Ordinary Men

Ordinary Men Analysis

The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were just ordinary men, from a variety of backgrounds, education, and age. It would appear that they were not selected by any force other than random chance. Their backgrounds and upbringing, however, did little to prepare these men for the horrors they were to witness and participate in.
The group was made up of both citizens and career policemen. Major Wilhelm Trapp, a career policeman and World War I veteran headed the battalion. Trapp joined the Nazi party in 1932, but never became an office in the SS. His two captains, Hoffmann and Wohlauf, were SS trained officers. The reserve lieutenants, all seven of them, were drafted into the Order Police because they were ordinary. They were middle class, educated, and successful in their civilian lives. Five of them were members of the Nazi party, but none were in the SS. Of thirty-two remaining officers twenty-two were Party members, but none were members of the SS. Sixty-three percent of the rest of the battalion were blue-collar workers. About thirty-five percent were lower-class workers. The remaining two percent were middle-class but not greatly successful. Many were in their late 30s, too old for active army duty, but just right for police duty. They were old enough to know of political ideology other than that of the Nazi party, even though most were members.
Without a doubt, the men of this battalion greatly contributed to the final solution. The first action the 101st Battalion was order to do took place in Józefów. They went into the town and were ordered to "shoot anyone trying to escape" and "those that were too sick or frail to walk to the marketplace, as well as infants and anyone offering resistance or attempting to hid, were to be shot on the spot". (Browning, 57) They then trucked or marched the Jews they found into the woods just outside the village. "When the first truckload of thirty-five to forty Jews arrived, an equal number of policemen cam forward and, face to face, were paired off with their victims." (Browning, 61) The shear atrocity of this was too much for many of the policemen, so alcohol was provided to calm the men?s nerves. Only a dozen men stepped out and refused to shoot at all. As the day went on, however, many could not continue. They even had a "special technique" dubbed the "neck shot". "The men were told to place the end of their carbines on the cervical vertebrae at the base of the neck, but here too the shooting was done initially without fixed bayonets as a guide. The results were horrifying. The shooters were gruesomely besmirched with blood, brains, and bond splinters. It hung on their clothing." (Browning, 65) The task at hand would seem daunting at first, but as time went on the 101st Battalion would refine their methods, and the shooting would come much easier to them. This scarred the men and they tried to justify what they were doing. "I made the effort, and it was possible for me, to shoot only children. It so happened that the mothers led the children by the hand. My neighbor then shot the mother and I shot the child that belonged to her, because I reasoned with myself that after all without its mother the child could not live any longer. It was supposed to be, so to speak, soothing my conscience to release children unable to live without their mothers." (Browning, 73) The author goes on to further explain what the soldiers actually meant. "The full weight of this statement, and the significance of the word choice of the former policeman, cannot be fully appreciated unless one knows that the German word for ?release? also means to ?redeem? or ?save? when used in a religious sense. The one who ?releases? is the Erlöser ? the Savior or Redeemer!" (Browning, 73)
After the effects on the men of the outright massacre were seen, two changes took place. First, the 101st Battalion was assigned to clearing the ghettos and loading people on trains destined for the Treblinka death camp. Second, the real dirty work was to be carried out by SS-trained soldiers. This helped remove them mentally from the deaths, and made their work much more efficient.
They went on through a number of towns, clearing out ghettos and loading people