Although it is a very complex question, I believe that these men did what they did as a result of not having the willpower to stand up to a higher power and stray from the popular choice, which was to not step out. I do not think it is fair to excuse their behavior by any means, as they ultimately played a role in killing approximately 1,800 Jews in the Jozefow massacre, but if we are trying to understand why they did what they did, that is my best explanation.
I think that this does connect a lot to Stanley Milgrim’s experiment. A large number of people in that experiment followed orders that appeared to be inflicting harm on another person. However, they were already given the money promised and no one was actually forcing them to continue flicking switches that were causing harm. Yet it seems to be human nature to respect authority, even if you know what you are doing is wrong on numerous levels.
However, the fact that there were no repercussions for the men who chose not to participate makes it more difficult for me to wrap my head around why some men did choose to continue. Groupthink mentality is something we have seen again and again throughout exploring different elements of history in the course. It is definitely a real thing, but it is always hard for me to excuse behaviors as severe as murder by people not wanting to stand out.
As far as Major Tripp’s views and actions, he is clearly affected by what he is doing. He doesn’t appear to be emotionless, as a lot of Nazi leaders are often depicted as unfazed by the murders they are taking part in. Several accounts in Ordinary Men including several different policemen, depict him as extremely distressed. He did not actually witness the executions, remaining in Jozefow, as he did not want to watch. He also allows the men of the Einsatzgruppen to dismiss themselves if they are uncomfortable. He also seems to try to justify giving these orders, trying to convince himself of not being guilty and trying to distance himself. Yet, despite his distress, he does not put a stop to the murders and allows them to continue on.
The Einsatzgruppen that committed massacres ended up being problematic for the Nazis. There was a concern about the impact of the shootings on the people carrying them out. Some people did resist and causing psychological issues in these men that were shooting made them useless by the standards of the Nazi party later on. The shootings as a method of killing were also resource-intensive, leading to the development of gas chambers to commit murders.
And finally, so what? Honestly, if the answer is that “the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions,” I’m not really sure what we do with that. I think that it doesn’t lessen the horrible nature of their crimes but rather provides some insight into why and how seemingly “ordinary men” were able to do something terrible. When we think about ordinary people, we don’t picture a group that to put it simply, could be rounded up at the drop of a hat, told to kill, and actually do it. Yet, when you read about an event like this, it makes you question how you or people you know would react in that type of situation. I don’t think that we can say the perpetrators aren’t responsible, but we can understand to some degree how people did such a horrible thing.
Ultimately, I think we should analyze how a situation like this happened and as “SesameStreet444” put it, use it as a cautionary tale. There will always be elements of authority in society, so preventing authority from being able to influence the moral decisions of people is necessary.