Ordinary men, p.19
Ordinary Men, p.19Christopher R. Browning
To what degree, then, did the conscious inculcation of Nazi doctrines shape the behavior of the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101? Were they subjected to such a barrage of clever and insidious propaganda that they lost the capacity for independent thought and responsible action? Were devaluation of the Jews and exhortations to kill them central to this indoctrination? The popular term for intense indoctrination and psychological manipulation, emerging from the Korean War experience of some captured American soldiers, is “brainwashing.” Were these killers in some general sense “brainwashed”?
Unquestionably, Himmler set a premium on the ideological indoctrination of members of the SS and the police. They were to be not just efficient soldiers and policemen but ideologically motivated warriors, crusaders against the political and racial enemies of the Third Reich.31 Indoctrination efforts embraced not only the elite organizations of the SS but also the Order Police, extending even to the lowly reserve police, though the reservists scarcely fit Himmler’s notion of the new Nazi racial aristocracy. For instance, membership in the SS required proof of ancestry untainted by Jewish blood through five generations. In contrast, even “first-degree Mischlinge” (people with two Jewish grandparents) and their spouses were not banned from service in the reserve police until October 1942; “second-degree Mischlinge” (one Jewish grandparent) and their spouses were not banned until April 1943.32
In its guidelines for basic training of January 23, 1940, the Order Police Main Office decreed that in addition to physical fitness, use of weapons, and police techniques, all Order Police battalions were to be strengthened in character and ideology.33 Basic training included a one-month unit on “ideological education.” One topic for the first week was “Race as the Basis of Our World View,” followed the second week by “Maintaining the Purity of Blood.”34 Beyond basic training, the police battalions, both active and reserve, were to receive continued military and ideological training from their officers.35 Officers were required to attend one-week workshops that included one hour of ideological instruction for themselves and one hour of practice in the ideological instruction of others.36 A five-part study plan of January 1941 included the subsections “Understanding of Race as the Basis of Our World View,” “The Jewish Question in Germany,” and “Maintaining the Purity of German Blood.”37
Explicit instructions were issued on the spirit and frequency of this continuing ideological training, for which the National Socialist world view was to be the “plumb line.” Every day, or at least every other day, the men were to be informed about current events and their proper understanding in ideological perspective. Every week officers were to hold thirty- to forty-five-minute sessions in which they delivered a short lecture or read an edifying excerpt from suggested books or specially prepared SS pamphlets. The officers were to choose some theme—loyalty, comradeship, the offensive spirit—through which the educational goals of National Socialism could be clearly expressed. Monthly sessions were to be held on the most important themes of the time and could feature officers and educational personnel of the SS and Party.38
The officers of Reserve Police Battalion 101 obviously complied with these directives on ideological education. In December 1942 Captains Hoffmann and Wohlauf and Lieutenant Gnade were recognized for their activities “in the area of ideological training and care for the troops.” They were each awarded a book to be presented by their commanding officer.39 Himmler’s undoubted intentions aside, however, a look at the actual materials used to indoctrinate Reserve Police Battalion 101 raises serious doubts about the adequacy of SS indoctrination as an explanation for the men becoming killers.
Two kinds of Order Police educational materials are preserved in the German Federal Archives (Bundesarchiv) in Koblenz. The first are two series of weekly circulars issued by the department for “ideological education” of the Order Police between 1940 and 1944.40 A few of the lead articles were written by such Nazi luminaries and noted ideological firebrands as Joseph Goebbels, Alfred Rosenberg (Hitler’s minister for occupied Russia), and Walter Gross (the head of the Party’s Office of Racial Politics). The general racist perspective was of course pervasive. Nonetheless, in some two hundred issues altogether, relatively little space was devoted explicitly to anti-Semitism and the Jewish question. One issue, “Jewry and Criminality”—exceptionally ponderous even by the quite undistinguished standards of the two series—concluded that alleged Jewish characteristics, such as “immoderateness,” “vanity,” “curiosity,” “the denial of reality,” “soullessness,” “stupidity,” “malice,” and “brutality,” were the exact characteristics of the “perfect criminal.”41 Such prose may have put readers to sleep; it certainly did not turn them into killers.
The only other article devoted entirely to the Jewish question, on the back page in December 1941, was entitled “A Goal of This War: Europe Free of Jews.” It noted ominously that “the word of the Führer, that a new war instigated by the Jews would not bring about the collapse of anti-Semitic Germany but on the contrary the end of the Jews, was now being carried out.” “The definitive solution of the Jewish problem, that is, not only depriving them of power but actually removing this parasitical race from the family of European peoples,” was imminent. “What appeared impossible two years ago was now becoming reality step by step: at the end of this war there would exist a Europe free of Jews.”42
Recalling Hitler’s prophecy and invoking his authority in connection with the ultimate goal of a “Europe free of Jews” was not, of course, peculiar to SS indoctrination materials. On the contrary, the same message was widely circulated to the general public. How little these materials were directed at “brainwashing” the reserve police into becoming mass murderers, moreover, can be seen from another article of September 20, 1942, the single item in the entire two series devoted to the reserve police. Far from steeling them to be superhumanly inhuman to accomplish great tasks, the article assumed that the reserve police were doing nothing of noticeable importance. To boost their morale, presumably threatened above all by boredom, “older reservists” were assured that no matter how innocuous their jobs might seem, in total war “everyone is important.”43 By this time the “older reservists” of Reserve Police Battalion 101 had carried out the mass shootings at Józefów and Łomazy and the initial deportations from Parczew and Międzyrzec. They stood on the eve of a climactic and murderous six-week assault on the ghettos of northern Lublin. It is unlikely any of them would have found this article terribly relevant, much less inspiring.
A series of special pamphlets (four to six a year) “for the ideological education of the Order Police” constituted a second group of indoctrination materials. In 1941 one issue covered “The Blood Community of the German Peoples” and “The Great German Empire.”44 In 1942 there was an issue entitled “Germany Reorganizes Europe,” and a “special issue” called “SS Man and the Question of Blood.”45 A large combined issue in 1943 was devoted to “The Politics of Race.”46 Beginning with the 1942 special issue on the question of blood but above all in the 1943 issue “The Politics of Race,” the treatment of racial doctrine and the Jewish question became very thorough and systematic. The German “people” (Volk) or “blood community” (Blutsgemeinschaft) was comprised of a mixture of six closely related European races, the largest (50 to 60 percent) being the Nordic race. Shaped by a severe northern climate that ruthlessly eliminated weak elements, the Nordic race was superior to any other in the world, as could be seen from German cultural and military achievements. The German Volk faced a constant struggle for survival ordained by nature, according to whose laws “all weak and inferior are destroyed” and “only the strong and powerful continue to propagate.” To win this struggle, the Volk needed to do two things: conquer living space to provide for further population growth and preserve the purity of German blood. The fate of peoples who did not expand their numbers or preserve their racial purity could be seen in the examples of Sparta and Rome.
The main threat to a
“The Jews are a racial mixture, which in contrast to all other peoples and races, preserves its essential character first of all through its parasitical instinct.” With no regard for either consistency or logic, the pamphlet then asserted that the Jew kept his own race pure while striking at the existence of his host race through race mixing. No coexistence was possible between a race-conscious people and the Jews, only a struggle that would be won when “the last Jew had left our part of the earth.” The present war was just such a struggle, one that would decide the fate of Europe. “With the destruction of the Jews,” the last threat of European collapse would be removed.
For what explicit purpose were these pamphlets written? What conclusions did this review of the basic tenets of National Socialist race thinking urge upon the reader? Neither “The Question of Blood” nor “The Politics of Race” ended with a call to eliminate the racial enemy. Rather they concluded with exhortations to give birth to more Germans. The racial battle was in part a demographic battle determined by the laws of “fertility” and “selection.” War was “counterselection in pure form,” for not only did the best fall on the field of battle, but they did so before having children. “The victory of arms” required a “victory of children.” As the SS represented a selection of predominantly Nordic elements within the German people, SS men had an obligation to marry early, choose young, racially pure, and fertile brides, and have large numbers of children.
A number of factors must be kept in mind, therefore, in evaluating the indoctrination of the reserve police through pamphlets such as these. First, the most detailed and thorough pamphlet was not even issued until 1943, after the northern Lublin security zone of Reserve Police Battalion 101 was virtually “free of Jews.” It appeared too late to have played a role in indoctrinating this battalion for mass murder. Second, the 1942 pamphlet was clearly directed at the family obligations of the young SS man and particularly irrelevant to middle-aged reservists who had long ago made their decisions about marriage partner and size of family. Thus, even though available, it would have seemed singularly inappropriate as the basis for one of the battalion’s weekly or monthly indoctrination sessions.
Third, the age of the men affected their susceptibility to indoctrination in another way as well. Many of the Nazi perpetrators were very young men. They had been raised in a world in which Nazi values were the only “moral norms” they knew. It could be argued that such young men, schooled and formed solely under the conditions of the Nazi dictatorship, simply did not know any better. Killing Jews did not conflict with the value system they had grown up with, and hence indoctrination was much easier. Whatever the merits of such an argument, it clearly does not hold for the predominantly middle-aged men of Reserve Police Battalion 101. They were educated and spent their formative years in the pre-1933 period. Many came from a social milieu that was relatively unreceptive to National Socialism. They knew perfectly well the moral norms of German society before the Nazis. They had earlier standards by which to judge the Nazi policies they were asked to carry out.
Fourth, ideological tracts like those prepared for the Order Police certainly reflected the wider ambience within which the reserve policemen were trained and instructed as well as the political culture in which they had lived for the previous decade. As Lieutenant Drucker said with extraordinary understatement, “Under the influence of the times, my attitude to the Jews was marked by a certain aversion.” The denigration of Jews and the proclamation of Germanic racial superiority was so constant, so pervasive, so relentless, that it must have shaped the general attitudes of masses of people in Germany, including the average reserve policeman.
Fifth and last, the pamphlets and materials that dealt with the Jews justified the necessity of a judenfrei Europe, seeking support and sympathy for such a goal, but they did not explicitly urge personal participation in achieving that goal through killing Jews. This point is worth mentioning, because some of the Order Police instructional guidelines concerning partisan warfare stated quite plainly that each individual must be tough enough to kill partisans and, more important, “suspects.”
The partisan struggle is a struggle for Bolshevism, it is not a people’s movement…. The enemy must be totally destroyed. The incessant decision over life and death posed by the partisans and suspects is difficult even for the toughest soldier. But it must be done. He behaves correctly who, by setting aside all possible impulses of personal feeling, proceeds ruthlessly and mercilessly.47
In all the surviving indoctrination materials of the Order Police, there is no parallel set of guidelines that attempts to prepare policemen to kill unarmed Jewish women and children. Certainly in Russia large numbers of Jews were murdered in the framework of killing “suspects” during antipartisan sweeps. In the Polish territories garrisoned by Reserve Police Battalion 101 in 1942, however, there simply was no major overlap between killing partisan suspects and killing Jews. For this unit, at least, the killing of Jews cannot be explained by brutal exhortations to kill partisans and “suspects.”
One other comparison is pertinent here. Before the Einsatzgruppen entered Soviet territory, they underwent a two-month training period. Their preparation included visits and speeches by various SS luminaries who gave them “pep talks” about the coming “war of destruction.” Four days before the invasion, the officers were recalled to Berlin for an intimate meeting with Reinhard Heydrich himself. In short, considerable effort was made to prepare these men for the mass murder they were going to perpetrate. Even the men of the police battalions that followed the Einsatzgruppen into Russia in the summer of 1941 were partially prepared for what awaited them. They were informed of the secret directive for the execution of captured Communists (the “commissar order”) and the guidelines for the treatment of the civilian population. Some battalion commanders also attempted to inspire their troops through speeches, as did Daluege and Himmler when visiting. In contrast, both officers and men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were singularly unprepared for and surprised by the murderous task that awaited them.
In summary, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101, like the rest of German society, were immersed in a deluge of racist and anti-Semitic propaganda. Furthermore, the Order Police provided for indoctrination both in basic training and as an ongoing practice within each unit. Such incessant propagandizing must have had a considerable effect in reinforcing general notions of Germanic racial superiority and “a certain aversion” toward the Jews. However, much of the indoctrination material was clearly not targeted at older reservists and in some cases was highly inappropriate or irrelevant to them. And material specifically designed to harden the policemen for the personal task of killing Jews is conspicuously absent from the surviving documentation. One would have to be quite convinced of the manipulative powers of indoctrination to believe that any of this material could have deprived the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 of the capacity for independent thought. Influenced and conditioned in a general way, imbued in particular with a sense of their own superiority and racial kinship as well as Jewish inferiority and otherness, many of them undoubtedly were; explicitly prepared for the task of killing Jews they most certainly were not.
Along with ideological indoctrination, a vital factor touched upon but not fully explored in Milgram’s experiments was conformity to the group. The battalion had orders to kill Jews, but each individual did not. Yet 80 to 90 percent of the men proceeded to kill, though almost all of them—at least initially—were horrified and disgusted by what they were doing. To break ranks and step out, to adopt overtly nonconformist behavior, wa
Why? First of all, by breaking ranks, nonshooters were leaving the “dirty work” to their comrades. Since the battalion had to shoot even if individuals did not, refusing to shoot constituted refusing one’s share of an unpleasant collective obligation. It was in effect an asocial act vis-a-vis one’s comrades. Those who did not shoot risked isolation, rejection, and ostracism—a very uncomfortable prospect within the framework of a tight-knit unit stationed abroad among a hostile population, so that the individual had virtually nowhere else to turn for support and social contact.
This threat of isolation was intensified by the fact that stepping out could also have been seen as a form of moral reproach of one’s comrades: the nonshooter was potentially indicating that he was “too good” to do such things. Most, though not all, nonshooters intuitively tried to diffuse the criticism of their comrades that was inherent in their actions. They pleaded not that they were “too good” but rather that they were “too weak” to kill.
Such a stance presented no challenge to the esteem of one’s comrades; on the contrary, it legitimized and upheld “toughness” as a superior quality. For the anxious individual, it had the added advantage of posing no moral challenge to the murderous policies of the regime, though it did pose another problem, since the difference between being “weak” and being a “coward” was not great. Hence the distinction made by one policeman who did not dare to step out at Józefów for fear of being considered a coward, but who subsequently dropped out of his firing squad. It was one thing to be too cowardly even to try to kill; it was another, after resolutely trying to do one’s share, to be too weak to continue.48
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