Ordinary men, p.1
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       Ordinary Men, p.1

           Christopher R. Browning
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Ordinary Men





  Christopher R. Browning




  1. One Morning in Józefów

  2. The Order Police

  3. The Order Police and The Final Solution: Russia 1941

  4. The Order Police and The Final Solution: Deportation

  5. Reserve Police Battalion 101

  6. Arrival in Poland

  7. Initiation to Mass Murder: The Józefów Massacre

  8. Reflections on a Massacre

  9. Łomazy: The Descent of Second Company

  10. The August Deportations to Treblinka

  11. Late-September Shootings

  12. The Deportations Resume

  13. The Strange Health of Captain Hoffmann

  14. The Jew Hunt

  15. The Last Massacres: Harvest Festival

  16. Aftermath

  17. Germans, Poles, and Jews

  18. Ordinary Men






  Also by Christopher R. Browning


  About the Publisher

  for Raul Wilberg



  Poland in 1942-43

  The Lublin District

  Photographs follow page


  In mid-March 1942 some 75 to 80 percent of all victims of the Holocaust were still alive, while 20 to 25 percent had perished. A mere eleven months later, 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, where in March 1942, despite two and a half years of terrible hardship, deprivation, and persecution, every major Jewish community was still intact, and where eleven months later only the remnants of Polish Jewry survived in a few rump ghettos and labor camps. In short, the German attack on the Jews of Poland was not a gradual or incremental program stretched over a long period of time, but a veritable blitzkrieg, a massive offensive requiring the mobilization of large numbers of shock troops. This offensive, moreover, came just when the German war effort in Russia hung in the balance—a time period that opened with the renewed German thrust toward the Crimea and the Caucasus and closed with the disastrous defeat at Stalingrad.

  If the German military offensive of 1942 was ultimately a failure, the blitzkrieg against the Jews, especially in Poland, was not. We have long known how the Jews in the major ghettos, especially Warsaw and Lódź, were murdered. But most Polish Jews lived in smaller cities and towns whose populations were often more than 30 percent Jewish, and in some cases even 80 or 90 percent. How had the Germans organized and carried out the destruction of this widespread Jewish population? And where had they found the manpower during this pivotal year of the war for such an astounding logistical achievement in mass murder? The personnel of the death camps was quite minimal. But the manpower needed to clear the smaller ghettos—to round up and either deport or shoot the bulk of Polish Jewry—was not.1

  My search for the answers to these questions led me to the town of Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart. Here is located the Central Agency for the State Administrations of Justice (Zentrale Stelle der Landesjustizverwaltungen), the Federal Republic of Germany’s office for coordinating the investigation of Nazi crimes. 1 was working through their extensive collection of indictments and judgments for virtually every German trial of Nazi crimes committed against the Jews of Poland when I first encountered the indictment concerning Reserve Police Battalion 101, a unit of the German Order Police.

  Though I had been studying archival documents and court records of the Holocaust for nearly twenty years, the impact this indictment had upon me was singularly powerful and disturbing. Never before had I encountered 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 faces of the killers.

  It was immediately clear from the indictment, which contained quite extensive verbatim quotations from pretrial interrogations of battalion members, that the case was based upon an unusually rich collection of testimonies. Moreover, many of these testimonies had a “feel” of candor and frankness conspicuously absent from the exculpatory, alibi-laden, and mendacious testimony so often encountered in such court records. The investigation and legal prosecution of Reserve Police Battalion 101 had been a decade-long process (1962 to 1972) conducted by the Office of the State Prosecutor (Staatsanwaltschaft) in Hamburg. This office—surely one of the most diligent and committed prosecutors of Nazi crimes in all of the Federal Republic—still had custody of the court records relating to the case, and I successfully applied for permission to see them.

  Unlike so many of the Nazi killing units, whose membership can only be partially reconstructed, Reserve Police Battalion 101′s roster was available to the investigators. As most of the men came from Hamburg and many still lived there at the time of the investigation, I was able to study the interrogations of 210 men from a unit consisting of slightly less than 500 when it was sent at full strength to Poland in June 1942. This collection of interrogations provided a representative sample for statistical answers to questions about age, Party and SS membership, and social background. Moreover, about 125 of the testimonies were sufficiently substantive to permit both detailed narrative reconstruction and analysis of the internal dynamics of this killing unit.

  Ultimately, the Holocaust took place because at the most basic level individual human beings killed other human beings in large numbers over an extended period of time. The grass-roots perpetrators became “professional killers.” The historian encounters numerous difficulties in trying to write about a unit of such men, among them the problem of sources. In the case of Reserve Police Battalion 101, in contrast to many of the killing units operating in the Soviet Union, there are few contemporary documents and none that deal explicitly with its killing activities.2 The accounts of a handful of Jewish survivors can establish the dates and magnitude of various actions in some of the towns where the battalion operated. But unlike survivor testimony about prominent perpetrators in the ghettos and camps, where prolonged contact was possible, survivor testimony can tell us little about an itinerant unit like Reserve Police Battalion 101. Unknown men arrived, carried out their murderous task, and left. Seldom, in fact, can the survivors even remember the peculiar green uniforms of the Order Police to identify what kind of unit was involved.

  In writing about Reserve Police Battalion 101, therefore, I have depended heavily upon the judicial interrogations of some 125 men conducted in the 1960s. To read about the same events experienced by a single unit as filtered through the memories of 125 different men more than twenty years after the fact is disconcerting to a historian looking for certainties. Each of these men played a different role. He saw and did different things. Each subsequently repressed or forgot certain aspects of the battalion’s experiences, or reshaped his memory of them in a different way. Thus the interrogations inevitably present a confusing array of perspectives and memories. Paradoxically, I would have had the illusion of being more certain about what happened to the battalion with one detailed recollection instead of 125.

  Beyond the differing perspectives and memories, there is also the interference caused by the circumstances in which the testimony was given. Quite simply, some men deliberately lied, for they feared the judicial consequences of telling the t
ruth as they remembered it. Not only repression and distortion but conscious mendacity shaped the accounts of the witnesses. Furthermore, the interrogators asked questions pertinent to their task of collecting evidence for specific, indictable crimes committed by particular people, but did not systematically investigate the broader, often more impressionistic and subjective facets of the policemen’s experience that are important to the historian, if not to the lawyer.

  As with any use of multiple sources, the many accounts and perspectives had to be sifted and weighed. The reliability of each witness had to be assessed. Much of the testimony had to be partially or totally dismissed in favor of conflicting testimony that was accepted. Many of these judgments were both straightforward and obvious, but others were quite difficult. And as self-conscious as I have tried to be, at times I undoubtedly made purely instinctive judgments without even being aware of it. Other historians looking at the same materials would retell these events in somewhat different ways.

  In recent decades the historical profession in general has been increasingly concerned with writing history “from the bottom up,” with reconstructing the experiences of the bulk of the population ignored in the history of high politics and high culture hitherto so dominant. In Germany in particular, this trend has culminated in the practice of Alltagsgeschichte—“the history of everyday life”—achieved through a “thick description” of the common experiences of ordinary people. When such an approach has been applied to the era of the Third Reich, however, some have criticized it as an evasion—a way to shift attention from the unparalleled horrors of the Nazi regime’s genocidal policies to those mundane aspects of life that continued relatively undisturbed. Thus, the very attempt to write a case study or microhistory of a single battalion might seem undesirable to some.

  As a methodology, however, “the history of everyday life” is neutral. It becomes an evasion, an attempt to “normalize” the Third Reich, only if it fails to confront the degree to which the criminal policies of the regime inescapably permeated everyday existence under the Nazis. Particularly for the German occupiers stationed in the conquered lands of eastern Europe—literally tens of thousands of men from all walks of life—the mass-murder policies of the regime were not aberrational or exceptional events that scarcely ruffled the surface of everyday life. As the story of Reserve Police Battalion 101 demonstrates, mass murder and routine had become one. Normality itself had become exceedingly abnormal.

  Another possible objection to this kind of study concerns the degree of empathy for the perpetrators that is inherent in trying to understand them. Clearly the writing of such a history requires the rejection of demonization. The policemen in the battalion who carried out the massacres and deportations, like the much smaller number who refused or evaded, were human beings. I must recognize that in the same situation, I could have been either a killer or an evader—both were human—if I want to understand and explain the behavior of both as best I can. This recognition does indeed mean an attempt to empathize. What I do not accept, however, are the old clichés that to explain is to excuse, to understand is to forgive. Explaining is not excusing; understanding is not forgiving. Not trying to understand the perpetrators in human terms would make impossible not only this study but any history of Holocaust perpetrators that sought to go beyond one-dimensional caricature. Shortly before his death at the hands of the Nazis, the French Jewish historian Marc Bloch wrote, “When all is said and done, a single word, ‘understanding,’ is the beacon light of our studies.”3 It is in that spirit that I have tried to write this book.

  One condition placed upon my access to the judicial interrogations must be made clear. Regulations and laws for the protection of privacy have become increasingly restrictive in Germany, especially in the past decade. The state of Hamburg and its court records are no exception to this trend. Before receiving permission to see the court records of Reserve Police Battalion 101, therefore, I had to promise not to use the men’s real names. The names of the battalion commander, Major Wilhelm Trapp, and the three company commanders, Captain Wolfgang Hoffmann, Captain Julius Wohlauf, and Lieutenant Hartwig Gnade, appear in other documentation in archives outside Germany. I have used their real names, for in their cases there is no confidentiality to breach. However, I have used pseudonyms (designated at first occurrence by an asterisk) for all other battalion members who appear in the text of this book. The notes refer to those giving testimony simply by first name and last initial. While this promise of confidentiality and use of pseudonyms is, in my opinion, an unfortunate limitation on strict historical accuracy, I do not believe it undermines the integrity or primary usefulness of this study.

  A number of people and institutions provided indispensable support during the research and writing of this study. Oberstaatsanwalt (Senior Prosecutor) Alfred Streim made available to me the incomparable collection of German judicial records in Ludwigsburg. Oberstaatsanwältin Helge Grabitz encouraged me to work with the court records in Hamburg, supported my application for access, and generously helped in every way during my stay there. Pacific Lutheran University provided me with financial awards for the two trips to German archives that initiated and concluded my research on this project. The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation likewise aided one research visit in Germany. The bulk of the research and writing was completed during sabbatical leave from Pacific Lutheran University, and with the support of a Fulbright Research Grant to Israel. Daniel Krauskopf, executive secretary of the United States—Israel Educational Foundation, deserves special thanks for facilitating my research in both Israel and Germany.

  Peter Hayes of Northwestern University and Saul Friedlander of UCLA offered opportunities to present initial research findings at conferences they organized at their respective institutions. Many friends and colleagues listened patiently, offered suggestions, and provided encouragement along the way. Philip Nordquist, Dennis Martin, Audrey Euyler, Robert Hoyer, Ian Kershaw, Robert Gellately, Yehuda Bauer, Dinah Porat, Michael Marrus, Bettina Birn, George Mosse, Elisabeth Domansky, Gitta Sereny, Carlo Ginzburg, and the late Uwe Adam deserve special mention. To Raul Hilberg I owe a special debt. In 1982 he called attention to the indispensability of the Order Police to the Final Solution, continuing as so often in the past to set the agenda for further Holocaust research.4 He then personally interested himself in the publication of this study. For such help, both now and on earlier occasions in my career, the dedication of this book is an inadequate expression of my esteem and gratitude. For the continued support and understanding of my family, who have patiently endured the gestation period of another book, I am particularly grateful.

  Tacoma, November 1991


  One Morning in Józefów

  IN THE VERY EARLY HOURS OF JULY 13, 1942, THE MEN OF Reserve Police Battalion 101 were roused from their bunks in the large brick school building that served as their barracks in the Polish town of Biłgoraj. They were middle-aged family men of working- and lower-middle-class background from the city of Hamburg. Considered too old to be of use to the German army, they had been drafted instead into the Order Police. Most were raw recruits with no previous experience in German occupied territory. They had arrived in Poland less than three weeks earlier.

  It was still quite dark as the men climbed into the waiting trucks. Each policeman had been given extra ammunition, and additional boxes had been loaded onto the trucks as well.1 They were headed for their first major action, though the men had not yet been told what to expect.

  The convoy of battalion truckss moved out of Biłgoraj in the dark, heading eastward on a jarring washboard gravel road. The pace was slow, and it took an hour and a half to two hours to arrive at the destination—the village of Józefów—a mere thirty kilometers away. Just as the sky was beginning to lighten, the convoy halted outside Józefów. It was a typical Polish village of modest white houses with thatched straw roofs. Among its inhabitants were 1,800 Jews.

  The village was totally quiet.2 The men o
f Reserve Police Battalion 101 climbed down from their trucks and assembled in a half-circle around their commander, Major Wilhelm Trapp, a fifty-three-year-old career policeman affectionately known by his men as “Papa Trapp.” The time had come for Trapp to address the men and inform them of the assignment the battalion had received.

  Pale and nervous, with choking voice and tears in his eyes, Trapp visibly fought to control himself as he spoke. The battalion, he said plaintively, had to perform a frightfully unpleasant task. This assignment was not to his liking, indeed it was highly regrettable, but the orders came from the highest authorities. If it would make their task any easier, the men should remember that in Germany the bombs were falling on women and children.

  He then turned to the matter at hand. The Jews had instigated the American boycott that had damaged Germany, one policeman remembered Trapp saying. There were Jews in the village of Józefów who were involved with the partisans, he explained according to two others. The battalion had now been ordered to round up these Jews. The male Jews of working age were to be separated and taken to a work camp. The remaining Jews—the women, children, and elderly—were to be shot on the spot by the battalion. Having explained what awaited his men, Trapp then made an extraordinary offer: if any of the older men among them did not feel up to the task that lay before him, he could step out.3


  The Order Police

  HOW DID A BATTALION OF MIDDLE-AGED RESERVE POLICEMEN find themselves facing the task of shooting some 1,500 Jews in the Polish village of Józefów in the summer of 1942? Some background is needed, both on the institution of the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei, or Orpo) and on its role in the Nazi policy of murdering the Jews of Europe.

  The Order Police resulted from the third attempt in interwar Germany to create large police formations with military training and equipment.1 In the wake of the German defeat in World War I, revolution broke out in Germany. As the army dissolved, military officers and government officials fearful of being swept away by revolutionary forces organized counterrevolutionary paramilitary units known as the Freikorps. When the domestic situation stabilized in 1919, many of the Freikorps men were merged with regular police into large formations stationed in barracks and on hand to combat any further resurgence of the revolutionary threat. The Allies, however, demanded the dissolution of these police formations in 1920 as a potential violation of the clause of the Versailles Treaty limiting Germany’s standing army to 100,000 men.

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