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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: 12

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

I think these men did what they did because they were following orders and chose to kill and participate. I think some men participated in the killings whilst others didn’t because the men who chose to participate in the killings didn’t care about the people they were killing and some even continued to kill Jews throughout the entire day. The real repercussions if someone chose not to participate in the killings were being shunned upon by the other men and by higher command. Otherwise, there weren’t any other repercussions that one would face if one opted to not participate in the killing. I think that more men didn’t decide to do that because they were sheep who follow the herd and don’t question orders.

It means that if some sort of situation arises similar to this, then ordinary people like these policemen will have no problem killing others because they are easily manipulated and in a system that respects obedience to authority. No, I don’t think that the excuse that “the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions” does in any way lessen the horrible nature of their crimes because they are the ones who chose to make those decisions. There were individuals that opted out at the very beginning because they understood that they were going to kill Jews. Therefore, unless these other men were totally ignorant (which they very well might have been), there is no reason why they should have not known what they were doing when they were given orders to round up and then kill the Jews. Again, this doesn’t mean that the perpetrators are any less responsible for the killings because it's all about choice in this instance and they chose to kill.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 24

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Personally, I believe these men did what they did, and made the decision to or not to kill based off of their pride. If you didn’t have the ‘guts’ to kill Jews, people who were deemed as less than, and constantly compared to vermin and rodents, that was something to be ashamed of. As Christopher Browning said in his book in chapter seven, some men also didn’t realize the gravity of the task they were assigned, some didn’t even realize it until they had already taken a life. Obviously, I would never hold respect for any member of the Nazi party, especially ones who hold higher positions of power, but I can’t help but appreciate how Tripp allowed some of the soldiers to be relocated to a different position, instead of partaking in the massacre. As true as it is to believe that all Nazi’s should be punished and face repercussions for the greater cause they participated in, it is also true that some soldiers only became soldiers to ensure the safety of themselves and their families. For that reason, I appreciate Tripp giving the soldiers the option to not shoot the Jews of Józefów. The actions and events that took place here also did hold a drastic affect on the Nazi’s, even though they were the perpertrators. In class on Wednesday, (5/10) we watched one specific clip which showed one of the more powerful Nazi’s witnessing a mass shooting, and how sick he got when brains of a Jew who had been murdered got onto him. This man is still the definition of evil, but even though he is the one directing these massacres, he too was affected by it, definitely short-term, and maybe even long term. A similar thing is mentioned through a testimony in Browning’s book; one man noted how after killing several Jews, he ran into the forest, got sick, and sat alone by himself for several hours-he faced a long term punishment as a result of his actions.

For me, reading Browning’s chapters were somewhat difficult, because I almost felt bad for the soldiers who were ordered to do the mass killings. But the thing is, Tripp offered the soldiers a way out, and some people just chose not to take him up on that. Although they might not have personally decided to receive this task, they personally chose if they wanted to take part in it. I think if we say that the perpetrators are somehow less responsible due to the power imbalance, we make it easier to say that the Nazi Regime was enabled by a few people in government, when in reality, it was enabled by a whole country, by several countries. Yes there was a power imbalance, but no, that does not lesson the crimes and brutality committed by every single Nazi and soldier within Germany.

West Roxbury, MA, US
Posts: 26

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

I think there is a difference between the men who decided to participate in the executions of the Jewish people and the men who did not, like Trapp. I think that the men who participated were just following orders and were scared that there would be repercussions, but also because they enjoyed killing masses of people. There were some accounts of soldiers opting out of executions after they saw where they had to kill the victim, or after doing it one time. The real repercussions if you did not participate in the executions were being seen as less than compared to the other soldiers and looked down on by people in higher command. Many soldiers probably continued on with the executions because they felt no remorse for the people they were killing. I don’t think I can really say what was ¨going through their heads¨, but it was probably something along the lines of not caring about the consequences, because there weren't any. I think Major Trapp was a better man than his comrades because he gave the men he captured a choice in regards to if they had to participate in the hard labor, even though there was some backlash from the other soldiers, like Hoffman. I think Major Trapp´s views and actions are quite notable, considering the guilt he felt after watching so many people die. He also tried to console the other soldiers after a long day of executions, but this does not make up for the fact that he was still part of the situation. These massacres were so problematic for the Nazis in the short term because quite a few men needed to be excused from the killings after only a day or so, and overall many of the soldiers believed these actions were so horrific that they could not partake. In the long term, the actions affected the Nazis by scarring them with severe PTSD and making it easier to kill more people because once they had already started they became more inhumane and did not get affected by these killings.

I believe that the psychological reasoning behind the soldier´s actions can somewhat attest to the claim that the severity of the situation caused them to act so irrationally. However, this claim in no way excuses or lessens the horrible nature of their crimes because of what was seen in the Browning reading. Trapp and other soldiers did not want to partake in the executions, and many soldiers had to stop because it was too much on their mental health. This also does not excuse the perpetrators because there is evidence supporting the claim that not all soldiers were affected this way, or were even forced to do it. Obviously I will never be able to experience or even come close to understanding what each soldier felt in this situation, but in my opinion there is no evidence that can completely excuse or lessen the nature of these soldiers' crimes.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 23

The Psychology of the Holocaust

I believe that the men who carried out their orders to kill the Jew are responsible regardless of if they weren’t able to make rational decisions. At least to me it isn’t even a debate on whether or not I should kill a person. If not killing a person means I may get beat up I would rather get beaten up. These men, though not all, were given the option to not follow through with the orders with no repercussions. Twelve decided to leave, so it's not like they were being scared to the point of not being able to make a decision. As we discussed in class that people tend to follow the majority or others when it comes to making decisions, there was a big enough group, maybe not in proportion, for those who were conflicted on going against orders to join and not feel intimidated. This would mean that the remaining soldier didn’t mind killing defenseless women and children. The men being ordered to do the killings were German men, this means at any point they can go anywhere, in or out of the country without being harassed or assaulted because of their religion or ethnicity. They could have walked away from this situation with only those other men and officers knowing what they did.

“the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions” is just an excuse. They didn’t have a gun to their head, they weren’t even threatened. They were promised other assignments to do instead. On page 59 many soldiers denied shooting or witnessing the shooting of the Jews. By saying they lost the ability to make rational humane decisions is just redirecting the blame to the higher ups. They too are still to blame, but they had the option of not following it.

Bumble Bee
Posts: 25
Some men didn’t participate in the beginning because they must have realized the extent of what was being asked of them. In the text, Browning wrote that “For many 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.” According to Browning, the men didn’t have enough time to think on it and so many didn’t seize the opportunity to be excused. The text talks about many men who asked to be excused later in the process. They felt they couldn’t participate in the killings anymore. They slipped off to the marketplace or continually miss fired until they were relieved. The text notes multiple times that those who didn’t participate or left early faced no consequences. The most they got was a leader calling them weak or a fellow soldier throwing other insults at them. Most were let off without any further questioning. One could say that they might have faced consequences of being outcast once they returned, but since the killings were never really talked about again, this seems unlikely. The men that did participate were probably just following orders and going along with the group. Some may have a deeper psychological issue and enjoy killing, but most were just regular men. I understand why Major Tripp wasn’t present during the killings. He seemed to have a sense that this was morally wrong which left him distraught, especially since he was the one ordering the actions to be done. He clearly didn’t want the burden of blame placed on him so he repeatedly would blame higher ups. This is so problematic because it is merciless killings of mostly defenceless women and children. It is a brutally messed up thing that is so hard to imagine humans could actually do to other humans. Many of the men obviously felt sick and shameful about their actions. It doesn’t excuse them from still going through with them. Group mentality can only go so far. This can be seen by the many instances of the men leaving. War can create a blurred sense of morality and severity to killing. On the other end, most men clearly understood the severity of their actions. The perpetrators left these mass murders traumatized and with nightmares. But Jews never got to leave. They weren’t buried, their bodies were maimed, and infants never grew up. The men who were able to work lost their families, neighbors, and friends.
Posts: 23

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

We can’t fully know why these men did what they did but we can use this reading, which includes primary accounts, to better understand and infer their reasons. First of all, it feels unfair to make excuses for these men because at the end of the day they ended the lives of countless innocent people. This reading does remind me however of the complicated nature of humans, by explaining stories of people involved in the Jozefow Massacre who were reluctant to participate. Even the man in charge, Major Trapp, was distraught by the situation. He gave the policemen, who were supposed to murder jewish elders, women, and children, the option to not participate in the actual killing, but to help with organizing and supervising. Some men took him up on this offer, others requested to be reassigned after the killings began, and some didn’t at all. Major Tripp tried to ease the feelings around the “assignment” by reminding them all how it came from higher up and it was their (unfortunate) duty to carry it out. Trapp was also reported as very distraught over the situation, avoiding the killing site completely and crying often, however these truths do not justify the fact that Major Tripp was a part of the Nazi party who organized the Jozefow Massacre. Even if he may have felt deeply guilty during and after the massacre, he remained alive while these jewish citizens died. Similarly, the accounts, which come from the men who were doing the actual killing, tell of their unease with the situation. Some who chose not to participate at all and some who killed first then decided it was too much for them. These accounts may give us a level of ‘comfort’ by showing us these men were not solely hate filled indivisuals happy to murder countless people. However this comfort is short lived when we realize their actions speak louder than words. These special killing squads became so problematic for the Nazis because the people they were made up of became traumatized. The close range and inhumane nature of the killings caused the men doing the shooting great distress. They grew insensitive to death and murder and would begin to loose their minds. The use of bullets, which cost money, and the phsycological effects on Nazi soldiers made this form of extermination inefficient for the Nazis.

This passage somewhat causes sympathy for people who killed other innocent people. I think that even though many seemed to feel guilty about what they did it does not make them any less responsible. Those who chose not to participate at all remind us that some people were decent. I think overall it is easier for people to believe there is a "Fascist Personality Type" because then at least there are criteria, or indicators, of who is dangerous and who is not. After reading accounts and explanations like this it is scarier to think about the willingness of “normal” people to kill others solely based on the orders of an authority.

Boston, Massachusetts , US
Posts: 27

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Although there were definitely Nazis who took pleasure in murdering Jews and others they deemd to be lower than them, from Browning’s book, it seems like many of them genuinely did not want to be doing that. This is in no way to say that their feelings about what they did made it any better, nor does it excuse them from responsibility, but it does go to show the way people’s morals can be compromised to such an extent as this. Although some actually did not participate in the killings, if the findings from Milgram’s experiments apply in this situation, those who did likely did so either out of fear of repercussions, or just because they felt like they had no choice.

I don’t believe that Major Trapp’s views and actions should be praised or seen as heroic in any way (by normal standards, not being eager to mass murder an entire population is the lowest possible bar), but I also think that the fact that he tried his best to allow people to have the choice to not have to participate in the killing is important to note. I don’t think it necessarily makes him a good person, but it does set him apart from Nazis who followed orders without any resistance, or who actively supported the orders. It is interesting that no one accepted his offer to not have to kill anyone before the killing actually began, because it shows how ready they were to carry out their tasks, even when they had the opportunity not to.

I don’t know what the official consequences would have been for not participating in the killings, but from Browning’s book, it doesn’t seem like the soldiers who were able to avoid killing people faced any repercussions, although for some of them, they were reassigned by Trapp, so it wasn’t as if they were technically going against orders. Again, I don’t know if there were any actual consequences, but even if they were, I highly doubt that they were a worse option than killing people. It seems more likely that the soldiers thought that they didn’t really have a choice, and that they had signed up to carry out the orders of their superiors, just as the subjects of Milgram’s experiments felt like they had no choice but to obey the psychologist’s directions. This killing was presumably traumatic for the Nazis (Himmler became sick just from being too close to the bodies of the people killed by the Einsatzgruppen), but I feel I must acknowledge that their trauma does not come anywhere close to the amount of trauma experienced by the people they were killing, or attempting to kill. The Nazis were able to create a less traumatic (or, more precisely, less direct) way of murdering people, but this only allowed the Nazis to kill more easily and to feel less resposible and guilty about the atrocities they were committing– they only lessened their own trauma.

As I said before, I strongly believe that the soldiers’ loss of rationality in this situation does not lessen the nature of their crimes, nor does it excuse them from responsibility, but I do realize that killing another person is inherently traumatizing for almost everyone, and they did not want to be killing people. No matter what, if they made the active decision to follow through with their orders, their actions are completely inexcusable, and should be treated as such, regardless of their personal feelings on their task.

Posts: 18

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

I believe that many men chose to kill and partake in this because of the trust they had in their superiors. In modern day, if someone has a degree in a certain field of subject matter which they are discussing, we tend to trust them more because our logic is that they’ve been educated on that, and so must be an authority on that. The same logic goes for the military. Not only was it and is it expected for people to follow their leaders and obey any orders given, but there is also a level of trust most likely established because that superior has credentials that someone else may not. Thus, many of these soldiers may have thought that their leader would not steer them wrong, and that there must be a good reason for them to be giving this order of massacre. Browning states that Trapp was often referred to as “Papa Trapp”, which most definitely gives the impression that he was heavily trusted by those he lead. This, of course, brings up the question of whether someone should simply blindly follow someone simply because they trust them. These men were given an out, and an opportunity to not partake in this- as murder is and has been morally wrong for a majority of human civilization. Because there were men who took that out, it’s clear they had some reservations about doing this and were not willing to blindly follow Trapp, despite the fact that they trusted him. They acted in accordance with their own morals. And while they may have not been punished directly, there was almost certainly stigma around leaving. I have no doubt that these men were from there on out seen as almost traitors, or weak, or cowards because they refused to simply go along with the group. There were certainly societal repercussions for the men who refused to go along with this, therefore placing more pressure on them to go with the group and carry out these killings. Major Tripp most definitely struck me as interesting, because he seemed to have a very good idea that this was morally wrong - to say the least. He did give his soldiers an out, and wasn’t present at the killings himself, which gives me the sense that he wasn’t comfortable at all with what was happening. However, in the same way that his soldiers may have felt societal pressure, the Major may have felt pressure from his own superiors to carry this out, and may have faced repercussions himself. However, this places him, and any soldier who carried this out or ordered others to do so, with equal blame. Each person involved in this knew that it involved an extremely inhumane act. To try and blame anyone else- such as higher ups- is deeply concerning, as it may have helped them live through it, but it allows anyone who does this to play the victim in this scenario, when the only true victims are those who were mercilessly killed.

To answer this second question, it’s incredibly important for us to answer this question and learn the psychology behind it so that we’re able to counteract it. It is vital that people learn to think for themselves, especially today when many people’s political views are all they see on social media, instead of a mix of other views. These reaffirming posts and stories push us towards more of a “groupthink” scenario, and don’t really allow us to create our own beliefs based on unbiased information given to us by a credited source. If the answer to that question is a situation so powerful that we lose any ability to make true and rational decisions about how our decisions affect others, we must work to train ourselves to learn to think rationally when in those situations. To hold onto our own morals so tightly that they guide us through those situations , and allow us to make the right decision, even if it means going against society. In a way, this may slightly - only slightly- lessen the nature of their crimes because then some of that blame gets placed on society, and its failure to teach people hold to their own morals and speak up when they’re being told to do something that is so wholly and unequivocally wrong. These people are in abolsutely no way blameless in these situations, but a question and answer like this beg the question of how much of this is society’s fault- how did it fail to teach people something which seems to be so simple? It, however, in no way means the perpetrators are less responsible. It, in my view, may mean that they are in fact more responsible because they are taking advantage of this failure on society’s part. They may know that such psychology exists, and therefore give orders in a way that purposefully uses it to their advantage.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 32

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

This was a very difficult read and I would like to begin my post by saying that there is no excuse for this type of wicked cruelty.

I think those men did what they did because someone of a higher authority/rank was instructing them and they did not want to lose the “respect” of their leaders and fellow officers. Sure, they could have been nervous that there would be repercussions and punishments for those that opt out of the orders, but the men followed through because they wanted to seem rigid, violent, merciless— a true Nazi. For those men that participated in the killings in Józefów, their pride, as @turtle17 said, proved more significant to them than morals. I believe that this is something that comes with war and hatred because bloodshed at the hands of hate is most simply put: the abandonment of all preexisting ethics and morals. I think that some men chose not to participate in the massacre because they felt either secure enough in their standing (rank) to opt out or they truly did not want to participate in this or see its consequences firsthand. Honestly, I could not find any repercussions for those that chose not to participate other than the fear that they may be looked down upon by their peers or supervisors. Also, some supervisors like Captain Wohlauf threatened men saying they “could lie down alongside the victims” when men pleaded to be reassigned. It’s hard for me to imagine what was going through the heads of the officers during the massacre but I think the fact that Browning includes the tone of “shame and horror that pervaded the barracks,” says a lot about the men’s thoughts afterwards. I think that Major Trapp was the most interesting portion of this chapter to follow because I related many of his reactions to what we watched in class today on the Milgram experiment. For example, Trapp couldn’t bear to watch the horrors that he was ordering his men to do, like the “teacher” had a hard time listening to the audio of the “learner” screaming in pain. Similarly, both Trapp and the “teacher” continued. Of course, the circumstances were much different, but both men did not back down from the orders given to them. Furthermore, I find it interesting that there are so many accounts of Trapp weeping “like a child” and complaining about his orders. To me, this raises the question: if he knew it was wrong, what was making him do it? Did he want to prove himself to his superiors? Did he fear for his own safety? What was stopping him from walking away? Finally, these massacres served by the einsatzgruppen were problematic for the Nazi party in the end because they traumatized the officers. This is not to say that the officers that carried out mass murders are in any way victims, but it does mean that the rationality and morale in these men was probably lost, ultimately proving bad for the Nazi regime.

To me this question seems to have a simple answer: we must understand human behavior in the past to prevent it in the future. I feel like I say this a lot, but I truly believe it. Therefore, my counter question to this student is why not? Why not work to break down toxic obedience? Why not address the harmful effects of "Groupthink"? Why not discuss the “dark side of human behavior” if it has such massive effects on the public? Frankly, I completely disagree with the past student’s statement that the work of Browning and others to understand the psychology behind the Holocaust is asking us or allowing us to feel sympathy for the perpetrators. I think this is an ignorant and dull way to approach the study of human behavior. The student missed the purpose that these studies, experiments, accounts, etc. show us— society is at blame and since the perpetrators are acting with their society they are equally at blame. I do not mean that the perpetrators are “just victims of a failing society.” No. I mean that they are acting under the immoral strains of society— not actively trying to rebel against them— making them completely and entirely at fault.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 27

The Einsatzgruppen

Major Trapp was clearly disturbed by the orders he had received to kill the Jews in the town who weren’t taken to a work camp. I found Trapp’s story surprising because I haven’t spent much time thinking about the fact that some Nazis had such an aversion to the work they were doing. Although Trapp felt guilty and gave his men the option to opt out, this did nothing about the fact that the order was still carried out. This raises the question of why all of the other men chose to participate. They probably had a fear of later repercussions because they didn’t know what could happen in the future, even if Trapp said there were no consequences. As one policeman described, the only actual “consequence” he faced was being shamed and called a “weakling.” Some policemen might not have wanted to be looked upon with disgust or emasculated. The pressure of the situation and the psychological obligation people have to follow orders may have played a small role in those who decided to shoot. However, if some people can choose not to, everyone else can as well and the choice still remains.

There is no way to lessen the nature of the crimes that the einsatzgruppen committed. One part of the chapter that I found horrifying was when Browning described how many policemen were paired face to face with Jewish people that they would kill. I thought about Milgram’s experiment with all its variations, and how the percentage of “teachers” who administered shocks to the very end decreased significantly when they themselves tied up the “learners” or physically saw them during the experiment. The einsatzgruppen’s crimes were on such an extreme scale and it is shocking that policemen and soldiers who were face to face with their victims, watching as their “brains and bones blew everywhere,” could continue to carry out such unspeakable horrors. Many admitted that it was hard to watch, but the brutality continued. Browning said that “the reality of what [the soldiers] were about to do…had probably not sunk in.” I feel like if one was given orders to shoot an entire town dead, the reality would hit pretty strongly right away. “Groupthink” and the “power of the situation” argument can be used to explain the psychological reason why we feel obligated to follow commands, but it does not lessen the atrocity of these crimes or make perpetrators any less responsible.

West Roxbury, MA, US
Posts: 29

The Psychology of the Holocaust

The power an authority figure has over someone of a lower class/rank is one that is very confusing to understand. The Jozefow massacre is no exception to this confusion. In 1942, German soldiers, by order of their “higher-ups,” were forced to conduct the killing of over a thousand Jewish women and children to be massacred execution-style. Christopher Browning’s book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, details this situation, focusing on the “choice” soldiers were given. A choice of obedience vs. refusal. At first, when any soldier refused to participate, they were faced with the anger of Captain Hoffman; however, this changed once the soldiers arrived at Jozefow. If the men wanted to, they were permitted to ask certain commanders to be reassigned, and in most cases, this request was granted. One soldier even remembers simply walking away from his station after the sickening feeling in his stomach only continued to grow after each kill, eventually taking up a new post without really anyone noticing. And yet many men stayed; they saw it as their job to stay and obey the orders given to them. Maybe out of fear of embarrassment or opposition, many who stayed could claim they feared the repercussions. However, as Browning details, many who chose to refuse to continue killing didn’t face much backlash and, instead of facing punishment, were told to simply take a cigarette break or reassign themselves. Major Tripp, a leading officer who wasn’t so sure of the morality of the entire situation and shook heavily with tears in his eyes upon explaining the order, even offered a way out for most of the men who wanted one. So this leaves us with the puzzling question of why any soldier would choose to stay, why make the active decision to murder innocent women and children when it seems they could’ve so easily declined the assignment? This power dynamic was studied in a research project called the Milgram experiment carried out in 1961. In a test of moral obligation and obedience, test subjects were experimented on to see how long they(the teacher) would go injuring a test subject(the learner) under the authority of a psychologist. And horrifically, it was discovered that 65 percent of the subjects continued to inflict shocks to the learners right up to the 450-volt level (a level marked with mysterious three X’s) all because they were told by psychologists that they “had to keep going” and that “they(the psychologists) would take responsibility for any harm done.” This study explains why so many soldiers at Jozefow continued for as long as they did; they felt the pressure of satisfying their “teacher.” They feared the consequences associated with disappointing a superior. These massacres were so problematic for the Nazis in the short term because it didn’t take long before soldiers would request reassignment, meaning more and more soldiers would have to be brought in to complete the task. They were problematic long-term because the memory of these events abused and traumatized the soldiers, with the scarred memory of shooting innocent lives ingrained in their minds. When an individual holds an arbitrary power standard over another, it’s not that the lower-ranked person loses the ability to make humane decisions; instead, it’s more so about the power dynamic of pressure placed on someone to impress that superior, creating these situations where people go to extreme lengths to demonstrate themselves as meritorious. However, no matter how “strong” of a situation or pressured a person feels, this will never lessen the crime of murder. Perpetrators aren’t less responsible just because they were told to do the things they did; if one man tells another to murder someone, that makes both men equally guilty of the murder; the man told to do it isn’t exempt from blame just because it wasn’t his idea. In the same way, these Einsatzgruppen battalions are in no way excused from the responsibility of the heinous crimes they committed.

Posts: 26

Jozefow, the Einsatzgruppen, and the Psychology of the Holocaust

Each person probably had different reasoning behind doing what they did… “justification”. Maybe they were “following orders” or “proving their manliness” or killing “vermin.” Vermin who did nothing wrong… Maybe the men who chose to participate thought they had no other choice. Maybe they felt pressured by their peers or authority figures. Maybe they thought it was right or even… enjoyed it. It doesn’t really matter, does it? Thoughts don’t matter, only actions. Trapp might have sobbed, might have been upset, but during the first raid, he did nothing to stop it. I’m sorry, but I can’t write about this. I don’t want to be in the heads of murderers. I don’t want to try to understand them. It doesn’t matter why it happened. The only thing that matters is that it did happen. It’s happened before, many, many times. It can happen again. It can always happen again. I don't care if some people stood on the sidelines because they still didn't stop it. I don’t care if someone higher up said “do it”. The more separated we are from the murders, the easier, so saying “do it” would have been easier than actually doing it. That’s why gas chambers became so widely used, instead. Easier. More isolated. Obviously, as humans, we all have the potential to commit atrocities. We should focus on creating legislation so this stops happening. It’s happening right now all over the world. I can’t sit here and try to think of the reasoning the murderers had, because “so what” is the right question to ask. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’re responsible for each other’s actions. It’s easy to say “it must be a German trait” because then we separate ourselves from what happened. We can never be separated, though. Without action, we are a part of it. When we sit here, silent, as people commit atrocities around the world, we are committing them as well. We might not feel the brains spraying up onto our clothes, into our mouths, but we’re there in spirit. We can’t stop everything but we can certainly try, more than we are right now. We continue to go through our days, while people are being perpetrated and attacked right now. We have the audacity to complain about Nazis and other countries’ silence while we lay just as still. One day it will be us.
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 28

The very idea that people are even capable of committing the atrocities that occurred during the Holocaust is terrifying. To think that people were able to carry out actions that they knew would directly lead to people’s deaths is terrifying. However, what’s even more terrifying, are the people who actually, directly, killed Jews without any real reason, like members of einsatzgruppen. How were people just capable of murder?

Unable to deal with the idea that people were willing to just become murderers, citizens became comforted by Theodore Adorno’s idea of a “Fascist Personality Type.” Attributing something to genetics makes it far less terrifying because then it’s an isolated scenario. It’s easier to believe that those people did those terrible things because there was something actually wrong with them. That belief removes the fear of wondering what you yourself are capable of. It’s easier to believe: it’s genetic, so there’s no possibility that I could have done that.

However, the reality is, people without murderous tendencies became murderers during the Holocaust. Christopher Browning explores this idea by explaining the actions and thoughts of the “ordinary men” in Reserve Battalion 101 who were forced to exterminate an entire town by just shooting Jews. When they were given this task, something unusual happened. Their leader, Trapp, offered them an out. Anyone who didn’t want to participate was given the opportunity to take on another assignment. The men hesitated. Here is where the psychology of the ordinary Nazi soldier comes into play. Even though Trapp gave them that out, they didn’t trust it. They feared the implications that would come if they took the out. They feared being seen as less of a soldier or less of a man. They feared being seen as weak. Clearly, none of these things have anything to do with the victims of the holocaust. Those soldiers were thinking about self preservation.

Schmike, the first man to step away, was given the reaction that each of those soldiers feared. Since the “broke rank” which is disrespectful, the other leader Hoffman began to berate him, but he was stopped by Trapp. In these types of situations, men are more afraid of what will happen if they don’t protect their soldier status; they’re not even thinking about the act they’re about to commit. It’s clear they weren’t thinking at that moment, because later on many more men try to opt out.The men who stepped away, they actually took a moment and thought about the act they would commit.

The only reason that these ordinary men were given any mercy at all was because of Major Tripp. Tripp spent the day crying, and he did not dare to go anywhere near the forest when the killings were happening. One soldier remarks, “he allegedly could not bear the sight. We men were upset about that and said we couldn’t bear it either.” None of the men wanted to do this. So much so that they got angry because Tripp got to act “weak,” but they felt like they couldn’t.

Even if “the power of the situation was so strong that individuals lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions,” these men are not excused from what they did. They put their fear of being seen as weak above the lives of Jewish people. They all knew they were doing something wrong, but they chose to continue.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 25

Einsatzgruppen and Browning post

The reason that these men did what they did was because they were “following orders.” This is the scariest thing about the Nazi era, and about fascism in general. Anyone can say that they were in the right, simply because they were following orders, and that this was not actually their decision. I think a lot of men chose not to participate because it went against everything they stood for, against their morals. They might have been reminded by the women and children they killed, of their own families back home. I cannot imagine what must have been going through the heads of the men who did participate. They must have felt at least a little conflicted. How could anyone stand by and do this? We as people today sitting in this classroom, reading this, cannot fathom how any person could kill defenseless people. But this was the Nazi era. This is what went on. This is fascism and the Holocaust, and people did have a choice. The choice was to kill people, or to opt out, at least in this specific instance. I find I have no empathy for the men who chose to stay, and murder people. None.

The repercussions of choosing not to participate were losing your reputation, and being known as weak. Major Tripp is an interesting person, and he seemed to let anyone that wanted to opt out. He was very upset about these orders, and cried about it. However, he still followed the orders and still went through with it, despite the conflict that he felt. These special killing squads were problematic for the Nazis because it wasted bullets, which were expensive, especially when mass killings used up so many of them. It was also problematic because when you have men who kill over and over, they become desensitized to it, and could end up volatile and could turn against the Nazis.

I think that it is important to study human behaviors in the past, because then we can understand them, and find a way to prevent them in the future. I think that it is extremely frightening to think about how people can lose rationale when the power of the situation is too strong. It is almost like the bystander effect, how if no one stands up for someone or something, no one else will either. I definitely agree that this is a real thing, because how else would the Holocaust have happened? This is also similar to confirmation bias. However, with all that said, I do not think that these facts diminish the responsibility that people have for themselves. No matter the situation, you are responsible for your own actions, and these studies should never be used to portray sympathy for the perpetrators. Never. It does help to understand why Hitler’s ideology had such a strong hold on the Nazis, so that we can prevent people like this from rising to power, and make it known that people make their own decisions. Browning focused a lot on the people who refused to kill the Jewish people, but he also talked about the ones who did it until nightfall. No one wanted to talk about it afterwards, and this was most likely because they all knew this was wrong deep down. But they still did it, which makes them all personally responsible.

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