to massacres, there is not a certain way that the morality of people’s actions can be measured afterwards. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that even if the men lost their ability to make rational and humane decisions because of the power of the situation, this doesn’t less the horrible crimes that they committed or change what happened. They put a gun to the heads of innocent women and children, and they pulled the trigger. This is unexcusable no matter what pressure you are under, and therefore, the situation does not make them less responsible. Sure, the men sending out these orders hold a greater responsibility, and sure, the men didn’t necessarily choose or want to do this, but they did it anyway. And they will always have to live with the “sense of shame and horror that pervaded the barracks” (Browning 69).

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 29
As people, we love to analyze why we do what we do. This is especially true with bystanderism. Our actions are often most closely examined in the context of bystanderism and when there was an injustice witnessed. We have been doing this for much of our unit on the holocaust, looking at different events through the lens of different groups and what was done to protect fellow human beings. One of the most interesting behaviors to analyze is that of the Nazis. Why would they commit such atrocities? Are those individuals acting out of their own hate or just following the masses? Or were they just following orders? When analyzing what happened it is important to recognize that these men were under pressure from higher authorities. This doesn’t excuse their actions but it helps to put things in perspective. But what Major Trapp did was most intriguing. Since he offered to excuse any men that were uncomfortable with the order it would make it so any men who choose to participate are doing so of their own accord. It was interesting to read about when different soldiers chose not to participate. Some chose not to when it was offered and others stopped after performing 20 executions. Overall though the fact that they were under orders to do what they did should not change the degree to which they are responsible for their actions. Especially when you consider how some “tried to make up for the opportunity they the missed” (62). The fact that some soldiers wanted to execute as many as possible, even making up for lost time, is especially horrifying. This reminded me of what one of the officers said in the film, that the soldiers would not engage in the killings because they were “so honorable.” Part of the horror these men had at the orders might have come from the fact that women and children are often spared but were being executed in this case. This also relates to what we talked about in class that at Auschwitz the Nazis made the executions less personal. When you have to shoot somebody you have to watch another human die which can take an incredible toll on a person. But when the nazis use gas dropped through a hole and they don’t have to watch the people die it can go on for a lot longer.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Reading Christopher Browning's book, Ordinary Men, it's hard not to think of the questions we've been asking all year: Why do people do things they way they do? What motivates humans to inflict this kind of pain on one another? Browning's book doesn't suggest any answers, at least in the chapter I read, but it does give us some possibilities as to what goes on in people's heads when they are faced with a situation like the range presented in World War II. I think that the men who were a part of the experiments detailed in the chapter believed that they didn't have a choice, and were ultimately pressured by the situation to do what they did. In that time, obeying authority was "just the way Germans are," so the environment the men were living and working in called for them to do horrible things in order to remain obedient and loyal, which are expected qualities in a soldier.

The book details a specific event, the Jozefow massacre, where 1,500 Jews were killed by German soldiers in 1942. Major Wilhelm Trapp gave his men orders following orders from his superiors, even though he was disturbed by them. He said that his men were specifically ordered to shoot anyone trying to escape, and equally horrific things. There is evidence in the book that the soldiers knew what they were doing, knew it was wrong, and yet still did it for the sake of following orders. I think this teraches us that the people who inflict pain are still people, and especially in times of war, soldiers who belong to specific armies have rules, and following orders and being obedient it extremely important. I remember in the movie A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson's character's argument in the main case was that his soldiers were innocent because they would never do something he told them not to, and always followed orders, even to the detriment of others. That connects here, because even though some of the soldiers in the German army at the time didn't share the same views as their superiors, like Hitler and Himmler and Goebbels, they still carried out orders and did what they had to do, because they believed they would be better off. Of course, this doesn't lessen the impact of their crimes, because without the Nazi army there would be no WWII. I just mean to say that it is important to take this into consideration when looking at the effects of a dire situation on human decisions. These people still chose to commit these acts, but with the concept of "groupthink" and Stanley Milgram's work on the effects of authority, it helps to understand why they made that decision in the first place.

iris almonds
Posts: 29

Josefov, the Einsatzgruppen, & the Psychology of the Holocaust

On a hot summer day in July of 1942, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were woken to what they thought was a “normal day”. They would later learn that they had the assignment of rounding up and shooting about 1800 Jewish people of the Jozefow town, which later became known as the Jozefow massacre. Major Trapp was informed of this assignment on the 11th of July and was told that Jewish men who were able to work were pulled aside and that women, the elderly, and children were shot on the spot because they were of no benefit nor use. After informing the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 what their task was, he gave an option for any older individuals who didn’t feel up to the task to opt out. Only one individual, Otto-Julius Schimke decided to step forward and opt-out. When Captain Hoffmann learned of this act, he was extremely furious because one of his own men was the first to opt-out of such a task. He began to berate Schimke, but Trapp proceeded to stop him. Following this, around ten more men decided to opt out.

Why did so few men decide to opt-out? It was probably because of the fear of embarrassment and punishment for not participating and fulfilling a given assignment. Most probably felt as if they were weak and useless if they were to sit out of something. They had this notion in their head that they had to be these brave and strong men who were not afraid of anything. They also feared what their superiors would think and say of them. One thing they greatly feared was the loss of reputation and how others would view them after. What happened to the first individual that opted out, Otto-Julius is exactly what most men probably fear. Otto-Julius’s higher up berated him and was only protected under Trapp. Following this, around ten more men opted out because they knew that they weren’t the first ones out. There is a notion that not being the first one out is never as bad as being the first one out. As to why the rest of them choose to participate and not opt-out after the first person opted out, they probably thought the assignment was like any other. They put on their brave soldier faces and wanted to show others that they could take anything, even death.

When Lieutenant Heinz Buchmann learns of what the assignment really entails, he stated that he “would in no case participate in such an action, in which defenseless women and children are shot” (Browning 56). He clearly states that he is unwilling to participate in these tasks and was assigned a different task to do. He probably knew that the consequence of not fulfilling his task could hurt his reputation and maybe carry the name of a “weak Lieutenant”, but I believe he did what his heart told him to do and that is the most important thing. Similarly, Major Trapp strongly disapproved of this act. Trapp never witnessed the executions nor did he go into the forest itself. “His absence was conspicuous. As one policeman bitterly commented, “Major Trapp was never there.”. Trapp would pace back and forth in the schoolroom, he would cry and weep. But in the end, he stated that orders are orders. He really had no option of opting out because of his rank.

While the men were killing innocent individuals, different things were going through their heads. For some, after killing or two, they could not bear the sight and asked to be excused from the assignment. Most of the time, if they went to the right individual, they would likely be excused. But others would continue to kill without a thought and purposely shoot in the wrong spot so that the Jew’s brain, bones, and blood would be splattered all over the place. A lot of them knew it was wrong to do this, but they continued to do it anyway. They had ways to cope with this and drank so that they could cope with the wrongs they have committed. This was because they felt as if they had a duty to fulfill the assignment that was given to them. They feared that if they were missing, they would get into deep trouble. But this was not the case. Most of them would not get into deep trouble if they proceeded not to go on with the killing. As the night went on and the shootings and the whole system, in general, got messier and messier, no strict control was being carried out. As with one man, he remained by the arriving trucks and made himself look busy so that he wouldn’t have to go into the forest and participate in the shootings. Yes, some of his comrades did notice and called him “shit-head” and “weakling”. But in the end, nobody really cared that he wasn’t at the shooting sight and he never got in trouble for it. He just had to bear the name of being called a weakling which is what a lot of men feared. This is because they associated the term weakness with women and children, which is what they were not.

In regard to the Nazi party, it is so so important for them to establish a sense of authority. It is important for them, Hilter, to establish the fact that he was the ruler. Everyone must listen to him and when in the Nazi army, individuals must listen to all orders. Individuals who don’t listen to authority and purposely do what they know is right are super problematic to the Nazis. For example in this chapter, we learn that soldiers sometimes purposefully missed the Jewish individual because they wanted to spare their life for the sake of being a human that deserves a life. This is exactly what the Nazis don’t want and exactly why they place such a threat on disobedience. Soldiers feel the need to do something because they have to and because the authority or leader said they have to. We can see this in the Milgrim experiment as well when some teachers would keep going and shocking the learner because the authority said so. The teacher that was interviewed after said that “no, nothing the learner said could have stopped him from shocking him”. His reason is that the authority/experiment guy stated that the experiment must go on. This is super scary to think about and really reveals how obedient people can be to authority.

Individuals can start to lose the sense of what is actually rational because of the idea of “groupthink”. The group as a whole thinks in a way that discourages individual creativity and thought. The first thing that popped into my head when I thought of the word groupthink is George Orwell’s 1984, which is a book about an authoritative leader, Big Brother controlling all of society. Groupthink is a scary yet real thing because humans have the tendency to want to fit in. As we have learned all this year, being an outsider isn’t that fun. We have learned that so many individuals would be willing to do what is wrong for the sake of fitting in. This in no way lessens the horrible nature of the crimes individuals commit because after all, they are willing to kill innocent women and children for their own sake. It is basically saying that “Oh, I am saved from embarrassment and name-calling if I kill this innocent woman. I would rather kill this individual than to be name-called and be called weak”. It in no way makes the perpetrators bear less responsibility. Those that bear less responsibility are those who rebel against and step out against others. Those who bear less responsibility are those who speak out or clearly state that they will not participate in this activity. In this case, the soldiers who stepped out, handed over their rifles and decided that they will not participate in such events would be the ones who bear the least amount of responsibility, although they still bear some responsibility since they are part of the battalion.

Posts: 25

In the chapter reading of Browning's book, Ordinary Men, the chapter details some of the most horrifying yet important details and anecdotes from the holocaust. The book shows the reader that, seemingly, anyone can do anything. This book and specific chapter illuminate this fact through showing actions by Nazi officers. Browning details these horrific crimes, yet also showing how these officers could be seen as “normal” if prior knowledge of their terrible crimes was known of. This juxtaposition between seemingly normal people, and the mind-boggling, horrific crimes they committed show how someone who seems normal, can still be a monster of sorts in certain times, depending on the situation. Browning seems to show in this chapter that it was the social and societal pressure that was placed onto the nazi officers that “forced” them to pull the triggers of their guns, even though it was still them who made the final decision to actually pull the trigger and kill the innocent people, weather they wanted to or not. The social pressure of the situation can be the cause or reasoning behind a lot of this, although obviously this is still the furthest thing from a valid excuse, as there is zero excuse for why any of this happened.

This extremely dark history of germans and nazis, and the reasoning or lack there of behind why so many Jewish people were killed can be somewhat tied into the Milgram experience which we watched. These two things can relate because the experiment shows how seemingly normal people may act off, when in certain situations where they are being told they have to do something. In one instance, we saw one of the teachers continuously saying that he wanted to stop, and he didn't want any responsibility for what happened to the man in the other room. But, when the instructor kept telling him to continue, he did just that. This relates to these Nazi officers because it shows how potentially some of them even realized that what they were doing was inhumane, but because of the orders they were getting, they continued to shoot. Again, this obviously does not excuse their actions at all, it just shows how “normal” people need strong backbones or else they can be turned evil by the wrong instructions.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 17

Psychology of the Holocaust

To say that one is not responsible for the crimes committed under the influence of a superior power, based on Stanley Milgram’s finding that obedience is a disturbingly common characteristic that subverts what we know about human morals, would assume that one’s free will was stripped of them. The point of the experiment and the disturbing findings were that these subjects all had the right to leave and the ability to do so; having been paid before entering into the experiment, there was nothing keeping them from leaving if they had wanted to, with the exception of the authority figure telling them to continue with the experiment.

The results of this experiment expose the fact that humans are much more impressionable than previously assumed and we are all extremely vulnerable to the powers of obedience in the face of authority. Does this also mean the morals we hold so tightly to are as fragile as the whims of men? As illustrated in Chrisptoher Browning’s book Ordinary Men we see the power of obedience on the seemingly “ordinary man”. Understanding that these horrific acts were perpetrated by ‘neighbors’ exposes the possibility of violence and evil in everyone.

Browning illustrates the continued remorse of the soldiers and the continuation of their humanity, showing the first hand accounts of soldiers who reported feeling guilt and shame when massacring. Despite acknowledging the immoral acts of killing they continued to follow orders. Similar to the conditions in the experiment the men were given the option of stopping, finding a way to opt out or stop listening to orders, but as shown in the experiment with ~60% of the men continuing till the end, many remained as soldiers killing innocent men, women, and children.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 27

Josefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Reading the excerpt from Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men was extremely difficult, conflicting, and honestly feels very out of my reach. The question of how, why, or whether the perpetrators are less responsible for their crimes feel like questions that I can’t really truly answer only having read a small portion of this book. This is partially why I have taken so long to write this post.

I think overall, the big reason that they did what they did was because of power, pressure, and authority. When given the choice to leave, some men did, while others didn’t. As the shootings actually began, however, many more of those men opted out and left or distanced themselves away as much as possible. I think initially why more of those men didn’t leave was because of the pressure and authority around them and groupthink elements at play. Similar to how we saw authoritative presence affect people’s ability to go against what they’re meant to do in the experiment we watched in class. After having to face the atrocities that they committed, it became too much for many of the soldiers and more of them couldn’t take it anymore and left. It takes a strong individual to go against everything and be an upstander, and the people who left immediately are very strong to do so. Overall, these special killing squads were extremely problematic for the Nazis because of how horrific and in-plain sight they were, since they simply couldn’t deny them.

The fact that the soldiers were given the option to opt out at the beginning definitely complicates the ethics of the entire situation. The lives lost in these killings will never be brought back and the devastation caused by them is an irrefutable part of the legacy of the Nazis. I think reading this section does allow us to better understand what was going on inside the minds of those on the front lines committing murders, but I’m not sure, all things considered, what this means about the soldiers’ responsibility. At the end of the day, they did have a choice and they did kill countless people, but given how much pressure was on them it’s unclear how much of that choice really was a choice. I think that the terrifying part about this entire reading and situation is the power that power, authority, and group pressures has to turn normal people into killers.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 13

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

When I was reading the article, I felt greatly disturbed by the accounts but I also didn’t quite understand. Was the point of the chapter to invoke sympathy for the perpetrators? Was it to show that the perpetrators were human too and that the blame on them should be lessened? Regardless of what the intent of it was, I felt very conflicted because while I felt a sort of sympathy for the soldiers, I also feel that still.. It can’t compare to the horrors of what the Jewish population went through. I think that it’s inherently very difficult to compare and contrast these types of things because it’s a different situation entirely than what I’ve ever experienced, which makes it all the more confusing. A story that stuck out to me in particular was the one about August Zorn, whose first victim was an old man. In his description, while I did feel bad that he had to witness the brutal death of someone, I also felt more so that it was way, WAY worse for the man who was shot to death (a massive understatement). Also, it seemed that soldiers could “opt out” whenever they wished and they would be reassigned without a penalty (at least in that moment)- it makes me wonder then why he didn’t refuse and get reassigned then?

Addressing the first few questions of this assignment: Why did they do what they did and why did some participate while others opted out? It’s a hard question to answer in a way that would make sense to myself, even though it was partially revealed in the text. The soldiers were absolutely manipulated; there’s no question about that, and figures like Wilhelm Trapp seemed to only be following orders, and was very lenient in allowing people to get reassigned. It seems like it was a feeling of not having any other choice that pushed many of these men to do what they did. It might explain a little why men waited until they had killed too many people to count to get reassigned- perhaps they were scared for their own lives. However, it just didn’t seem to me like there were as severe repercussions if you chose not to do so; all that was said was that soldiers were reassigned to different jobs and positions. At first, the low numbers of people that stepped out can sort of be attributed to shock; however it’s still rather unfathomable that people could kill so many people and still say that “they had to do what they had to do”. To me, killing someone and snuffing out their life is so horrifying, and even though I don’t know what the pressure was like and what it was like to be in that situation, I feel like I would have just opted out, very quickly (But again, I don’t know what it’s like to be in that situation. It doesn’t excuse their actions one bit, I think, but it’s only fair of me to say disclaimers like this). The excuse of “the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions” just doesn’t work in my opinion, and I stand by it, but again, that may be just because I have never been put into a situation like this before.

Another group of questions from the list: What do I make of Wilhelm Trapp’s views/actions and why were these killing squads so problematic for the Nazis? I don’t think it was right of him to just say that “Orders are orders”. However, it makes sense because he’s also trying to keep himself alive and most likely if you directly said no to higher ups they would just have you killed. I don’t think it was right though.

The “einsatzgruppen” is very obviously and clearly problematic from both a moral and an efficiency standpoint (as much as I don’t wish to think about the latter because lives are more important than how efficient something is). Morally, you’re making people join the army and you’re having them kill fellow people. It’s a horrible thing to do and horrifying to see people’s insides on the outside. Efficiency wise, having it done with people would not only ruin the morale, but also waste time (like how it was said in the movie we watched in class). Regardless, Jozefow was a horrible, horrible situation, and it makes my blood boil that this happened.

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