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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, MA, US
Posts: 25

I believe there is a difference between Browning’s implication and the truth that he presents in his writing. Browning suggests that the einsatzgruppen consisted of men who had been unfortunately chosen and ordered to participate; they were unaware of their responsibilities, thus the ones that opted out were lucky to anticipate something bad will occur. While this may hold true for some of the men, it does not make sense to apply this to every single member of the einsatzgruppen. Trapp explicitly ordered them to round up all the able-bodied Jewish men and shoot everyone else; there is very little ambiguity as to what the einsatzgruppen was being asked. It becomes incredibly dangerous when we create this monolith that the einsatzgruppen were a group of unlucky folks that the Nazis picked up as workers because it promotes both unquestioning support or apathetic bystander syndrome before genocidal leaders.

By reading the objective facts in Browning’s excerpt, the reality was that men pulled the trigger point blank because they were cowards or lacked morality. Sure, they were being manipulated and ordered around by their commanders, but they had the option to not participate with zero repercussion. The only disincentivize was potentially being called a “weakling” and hurting their toxic masculine egos. The Nazis certainly played a part in the promotion of the macho man, and this may have encouraged more men to take part in the killings. On the other hand, I read in my summer reading book that many soldiers murdered innocent civilians in Nanjing because they were so desensitized to killing and death that it no longer felt like murder. When the action of stabbing or shooting another human being became the equivalent of hunting wild animals, normal people were able to find pleasure in killing. Browning makes zero mention of this behavior within the einsatzgruppen, but if he were correct, the Nazis would not have finished the massacre of nearly 2000 Jews if everyone quit after killing 2 people. Major Trapp, however, serves as the perfect example of someone who has empathy and is distraught by the killings, in contrast to Major Wohlauf, who did not allow his men to be relieved.

Needless to say, it was problematic for the Nazis to systematically kill thousands in this manner, but it was also consequential for the Nazis themselves. In the short term, the soldiers and the overall environment was incredibly chaotic. The action went heavily against peoples’ moralities and caused them to opt out. In the long term, it would bring emotional and psychological trauma for the soldiers, generals and anyone that was involved. The Nazis would also lose their legitimacy if their soldiers and supporters started to fear or be disgusted by the Nazi agenda. Their leaders were aware of this notion, as the man in charge of Polish affairs in the Wannsee conference shows, but they still went forward with the plan.

There are three major takeaways from Browning and the other sociologists. First, we cannot let the situation progress that far in the first place. This may sound superficial, but we need the education and will to stand up in face of symptoms of fascism and groupthink that is being controlled evil leaders. Second, it is inaccurate to conclude that everyone that partook in perpetrating the Holocaust had lost their ability to make individual rational decisions because many clearly didn’t. We need to figure out the cause of this difference, rather than attempting to absolve all of the killers of guilt because it signifies that these men were less malicious. If they felt any pity, disgust or discomfort during and after the massacre, it is nothing compared to all the people they killed who will never have the opportunity to experience any emotions again.

Boston, Massachusetts , US
Posts: 24

After just reading Chapter 1 of the Jozefow massacre, Trapp was given some humanity in that he announced what he had to do with regret. But he still did it. Although he did give his soldiers a choice to step out except I’m assuming not many if any of the soldiers chose not to kill the Jews in the town because people are afraid of what might happen to them when they’re alone. Trapp still went through with the orders and for the soldiers, they seemed to have suffered as well. But as we saw in the Obedience experiment, it got easier to keep doing a cruel task and the perpetrators resisted less. The way that Trapp said he didn’t want to kill the Jews but blamed them for starting a boycott and leading Germany down seems to be him trying to convince himself that what he did was justified and he’s feeding into the Nazi view. Killing people is something that no one wanted to do originally but these soldiers are almost like “i don’t want to do it but i guess i have to plus i’ll be okay regardless in the end.”

When Buchmann asks for a different job, not to shoot the Jewish women, children, and elderly, he gets a different job which is crazy to me because there’s no empathy, only for the Nazi. Buchmann gets to get off of his job because he doesn’t want to just shoot a bunch of Jews but what about the treatment of the Jews? The option to not shoot the Jews was only for older men and I’m surprised to see that when one soldier stepped out, the others did too. It seems like you lost respect as a Nazi soldier from your Captain for being the first to back out and were seen as weak. I think the Nazi soldiers having a choice between directly shooting the Jews or not of Jozefow is another way for them to feel powerful because they get a choice while the Jews suffer regardless.

Trapp was never at the killings, just like Hitler was never at the concentration camps, because they want the power to kill without even caring or taking responsibility. I think Trapp sounds a bit cowardly because he goes around apparently crying and saying that he isn’t made for such orders, but he really does nothing to stop them from being carried out because he wants to be protected. The witnesses stress that the mothers didn’t let go of their kids and they were less likely to shoot them, but I feel like the soldiers didn’t get a reason why they should shoot them and feel so giving and humane when they spare them, but end up sending them to camps anyway. Trapp also ends up releasing the 25 Jews who worked for him but it might’ve been to make himself feel like a savior because he also said when the killings were avenged, the Germans will suffer. It’s insane that the killings in a line happened all day until nightfall and the soldiers were drunk. Maybe they needed to drink to distract from the horrors they were committing or they were trying to make it a good time, I’m sure there was a spectrum. Trapp was considerably better at accommodating the soldiers than other Majors and commanders because he allowed many to walk away from the shootings with a “clean slate”. It’s ironic how Trapp allowed men to leave since they were fathers while they easily tortured Jewish families. It’s horrible to think about the amount of Jews that were killed by each soldier and nobody honored them or knew their names.

As more time went on, the men did not step out when given the option because they saw it as a chance to prove their loyalty, they were used to it, or wanted to do something crazy with their fellow soldiers. The killings become worse when I read that they were thought to be going too slowly so it’s all about what’s the most efficient for the Nazis. The witnesses call the brains and internal liquids/body parts that spray on the shooters as the worst part but it’s not as bad as being dead. In this case, the soldiers were given the rare chance of declining to do the shootings and I wish they all had. I was surprised to read that one of the soldiers started a conversation with the female victim and her daughter which humanized them and he decided to opt out. It’s scary that it took one or more shootings for the soldiers to realize that they couldn’t handle it, but it’s that they couldn’t handle it, not that they shouldn’t do it.

Based on the accounts, I assume many Jews begged for mercy and I think the soldiers saw shooting them as a job, just something professional that they couldn’t interrupt with their feelings. The mercy/humane part isn’t what made some soldiers refuse to shoot them but rather the soldiers felt worse for themselves because they didn’t want direct killings as a stain on their soul. The fact that nobody talked about it is terrible because they should take ownership of their actions and discuss together why it is clearly inhumane and should not happen. Without conversation, no progress happens. The perpetrators who were given a choice are responsible and those without a choice can be understood in that they were protecting themselves but they should feel responsible as well, or at least acknowledge the wrongness. I think it’s important to realize that in situations people don’t stay true to their values because it applies to everyday situations and it emphasizes the importance of how our actions affect others. It should encourage people to think about the power of their decision and how radical is it, even if they think they’re one small person.

boston, Ma, US
Posts: 25

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Browning suggests that the einsatzgruppen group, who were responsible for thousands jewish deaths, had no option to join the group. However it is later proven that it was false.From the start, we see the reactions and accountability men took on their part of their decision. This decision can be questioned many different ways. Why would anyone willingly join the Nazi party knowing theyd have to kill people? Who in their right minds would want to do that? How did just the idea of being a killer intrigue people? Now not necessarily intrigue, but convince them enough to willingly join. Some may argue that the brainwashing of the Nazi party allowed people to think these actions were acceptable.However the amount of people who decided to not join this Association proves that the influence of Nazi didn't crack everybody. It is very obvious that the pressure and Authority commanders had on the einsatzgruppen was great, but that couldn't have led people to pull the trigger so easily. The repercussions that would come in one excluding himself from this were none. Although he would be morally categorized as not masculine enough. So was this the reason these men were willing to kill?

The question is what can be answered in many ways. If "the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions”, then why are there people who wake up everyday without killing anyone? Why were there men who refused to get involved on the Jewish genocide? I believe that morals come to play a big role in people's decision and answer to a question. If a question is asked to thousands of people, how someone was raised, where they were raised, with whom they were raised for instance could change their perspective on their answer. Unfortunately killing Jewish people during the Nazi regime specifically in Germany had become so normalized, I believe some people didn't think twice of it. That is where the problem originates. The Nazi party was able to continue for too long without any interruption. Their propaganda helps them expand their ideas on younger generations who would hopefully through their eyes continue this Legacy. But it was also able to brainwash older generations as well.

Later news told us that these brutal situations had long term effects on soldiers who took part in them. They suffered from what is now known as PTSD as well as other traumatic illnesses.

Through Milgram’s experiment, we learn how authority changes the response of people under certain circumstances in which that individual knows they are doing the wrong thing. Yet some were able to stand up and leave that room to check on the learner and others didn't. What changed wasnt that some didn't get concerned, it was the action to stop. These actions spoke louder than words. Similarly, even under pressure and authority, in the einsatzgruppen, some were able to do it and some refused.

no name
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 18

the Psychology of the Holocaust

What was shocking is that I never was once taught that the soldiers could be relieved of duty at anytime because it is either assumed or directly told that the Nazi soldiers would die if they refuses.. This fact alone turns these events into an existential thought that they had an abundance of freedom yet did the most horrible things possible. I do believe in the conclusion that anybody could become evil, which is rather cynical. I believe they did it for their nation, somehow in their head they justified it by doing it for the “fatherland” and another aspect could be toxic pride or masculinity. If they cannot prove themselves to cleanse the world of the “inferior” then they are partaking in “degerency”. As we saw in the HBO mini series, these mass shootings took massive tolls on the morale as Browning cites as well many soldiers were only able to shoot max 10 people before being relieved of duty. Perhaps for some seeing fellow soldiers leaving almost acted like an ego boost, revalidating that they (the shooters) are the strongest and most loyal. Major Tripp’s actions were noble compared to his comrades as he was willing to do the bare minimum in the situation

These death squads would create issues for the regime as what the Wannsee Conference was deciding were numbers they would have after winning the war, they couldn’t continue with disruptions in their efforts to make Lebensraum; they would need millions more soldiers to at the rate. I read the excerpt before we watched the video in class about the Einsatzgruppen and it made the video more chilling. These answers do not lessen the nature of these crimes by any means but we reach them same conclusion that they are still responsible and complacent.

What I always find to be an interesting discussion question is a slightly more advanced ethical trolley dilemma: would you instead of pulling a lever and killing one to save five people, push somebody onto the tracks to stop the train before it hit the five people?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 23

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

It is very clear through Browning’s text freedom on the Józefów massacre that men had the freedom to choose to participate or not. Which means that the men who did participate in the massacre didn’t do it because they were not forced, but rather because power of authority convinced them to, even though for many the task didn’t sit well with them emotionally and morally.

I think the main contributing factor in whether a man decided to participate is if they had limits to obeying authorities and where the limits were at. Buchmann, then thirty eight years old, didn't want to participate in the killing of women and children from the start and was then given another assignment of sending male "work Jews" to Lublin. Trapp's offer to not participate was for an older man, but Buchmann was so sure that he didn’t want to participate that he opted out of the task anyways. He continued with the side task, facilitating the massacre without taking part in the bloodiness. Many men opted out when the task was actually in front of them. For example, Hans Dettelmann, decided to opt out after arriving in the shooting area claiming that it was because of his weak nature. But many also quit after killing a Jew first. One example is August Zorn who was very upset with what was done to the Jews who quit after killing an elderly man who could barely walk. Overall, the vast majority of men cooperated in killing women and children.

Another reason why many men cooperated is how easily swayed they are towards being called weak, not manly, and fear of being looked down upon. This likely discouraged many men from opting out. They fear consequences that don’t exist. One example of this is when the offer to opt out was first given and the first person chose to opt out, his captain was furious and berated him.

But leadership plays a major role in men’s behaviors as well since after this incident, Trapp cuts him off, leading to a couple more more men deciding to not participate. But because he is a leader in this, he bears a lot of responsibility. Trapp's distress was clear to everyone. He clearly didn't like what he was doing and through witnesses, and was endlessly anxious and emotional for his task and even felt remorse and wishes that no consequence came upon them. But he orders his men anyways because he “had to do the horrible deed because he was ordered to”. This leads to the people below him to have the same mindset. He is a clear example of someone not having a limit to obeying to authorities and having massive consequences because of that. Similar to Hitler, he distances himself from the massacre. He chooses to be intentionally ignorant to the consequences of his orders.

These massacre were problematic for the Nazis in the short-term and in the long term because there was no intention to hide evidence nor prevention for resistance. There was no plan to hide the bodies like in concentration camps, and weren’t as organized and systematic. Their goal was just speed. This meant that the massacres was massive evidence against the Nazis after the war and in trials.

The answer that power in situations can cause individuals to make irrational and inhumane decisions doesn’t lessen the crimes nor make the perpetrators less responsible. Humans are flawed and based on history can become in certain situations. This knowledge only furthers the reason to prevent power from getting out of hand to begin with. Moreover, it emphasizes the importance of people having strong values and being aware about what role they are playing in a group. Many of us are victims to harmless versions of groupthink on a daily basis like wearing clothes that are popular or saying yes because our friends did. Which means that we collectively as a society have to be careful when groupthink goes out of hand and when it becomes dangerous.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 26

As I was reading the excerpt it was clear that the soldiers that were given the assignment to massacre Jewish men, women, and children/infants had a choice to opt out. The people that had power over the men, like Trapp, allow the men who didn’t feel up to the task to not do it. Some men did take this option and still decided to follow the orders that were given. Major Trapp himself did not enjoy giving this task to the men, so much so that he never even stepped foot in the forest where the murders were taken place. In the excerpt it is recorded that Trapp said something like “Man…. such jobs don’t suit me. But orders are orders”. In spite of his disagreement to want he was commanding to the men he still went through with it because he was ordered to. This would be very similar to the experiment that took place in the Obedience (1962) film. The teacher wanted to stop the experiment and was reluctant to continue because of the pain he could hear the learner experiment. The teacher wanted to stop but was ordered to keep shocking the learner if he was gives the wrong answer or doesn’t answer completely. The teacher wanted to stop but felt obligated because he was told the experiment had to continue.

Actions speak louder than words, and it was good that some of the men did not decide to murder some of the Jewish people in the forest. Even if some men thought it was wrong to murder all Jewish people they still went through with it, therefore committing murder. The fact that they didn’t feel right when about acting out the orders they were given doesn’t change the fact that they still followed orders. Regardless of how the soldiers felt they are still responsible for what they did. Connecting the back to the experiment, the teacher asked if the scientist/ doctor in charge of the experiment would be the one to take the responsibility if anything bad happened to the learner. This made me think that the teacher kept going because he would not be the person held responsible for the harm done to the learner. If the teacher is not responsible then he can't be held morally accountable for anything that happened to the learner.

The power in the Józefów massacre did not appear to be to strong as I was reading the excerpt. The only type of punishment that was mentioned some soldiers received if they opted out was being called “weak”. Now, being called names and something your not definitely doesn’t make you feel good but shouldn’t stop you from doing what is right. In the excerpt, it also mentions that some soldiers opted out after already murdered 20 to 30 people. Seeing the blood and brains and bones was getting too much for them to handle. I believe that the silence amongst the soldiers after the massacre shows that they knew what they did was extremely wrong.

South Boston, MA, US
Posts: 17

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

I feel as though this is similar to the post on Hitler, we want there to be some evil that he had that no one else could have, we want so badly to distinct ourselves from him and the tragic events he caused, however, we learned he was a human being who was a baby, had parents, and had a diet. Similarly, we want there to be some inherent evil in the Einsatzgruppen group, I want to think that people in this group felt they had no other option but to commit these crimes and that if they didn't follow orders something bad would happen to them or their family. But this isn't the case Hitler didn't have some mythical evil inside him, the Einsatzgruppen group wasn't forced to commit the acts that they committed. This makes it so much scarier, that "everyday" people who had "normal" jobs and had families, weren't what we would think as evil people who had some sort of evil gene that no one else today could have.

When looking at the experiment where people had the option to continue shock and what they presumed to be hurting someone. They follow the authority of the guy in the lab coat, simply because he says "please continue" or "this is necessary for the experiment", and the man complies, and although shows some concern he continues. There is nothing physically or even mentally keeping him there he has gotten paid, what does he care how this random person's experiment goes it has nothing to do with him, physically: the guy in the lab coat seemed like a small guy so physically if it came down to it the "teacher" could have overpowered him physically to go check on the learner, but he doesn't he just sits there and lets it happen. Now we look at this situation and want to say that we would never react like that if in that situation, but you'll never know how you'll react until you are in that situation. But we can look at how today's people tend to act in situations today, when a fight breaks out at school almost everyone takes out a cell phone to film it they film and watches as 2 human being try to harm each other, when walking around Boston if there are homeless people asking for money and help people walk right by them as if they aren't there, even in school if a teacher assigns or grades something that seems unfair students will go along with it (sometimes there are times when student bring up concerns about the unfairness and it gets resolved) but sometimes student know that what the teacher is doing is unfair but we all just go along with it there are about 20 students in a class and one teacher and sometimes all 20 students just follow along. Not that these examples are anything close to the atrocities that the Einsatzgruppen group committed, but it shows our willingness to just follow what the crowd does and not wanting to be the one to step up and do something. If everyone is filming the fight people don't want to be the one who steps out of line, if it is normal to just walk past a human being asking for help then people will continue to do it, if the students know something is unfair but don't want to be the one to bring it to the attention of the teacher because they don't want to be the only speaking out.Even writing this I have the urge to say that I've never filmed a fight, or that I try to give homeless people food if I have it because I don't carry cash, that just goes to show the urge to separate ourselves from what we know to be wrong but do it anyway.

I don't think that makes it anyless horrible nature of their crimes, because although it might be small there where people who saw it was wrong. One could take a pessimistic view and say that because of this all humans are capable of this evil and theres no fising that. It is true and that is a terrifying though all people are capable of evil, as much as we don't want to admit we are, and given those examples we aren't really aware of the evil, because its no as if evil is this thing we can see it occurs in everyday life that we almost aren't aware of it. BUT on the other side if every human is capable of evil, as corny as it sounds all humans are capable of good, and most times we know the difference and just don't act on it because it is harder, but its not impossible. So, no this doesn't lesson the nature of their crimes, we need to in fact look at those crimes and know as terrifying as it is we have the potential to do that and become aware of the choices we make so that we can start to act more on the good of human nature rather than the evil.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 14

Following Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiment in 1961, he claimed “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their parts, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” Milgram concluded that most people will ignore their value system in order to comply with authority. We have seen this phenomenon play out in history. Two years ago, we witnessed the suffocation of George Floyd as a result of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinning his knee to Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, despite Floyd gasping, “I can’t breathe.” What was equally disturbing was that three of Chauvin’s fellow police officers watched this happen without taking any action. The Józefów massacre provides another historic example of how the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, killed innocent Jews, including men, women, and children, despite the fact that their commander, Major Wilhelm Trapp, did not take direct part in the shootings, and actually gave the members of the battalion the option to “step out.” Both of these historic scenarios beg the question - Why do people choose to be passive, rather than active bystanders?

The Józefów massacre, as described by Christopher Browning, describes how the ordinary men of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 killed elderly Jewish men, women, and young children, without being forced to do so. In Browning’s account, Major Trapp described the “unpleasant task” of what they were charged to do and “if any of the older men among them did not feel up to the task that lay before him, he could step out.” About 10-12 men did step out, however, the majority of the battalion participated in the atrocities which included loading Jews into trucks, driving them to the surrounding forest and killing them via firing squad. Throughout the day and night, more than 1500 Jews were killed.

While members of the battalion had the option to “step out,” they made the choice not to. Those that did “step out” and not participate directly in the killing, did not “step up” and prevent the killings from occurring. So all battalion members were responsible for more than a thousand innocent Jews dying that day. I believe this choice is attributable to several reasons. First, the Józefów massacre occurred in July, 1942. At this point, the Nazi ideology was a dominant influence and many Germans believed in the inferiority of Jews. Therefore, many of the battalion felt their killing mission was justifiable. Second, most of the battalion were “raw recruits'' with no experience, so they felt the need to follow the orders they were given. According to Browning’s book, the “majority continued to the end.” Third, Browning’s account suggests the situation was hectic, therefore, I believe many in the battalion were caught up in the chaos of the moment and were operating like robots and became killing machines. Finally, I believe that members of the battalion were pressured to follow through on their orders. Browning’s account indicates, “Comments were repeatedly made such as, “It’s not getting anywhere, and It’s not going fast enough.”

At the end, no men who were part of the battalion can claim innocence. Whether they actively participated or were passive bystanders, they were all collectively responsible for the death of more than a thousand people. As such, they should collectively be accountable for their actions. Most recently, Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering Floyd, was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison as a result of his plea deal. Similarly, his three fellow police officers were found guilty of violating the civil rights of Floyd. More notably, they were convicted of not intervening to stop their fellow officer from using excessive force. Like the police officer complicit in the murder of George Floyd, all men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were complicit in the murder of innocent Jews.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 21

Obedience is a concept that is hard to grasp and understand. As we looked at the video study on obedience we understand that it is difficult to stand up to authority. Most people just do what they are told without thinking in order to avoid getting in trouble by their superior. We must ask, where do we draw the line? We’ve touched upon the concept of the perpetrator-victim dynamic. We must not dismiss the horror and brutality that was the Holocaust. However, analyzing the relationship of the Nazi perpetrators we can see that they are simply following orders, even though they are incredibly cruel. Browning’s book gives us some insight on why people do what they do. He doesn’t give direct reasons but lists some possibilities of what goes on in peoples heads?

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. For example when when Trapp 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). This demonstrates the power dynamic that obedience results in. It is hard to stand up but bystanderism is not an option in acts of violence.

An other possibility is that the men were inefficiently able to process what was happening. For example the fight, flight, or freeze response to stressful situations. We can see an act of dissociation when talking about violent acts occurring. Perpetrators will often place the blame onto others because they cannot process they were doing something wrong. Everyone did what they were told and didn't stop to question it. It was only after that the men would deny what they had done. This is definitely something to question when exploring motives of the Nazi’s.

The morality of perpetrators is always to be questioned regarding violence. Theres no excuse, however there are multiple possibilities as to why these things are able to happen. Some people’s brains may become altered and unable to make rational decisions. There are countless possibilities, but no excuses.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 20

I cannot fathom why these men partook. There was no repercussion to not participate, other than the possible bearable shaming. They saw their peers not participating nearly always with ease and sympathy. The only reason I can imagine is that the propaganda of the Nazi’s rewarped their values. Consequently, turning loyalty and “strength” to be a priority. So I can imagine that even while they felt human shame and disgust at their actions, they thought that pushing through this response would make them honorable.

There was a trend for men who have children to have a higher repulsion to killing in this massacre. As well as if the act of partaking was physically more disgusting. For example, one of the soldiers killed next to a soldier that aimed poorly, causing his victim’s brains to splatter. Repeatedly witnesses this was the factor that he shared he could not endure.

Major Trapp had the greatest privilege to feel his disgust and sympathy. I expect that being of a higher rank has sheltered him from having to partake personally in such crimes in the past. Lending his exposure and familiarity to be so inhumane as less than the men he commanded over. As a higher ranking official, he was less adapted to following authority despite his own morality. His disapproval of this order lent him to be sympathetic to his soldiers, he encouraged men to not partake if they did not feel it rightful or endurable. But he still commanded the order.

Major Trapp told his driver that “If this Jewish business is ever avenged on earth, then have mercy on us Germans”. This statement encapsulated his newfound guilt and shame of his participation in the Nazi’s genocide. It signals his lessening support of the Nazis due to their massacring of the Jewish people. And his change in sentiment can be representative of the men doing the killing themselves. This demoralization, shame, and disapproval is intrinsic to a lack of support towards the Nazis. This is the core reason that lent the high authorities in the Nazis to understand that this route of genocide is unsustainable.

The phenomenon: "the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions”, is explaining how humans can become overwhelmed in situations and default to the wishing of authority despite their own morality. This human characteristic does not lessen the horrible nature of their crimes. This robotic killing of this great multitude still happened, the lives were still lost. And we learned of a new horrific capacity of humanness. This phenomenon could lessen the evilness of the individuals, for the majority did not partake for their own enjoyment or fantasy. But it does not lessen the evilness of humanity.

Boston, Massachussetts, US
Posts: 27

The men were dispatched to carry out a "frightfully unpleasant task" that had been commanded by the highest authorities. It was also described as highly regrettable. I believe they acted in this manner in order to protect their masculine egos. If a man appeared to be turned off or scared, he would be labeled a coward or a weakling. They were being manipulated into murdering a mass amount of Jews. Some older men chose not to engage because they didn't feel up to it, and I suppose some men felt secure enough in their position to opt out, or because they didn't want to firsthand experience the executions and consequences. One soldier recalls simply walking away from his post when the awful feeling in his stomach grew stronger with each death, finally taking up a new post without anybody knowing. The men dreaded being looked down upon by their peers or supervisors, as well as being perceived as weak, but the majority of the men simply feared what they did not know might happen to them. They kept assuming the worst repercussions possible. While Major Tripp is definitely not the best guy in the world, I believe he was “better” than the rest of the officers since he actually gave the troops the option of opting out of the executions .This, however, does not excuse the fact that he was a Nazi Party member who organized the Jozefow Massacre. It also doesn't mean he should be commended and celebrated for his "better" behavior; rather, it's vital to emphasize that he gave the men a choice. In the short term, these massacres were so problematic for the Nazis because soldiers quickly requested reassignment, which meant more and more soldiers were required to be brought in to accomplish the killings. This massacre caused long-term problems since the troops' were traumatized from these awful events, with the scarred remembrance of killings of innocent people engraved in their memory.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 26

I think these men opted for the same excuse that keeps recurring this year, the classic line that they were just following orders. Such a blind acceptance of orders, no matter the circumstances, leads to catastrophe. At some point, when the soldiers witness the men women and children that they murdered in cold blood, or shipped off to labor camps, how could they not think for a second to not question their orders? Yes, it seems that the men didn’t know of their assignment going in, but after learning what they had to do, Major Trapp allowed them the chance to escape their duties without punishment. They literally had a way out! And the majority still chose to go along in the massacring. Then the battalion went along to murder, and to shoot indiscriminately (and they were instructed how to shoot to kill instantly). They were physically lined up with their respective victims, and shot without hesitation. It seems they even patted themselves on the back for the “merciful” act of not shooting infants alongside their mothers. Another factor they played into was simple pride and toxic masculinity. Sargent Steinmetz used the age-old “don’t want to see any cowards” when he prepared his men for battle, attempting to shame them into submission. But it was the men who couldn’t let their fragile pride be hurt by the thought of “wimping out,” so much so that even when given the opportunity to opt out, free of any punishment, they still didn’t have the guts to say no to the killing. This is more shameful than anything they could have possibly done, and it is weak willed, and most importantly, it directly puts them at fault.

Trapp too is emblematic of this attempt to remove oneself from blame. But it doesn’t hold up. He was quoted saying explicitly, “Oh, God, why did I have to be given these orders,” while intentionally avoiding the sight of the mass killing while it took place, yet he resigned to the fact that “Orders are orders.” If anything, to me this makes him more guilty, and more in the wrong, that he realized what he was facilitating was without question morally wrong and unjust, and yet he went along with it, directly causing the deaths of countless innocent people. When given orders every person has a simple choice, do the action or don’t. Yes or no. By resigning to a yes, no matter what guilt or doubts you feel, you enable the killing. This is, after all, why we talk so much about being a bystander in this class. I believe if someone is not actively an up-stander, fighting against acts of injustice, then they are working on the side of discrimination and abuse, and in this case, on the side of murder. Orders are not a valid excuse for such a brutal and bloody massacre.

The plan, of course, was having middle class men go out and participate in the death squads of the Einsatzgruppen, turning a population into cold-blooded “Jew-haters.” But this didn’t work as planned. Clearly, the soldiers were haunted by the actions they took, and when the troops arrived in the barracks at Bilgoraj, after the killing, it was clear that the men could not quell “the sense of shame and horror that pervaded the barracks.” This, in the end, must have permanently scarred the men, and more importantly, destroyed the lives of the few Jewish survivors left.

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