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Boston, MA, US
Posts: 22

The power of authority likely contributed greatly to why many of these men participated in mass killings. As Christopher Browning and Stanley Milgram both explore in their research, the presence of an authority figure has a large effect on the actions of those following their orders. In Milgram’s experiments, “teachers” who were in a room with the instructor were more likely to go to maximum voltage that those who were in a different room. Based on the common excuse of “just following orders” it is likely that these men felt a feeling of protection following orders from an authority figure over committing these atrocities of their own accord, as they may have felt it lessened their responsibility for the crimes. Those who carried through with the orders to kill hundreds of innocent people likely used this reasoning, along with engrained antisemitism, to justify their actions. However, the number of men who opted out, either before the group left or while the murder took place, was sizable. As Browning describes, many were extremely emotionally disturbed by their own actions, and the gravity of taking someone’s life. As is outlined countless times, there were really no repercussions for those who chose not to participate. None were punished, and were often quickly reassigned to a different task. I find it difficult to understand why more didn’t, especially after seeing others stop and not receive punishment. Maybe given the usually harsh treatment of those who didn’t follow orders they feared there were secret repercussions. Maybe they truly believed that what they were doing was right. Either way, they were likely influenced by the rhetoric and policy of those in charge. I think Major Tripp’s actions are very problematic. He was in a relative position of power, and obviously had strong convictions against carrying out these mass murders, yet placed that weight onto those below him and distance himself from it. His disagreements mean nothing without action to go with them. While he did the unusual thing of letting the soldiers who also disagreed remove themselves without consequence, that did nothing to change or lessen the destruction caused. Especially given that his mental barrier to committing mass murder was the lives of those chosen to be killed, it was incredibly selfish to give himself space to reckon with that and not actually help those affected. As Major Tripp demonstrates, as well as the excessive drinking of the soldiers following the murder, these Einsatzgruppen were unsustainable for the Nazi’s because of the large mental toll on the soldiers. This was something which came up in my targeted populations project as well. Initially, Einsatzgruppen had been used to carry out mass murderers of the disabled, especially in newly occupied territory, but gas vans were soon created in response to the complaints of soldiers and their commanders at the difficulty they had with killing people for hours at a time. Einsatzgruppen, being made up of “ordinary” people, come with the mental and physical needs and limits of individuals. While people are incredibly susceptible to authority and power, as historical events and research shows, their humanity prevented these groups from being as cooperative as the Nazis may have wished.

I don’t think that the susceptibility of these men to power makes them any less responsible for the horrible nature of their crimes, nor does it lessen the severity of the murder itself. They still carried out these crimes repeatedly. If anything, it increases the responsibility of those above them, like Major Tripp, as they were not only responsible for giving the orders, but also in part for influencing those below to carry them out. This has major implications for our world today as well, especially with the rising influence of social media in politics, combined with increased rightwing extremism and the confirmation bias which arises from so many social media algorithms. It is very easy for people to become so subject to a constant rhetoric which scapes goats certain groups and then carry out crimes under the excuse of listening to leaders. In many trials of people who stormed the capital, they used the excuse that they were following the orders of then-President Trump. The influence of prominent political leaders, like former-president Trump, makes their rhetoric even more dangerous because their position of power lends it credibility. That is not to say that authority figures are the only problem here. Perpetrators are just as responsible for thinking for themselves and not using the power of others as an excuse for their own individual actions. It is increasingly important that we pay attention to the information we consume and trust, as well as combat information vacuums we notice in our lives. The power of authority is immense, and we, as individuals, have a responsibility to ourselves and others to challenge that.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 26

Josefov, the Einsatzgruppen, & the Psychology of the Holocaust

The Józefów massacre, as described by Christopher Browning in his book, Ordinary Men, provides a disturbing insight into the dark side of human behavior. The members of the Reserve Police Battalion 101, who carried out the massacre, were ordinary men who were not Nazis or ideologues but were rather a mix of blue-collar workers, small businessmen, and white-collar professionals. However, when given orders to shoot Jewish men, women, and children, they carried out the atrocities without question or hesitation.

Browning argues that the men of the Reserve Police Battalion 101 were not inherently evil but rather were products of their socialization, upbringing, and their military training. They were placed in a situation where obedience to authority was paramount, and the pressure to conform and not appear weak was immense. Those who chose not to participate in the massacre risked social exclusion and, in some cases, punishment. The men who did participate in the killing were not psychopaths or sadists, but rather ordinary people who found themselves in an extraordinary situation.

Browning's findings are consistent with the results of Stanley Milgram's obedience experiments. Milgram demonstrated that ordinary people could be induced to inflict harm on others under the guise of obeying orders from an authority figure. Milgram's research showed that the power of the situation was so strong that individuals could lose the ability to make rational, humane decisions.

Browning's research also highlights the problematic nature of the Einsatzgruppen, special killing squads tasked with exterminating Jews and other "undesirables." These units were created to carry out mass killings outside of concentration camps and were made up of ordinary soldiers who were given the task of killing unarmed civilians. The Einsatzgruppen's actions were so horrific and had such a profound impact on the soldiers that many of them developed psychological problems, including PTSD, depression, and alcoholism.

So, 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”? It does not lessen the horrific nature of the crimes committed, nor does it absolve the perpetrators of responsibility. However, it does suggest that we need to be aware of the power of socialization, obedience to authority, and groupthink. We need to be vigilant in preventing situations in which people are asked to carry out immoral or unethical actions.

Browning's research also shows the importance of individual responsibility and the need to resist the pressure to conform to authority. Major Tripp, who refused to participate in the massacre, serves as an example of someone who chose to resist rather than comply with orders that he knew were wrong. He demonstrates that even in situations where obedience to authority is paramount, individuals can choose to act ethically and with integrity.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 26

Originally posted by ilovesharks44 on April 30, 2023 19:55

I think that these men did what they did because they felt like they were obligated to, but might have faced less initial guilt because they thought that they were doing it on orders for the “better” of their country that was in part supported by their own anti-semetic views. The environment that they were in provided conditions that made them feel like there wasn’t another choice, regardless of what Trapp told them, because they likely feared word of their unwillingness getting back to the “higher authorities” whose orders they were acting on. I also think that those who assigned the orders in the first place probably anticipated this, and that’s why there weren't any real consequences or contingency plans for those who initially chose not to participate. This lack of consequences is similar to the Milgram experiment, in which the 'teachers' were never told what would happen if they stopped. The connection here shows that humans have a relatively predictable response to authority, in that most of the time they'll follow orders for the sake of doing what they think they have to even if it's not right or in any way moral.

The only ‘real’ repercussion for the soldiers in Josefov if they chose not to participate was the chance of being called cowardly by your peers initially, but even that wouldn’t last as the others realized the gravity of what they were doing. I think that more didn’t choose to do that because they let themselves fall to peer pressure and their fear of what would happen to them if they didn’t, as seen with one man who was told to lie down with them when he tried to get himself excused.

These massacres were obviously problematic because they were truly atrocious actions that are clearly war crimes, and participation in systematic killing is horrifying, no matter how it is executed. To me it seems like the soldiers had become so far removed from the world that they thought of their orders as the only thing relevant to their lives, becoming a part of Janis’ idea of ‘groupthink’, even to the extent of giving up their humanity in becoming perpetrators of a genocide.

But so what. The readings mention that even those who chose not to participate contributed to the somber air of their camp at the end of the day. Trapp himself was described as weeping for what they did, but that’s all he did-- even though he wielded enough of the power in that situation that he could’ve, at the very least, tried to prevent it. Those who didn’t participate weren’t technically perpetrators, but they were bystanders which, in my opinion, is almost the same thing. Just because they felt too guilty to carry on doesn’t mean that any less people died that day– there were always enough soldiers to take their place. As mentioned above, I felt that one big factor in their participation was the peer pressure that they faced but after thinking about the question of ‘so what’, I think that it doesn’t even begin to compare to the fact that there was in fact a choice, and each and every one of those soldiers made it. There is always another choice, and both being a perpetrator and a bystander aren’t the right ones. Obviously it was a shared sentiment that their actions went against their morals– as they couldn’t even bring themselves to talk about what they had done afterwards– so why hadn’t they even tried to disobey their orders initially.

When this person is talking about bystanders it reminds me of Jeremy Strohmeyer, and Sherrice Iverson and the debate about whether or not they are just as bad as the killer themselves.

Posts: 24

Josefov, the Einsatzgruppen, & the Psychology of the Holocaust

With the amount of questions included in this assignment, I want to start by answering the one that stuck out to me the most: “Does [this] mean that the perpetrators are in some way less responsible?”, to which I answer: no. First and foremost understanding one side of something does not alleviate the other side; this isn’t a scale where adding suffering to one side will lessen the other. The horrible nature of their crimes are not changed in the slightest, if anything I would argue it makes it worse: that they understood what they were doing— that they had a moral compass and heavy consciousness, yet choose to ignore it. One of them said outright, “If this Jewish business is ever avenged on Earth, then have mercy on us Germans.” He understood the gravity of what he was doing. They ALL understood.

I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand why they did it because I’m not them, so the best I can do is take what I DO know and speculate. I think there was always an underlying fear if they refused which was most evident when the Einsatzgruppen first arrived in Josefov. When the first offer to step out was given, only one man did— Otto-Julius Schimke— and was immediately berated by his commanding officer. It was only AFTER Schimke was protected that a dozen other officers asked to not participate. They, along with probably many others, did not trust that there would be no ramifications for not following orders; they may have had protection in Josefov, but could they be assured that would extend once they returned to Germany? Additionally, I think there’s an added level of separation as a result of the strong presence of gender roles during this time. Men are expected to be strong, willing, and obedient soldiers— to do the hard tasks without letting emotions “cloud” their judgment. There was a SCOTUS case decades ago about prayer in schools; the court ruled that despite the prayer being optional, it ostracized the students who chose not to participate socially and fostered a worse learning environment. I think a similar concept applies to these soldiers where, despite the options available, felt an underlying pressure to obey. Now I personally think that this line of thinking is bullsh*t when it comes to the Einsatzgruppen because their actions resulted in crimes against humanity, but I do think it’s an interesting part of the human psyche.

Major Trapp was by far the most interesting to read about, and in my opinion the person who paralleled Milgram’s experiment the best. He was visibly distraught over this. He repeatedly lamented over the fact that he HATED these orders, but that ultimately they were orders. Trapp was never one of the shooters; in fact, he always stayed behind and far from the killings. He distanced himself physically similar to how the “teacher” was separated from the “learner” in Milgram’s experiment. Another similarity was that Trapp personally protested the orders he was given, saying, “...such jobs don’t suit me, but orders are orders.”; there was a separation of blame as he had to convince himself it lay on his higher-ups than himself. Both the “teacher” and Trapp were high on the chain of command in their respective situations, giving them both the ability to put an end to the suffering, but they didn’t.

The Einsatzgruppen’s actions led to traumatized soldiers in the short term (I use this lightly because trauma does not go away; I mean in the sense that their actions led to a stop in firing squad executions). In the long term, it sparked the creation of gas chambers which would go on to kill millions on a scale I don’t think anyone in that group predicted.

Ultimately, I don’t think "the power of the situation was so strong that individuals [lost] the ability to make rational, humane decisions”. Those officers themselves acknowledged they knew what they were doing, and that they didn’t want to do it. I feel like saying they “[lost] the ability” implies that they didn’t have the necessary information and/or tools available to them to understand the situation. They did. And they did so fully. What I believe is more accurate is that they ignored what would be the rational and humane decision. I don’t think this speaks to humanity as a whole, but the fact that it can exist— the fact that it DOES— is nauseating.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 25

Josefov, the Einsatzgruppen & the Psychology of the Holocaust

It seems as though the soldier's consensus in Browning's Ordinary Men as to why they did what they did, shooting a great (unspecified) number of Jewish women, children, and elderly people, is that they were simply following orders. In many cases it looks like there weren't repercussions if you chose not to participate, commanders would give soldiers the opportunity to opt out of a shooting before it occurred, but many wouldn't take them up on the offer until later due to a lack of understanding as to what they were about to commit. Even still, some soldiers who chose to opt out later once they had already arrived on the scene and received there orders were given other less-cruel positions like guarding an area or keeping watch. I feel like in the media "abandoning your post" is often made into a big deal, but it doesn't appear that way in Browning's book. I think that there's a difference between refusing to serve your army when you're drafted, and choosing to opt out of an action you were requested to carry out. Other soldiers who chose not to opt out at any point simply carried on with their orders, under the impression that what they were doing was for the benefit of the greater good, as they were told by their leaders, encouraged almost to commit this act.

I find Major Trapp's actions in the book to be very contradictory. I understand that in many cases the men who were selected to presume military positions that were "higher up" in the ranks than those of their peers during WWII were often men who had already served with this army in years prior. Essentially attempting to seduce these veterans into returning to their country's military by offering them a more powerful position, that, like we saw with Major Trapp, often allows them to grant themselves exclusion from a certain act. While Major Trapp received orders from his superiors to carry out this shooting, he himself did not participate in the slightest. Besides of course, encouraging his men to go forth and do the hard deed he knew he couldn't, "for Germany." He was observed on many occasions to be severely distraught by the whole ordeal, pacing the town, crying, asking God why he had been chosen to oversee such a thing, hoping that he and Germany wouldn't be held responsible.

We saw these very same actions in the documentary we watched in class, Obedience. One man who had volunteered to help local psychologists carry out an experiment using real people as the subjects for payment in return. He was the "teacher" asked repeatedly by the doctors present to continue the experiment, electrocuting another man, the "student," every time the student got a question wrong. Luckily the experiment was a hoax, and the student was an actor who was removed from the adjacent room once the shock voltage reached a fatal percentage, although he had never actually been electrocuted in the first place. The teacher carried the experiment until the very end, when the doctors asked him to stop, even though to his awareness, the student had been passed out or dead in the room over for some time. He had still continued. I remember him asking the doctors repeatedly to reassure him before he continued that if anything were to happen to the student, he would not be held responsible. This was baffling to me, to think that be to free of the responsibility (consequences) of his actions would allow him to continue killing a man guilt-free. It seems as though Major Trapp had the same mentality. He had his men carry out the shooting, praying that he and Germany would be free of its consequences.

Regardless of who assumes responsibility for an action, I think that the perpetrator is always responsible for its consequences. Whether or not the perpetrator is entirely aware of exactly what crime they are committing, it's impossible not to feel the severity of something like this and be aware that what you are doing is wrong. Thus, they are still at fault. To sum up my point, I think that the question of who claims "responsibility" is unrelated from instances like these, because the perpetrator still commits the crime, and still is at fault for it.

Posts: 18

Josefov, the Einsatzgruppen, & the Psychology of the Holocaust

To be completely honest, I’m not sure why these men would choose to kill people. I’m sure at least a few of them were genuinely extremely anti-Semetic and did it because they believed in the Nazi cause, but I’m also sure others were not. The only reasons I can think of are because they were told to, or they were afraid of the social implications of not doing it. I’m sure at least a few of them were genuinely extremely anti-Semetic and did it because they believed in the Nazi causeFrom the article, it seems like the biggest consequence of not participating was facing ridicule from fellow police officers. One of the officers said that he was called names after avoiding his shooting shift. The soldiers who did not participate were seen as weak, which I find interesting because in my opinion, the people who blindly do what they are told no matter what and don’t stand up for what is morally right are the weak ones. I think that the way that our society frames men makes them really scared to be weak or show feeling or be feminine in any way, which definitely impacted the choices these officers made, and continues to negatively affect people. It is really striking how strongly the opinions of others influenced the choices of these men and how much they felt like they “had to” even though they didn’t. Often when I think of normal people forced to be part of the Nazi party, I think of threats to the life of the person or their family if they don’t join. However, this was not the case at all in this situation.

I found Major Trapp particularly interesting because of how obviously he was morally opposed to killing these people. He knew it was wrong and offered other policemen a way out, which he didn’t have to do. It seems to me like Trapp was facing serious consequences from higher authorities, unlike all of the other officers, just based on his reaction to the task placed before him. But, Trapp could have also just felt like he had to. These massacres by the einsatzgruppen were so problematic because of the psychological impact that it had on the killing squads. At the end of the reading, Browning talks about the “shame and horror” that all of the officers felt because of what they had done. On some level, I think it is a good thing that the men were severely impacted by their actions because it reflects at least some level of understanding that what they did was wrong. I think that the fact the situation is so strong does not in any way excuse the crimes of the einsatzgruppen, but I do think it helps us better understand why they made these choices. It demonstrates how important it is to do what you think is right, no matter what the people around you are doing and emphasizes how unfortunately easy it to convince people to commit atrocious acts against others.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 18

The Psychology of the Holocaust

I think that the power of the situation is strong but it is most certainly not strong enough to remove culpability for the atrocities being committed. I think that those who use “they were just following orders” as a defense, who use that power of a situation as a defense, are attempting to engender sympathy and pity towards perpetrators under the premise of them being too mentally or morally feeble to do the right thing. Of course, human beings succumb easily to peer pressure, mob mentality, etc. Of course, people like to follow orders and like to be given direction. It is our natural instinct to prefer being told what to do because it is the easiest option. It isn’t easy to take a stand against the majority. However, every human being has free will, the ability to make your own decisions. The one thing you must always be aware of are the consequences of those decisions, and when we are following orders, we tend to not think about that. “I did that because he told me too!” is a way to shift the blame off of our shoulders and onto someone else’s. But it is a weak excuse. It doesn’t lessen the horrible nature of these people’s crimes. It doesn’t remove responsibility. It just means that they didn’t think of it first. They still did it. If you are told to put gas pellets into a chamber, and you do it without asking any questions, then you’re evil. Evil comes from not thinking. You cannot excuse evil under the premise of not thinking when that very lack of critical thinking is what allows evil to permeate human existence. The reason why regimes and cults and oppressors are able to rise up among a populace of everyday, average citizens, is through that lack of thinking. That is how the “power of the situation” arises in the first place. These perpetrators are still perpetrators. If I tell you to shoot a man and hand you a gun, it is your choice whether you listen to me or not. Everyone who participated in things like concentration camps are directly responsible for the systematic murder of millions of people. Nothing can take away that responsibility because nothing can undo the damage it caused.
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