Ordinary Men By Robert Browning: Summary

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Ordinary Men is regarded as seminal in Holocaust studies, as micro-history in its own right, and valuable for studying authoritarianism and indoctrination on individuals and collective groups. Tracing a single German unit, Reserve Police Battalion 101 (henceforth RPB-101) throughout their military duty as they are instructed to kill innocent Jewish men, women and children face-to-face in Poland, Browning documents their transition from men originally deemed unworthy of conscription to efficient killers. Browning tries discover how ‘ordinary men’ could commit such extraordinary crimes by relieving the senseless events in the order the men did. His argument, at its most stripped down, is essentially that ordinary people follow instructions from …show more content…
“In mid-March of 1942,” he writes, “some 75 to 80 percent of all victims of the Holocaust were still alive, while 20 to 25 percent had perished. In mid-February 1943, the percentages were exactly the reverse. At the core of the Holocaust was a short, intense wave of mass murder. The center of gravity of this mass murder was Poland” (Browning, XV). Browning makes the case that such a task would require a massive mobilization of soldiers to carry out these acts, and that this mobilization of troops for the sake of carrying out genocide occurred at the same time that large numbers of German soldiers and material were committed to the battle for Stalingrad. For Browning, this begged the following question: how did the Germans organize and carry out this assault on the Jewish community in Poland and where did they find the manpower to carry it out?This line of inquiry led him to the State Administrations of Justice in Ludwigsburg, Germany, which is the office for coordinating the investigation of Nazi crimes in the FRG. It was here that Browning first encountered the indictment of Reserve Police Battalion 101. Browning then describes the particular effect this indictment had on him. “Though I had been studying archival documents and court records of the Holocaust for nearly twenty years, the impact this indictment was singularly powerful and disturbing. Never before had I encountered the the issue of choice so dramatically framed by the course of events and so openly discussed by at least some of the perpetrators. Never Before had I seen the monstrous deeds of the Holocaust so starkly juxtaposed with the human face of the killers” (Browning, xvi). From there, Browning notes the challenges which presented themselves as he wrote the book (having to use assumed names for most of the membership of Police Battalion 101, for instance, because of Germany’s privacy laws)

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