Ordinary men, p.9
Christopher R. Browning
Politically and ethically motivated opposition, explicitly identified by the policemen as such, was relatively rare. One man said he decisively rejected the Jewish measures of the Nazis because he was an active Communist Party member and thus rejected National Socialism in its entirety.9 Another said he opposed the shooting of Jews because he had been a Social Democrat for many years.10 A third said he was known to the Nazis as “politically unreliable” and a “grumbler” but gave no further political identity.11 Several others grounded their attitude on opposition to the regime’s anti-Semitism in particular. “This attitude I already had earlier in Hamburg,” said one landscape gardener, “because due to the Jewish measures already carried out in Hamburg I had lost the greater part of my business customers.”12 Another policeman merely identified himself as “a great friend of the Jews” without explaining further.13
The two men who explained their refusal to take part in the greatest detail both emphasized the fact that they were freer to act as they did because they had no careerist ambitions. One policeman accepted the possible disadvantages of his course of action “because I was not a career policeman and also did not want to become one, but rather an independent skilled craftsman, and I had my business back home…. thus it was of no consequence that my police career would not prosper.”14
Lieutenant Buchmann had cited an ethical stance for his refusal; as a reserve officer and Hamburg businessman, he could not shoot defenseless women and children. But he too stressed the importance of economic independence when explaining why his situation was not analogous to that of his fellow officers. “I was somewhat older then and moreover a reserve officer, so it was not particularly important to me to be promoted or otherwise to advance, because I had my prosperous business back home. The company chiefs … on the other hand were young men and career policemen who wanted to become something.” But Buchmann also admitted to what the Nazis would undoubtedly have condemned as a “cosmopolitan” and pro-Jewish outlook. “Through my business experience, especially because it extended abroad, I had gained a better overview of things. Moreover, through my earlier business activities I already knew many Jews.”15
The resentment and bitterness in the battalion over what they had been asked to do in Józefów was shared by virtually everyone, even those who had shot the entire day. The exclamation of one policeman to First Sergeant Kammer of First Company that “I’d go crazy if I had to do that again” expressed the sentiments of many.16 But only a few went beyond complaining to extricate themselves from such a possibility. Several of the older men with very large families took advantage of a regulation that required them to sign a release agreeing to duty in a combat area. One who had not yet signed refused to do so; another rescinded his signature. Both were eventually transferred back to Germany.17 The most dramatic response was again that of Lieutenant Buchmann, who asked Trapp to have him transferred back to Hamburg and declared that short of a direct personal order from Trapp, he would not take part in Jewish actions. In the end he wrote to Hamburg, explicitly requesting a recall because he was not “suited” to certain tasks “alien to the police” that were being carried out by his unit in Poland.18 Buchmann had to wait until November, but his efforts to be transferred were ultimately successful.
The problem that faced Trapp and his superiors in Lublin, therefore, was not the ethically and politically grounded opposition of a few but the broad demoralization shared both by those who shot to the end and those who had not been able to continue. It was above all a reaction to the sheer horror of the killing process itself. If Reserve Police Battalion 101 was to continue to provide vital manpower for the implementation of the Final Solution in the Lublin district, the psychological burden on the men had to be taken into account and alleviated.
In subsequent actions two vital changes were introduced and henceforth—with some notable exceptions—adhered to. First, most of the future operations of Reserve Police Battalion 101 involved ghetto clearing and deportation, not outright massacre on the spot. The policemen were thus relieved of the immediate horror of the killing process, which (for deportees from the northern Lublin district) was carried out in the extermination camp at Treblinka. Second, while deportation was a horrifying procedure characterized by the terrible coercive violence needed to drive people onto the death trains as well as the systematic killing of those who could not be marched to the trains, these actions were generally undertaken jointly by units of Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Trawnikis, SS-trained auxiliaries from Soviet territories, recruited from the POW camps and usually assigned the very worst parts of the ghetto clearing and deportation.
Concern over the psychological demoralization resulting from Józefów is indeed the most likely explanation of that mysterious incident in Alekzandrów several days later. Probably Trapp had assurance that Trawniki men would carry out the shooting this time, and when they did not show up, he released the Jews his men had rounded up. In short, the psychological alleviation necessary to integrate Reserve Police Battalion 101 into the killing process was to be achieved through a twofold division of labor. The bulk of the killing was to be removed to the extermination camp, and the worst of the on-the-spot “dirty work” was to be assigned to the Trawnikis. This change would prove sufficient to allow the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 to become accustomed to their participation in the Final Solution. When the time came to kill again, the policemen did not “go crazy.” Instead they became increasingly efficient and calloused executioners.
Łomazy: The Descent of Second Company
EVEN BEFORE THE MASSACRE AT JÓZEFÓW ON JULY 13, ORDERS had already been given for a redeployment of the police battalions in the Lublin district.1 The district was divided into northern, central, and southern “security sectors.” Reserve Police Battalion 101 was assigned to the northern sector, which encompassed, from west to east, the counties (Kreise) of Puławy, Radzyń, and Biała Podlaska. Lieutenant Gnade’s Second Company was assigned Biała Podlaska, and Gnade stationed his company staff in the county seat of Biała. First Platoon was divided between Piszczac and Tuczna to the southeast, while Second Platoon was at Wisznice due south. Third Platoon was stationed in Parczew to the southwest, actually in the neighboring county of Radzyń.
The Final Solution in the county of Biała Podlaska had commenced on June 10, 1942, when 3,000 Jews were deported from Biała to Sobibór. Hundreds of Jews from smaller communities were concentrated in the village of Łomazy, halfway between Biała and Wisznice.2 Then the murder campaign came to a halt, until the arrival of Lieutenant Gnade’s Second Company. The Jews of Łomazy were to be the target of Reserve Police Battalion 101′s first joint killing action with a unit from Trawniki. Second Company was to provide the bulk of the manpower for the roundup. The primary function of the Trawniki unit was to provide the shooters, thus alleviating the chief psychological burden the German policemen had experienced at Józefów.
In early August one squad of Third Platoon, some fifteen to eighteen men, was stationed directly in Łomazy under Sergeant Heinrich Bekemeier.* Gruppe Bekemeier, as it was known, passed several uneventful weeks in a town that was half Polish and half Jewish. Though the Jewish population lived apart from the Poles, the Jewish quarter of town was neither fenced nor guarded.3 The German policemen were housed in the school in the Jewish quarter.
On August 16, only one day before the impending action, Heinrich Bekemeier in Łomazy received a telephone call from Lieutenant Gnade informing him that there would be a Jewish “resettlement” the next morning and his men were to be ready at 4:00 a.m. It was “clear” to Bekemeier what this meant.4 The same day Gnade summoned Lieutenants Drucker and Scheer to Biała. Allegedly in the presence of an SD officer, he informed them of the next day’s action, which was to be carried out in cooperation with the SS. The entire Jewish population was to be shot.5 Second Platoon in nearby Wisznice was provided with trucks for a half-hour ride early in the morning.6 Since no trucks were available for First Plato
In Łomazy Gnade held a meeting with his noncommissioned officers, who received instructions for clearing the Jewish quarter and assembling the Jews in the schoolyard. The NCOs were told that the Hiwis from Trawniki would do the shooting, so the policemen would for the most part be spared. Nonetheless, the roundup was to be conducted “as had been done before,” which is to say that infants and the old, sick, and frail who could not be easily taken to the assembly point were to be shot on the spot. According to one squad leader, however, most children were once again brought to the assembly point. As in Józefów, the men encountered not only German Jews but specifically Hamburg Jews during the clearing action. The Jews quickly filled the schoolyard and overflowed into the adjoining sports field. With some shooting, the roundup was finished in a short two hours.8
The 1,700 Jews of Łomazy were then forced to sit and wait. A group of sixty to seventy young men was selected out, given shovels and spades, loaded onto trucks, and driven to the woods. Several of the young Jews jumped from the moving trucks and made good their escape. Another attacked a German corporal, the battalion boxing champion, who promptly knocked his desperate assailant senseless. In the woods the Jews were set to work digging a mass grave.9
Back in Łomazy, the wait of the doomed Jews and their police guards stretched into hours. Suddenly a contingent of fifty Hiwis from Trawniki marched into town, led by a German SS officer. “I can still remember exactly,” one policeman testified, “that immediately after their arrival these Trawnikis took a break. I saw that in addition to food they also took bottles of vodka out of their packs and drank from them.” The SS officer and Gnade began drinking heavily as well. Other NCOs also smelled of alcohol but unlike the two commanders were not visibly drunk.10 Buttered bread was prepared for the policemen.11
As the grave digging neared completion and after the Hiwis and policemen finished their meal, the one-kilometer “march to death” in the forest began.12 Some policemen rode the farmers’ wagons to the forest, where they set up a new cordon.13 Others began to march the Jews in groups of 200 or 300 at a time. Those who collapsed on the way were simply shot.14 This process proved too slow, and the decision was taken to march all the remaining Jews in a single large group. Pieces of rope were collected from the Polish villagers, tied together, and laid on the ground around the collected Jews. The Jews were then ordered to stand up, lifting the rope that surrounded them, and march toward the forest.
Sergeant Toni Bentheim described what followed:
The march proceeded extremely sluggishly. Presumably at the front they went too fast and pulled on the rope, so that at the back end they bunched together in a giant cluster, and scarcely a Jew could put one foot in front of another. Inevitably people fell, and the group had not even left or had just left the sports field when the first ones to fall were regularly hanging on the rope and being dragged along. Inside the cluster people were even trampled. The Jews who fell in this way and lay on the ground behind the column were ruthlessly driven forward or shot. But even these first shots did not alter the situation, and the cluster of people bunched together at the end could not untangle themselves and move forward. As at this point we were without assignment, I alone or with several of my comrades followed the Jews, because I had already concluded that one would never make headway in this manner. When no change was apparent after the first shots, I bellowed loudly something like, “What’s the point of this nonsense. Away with the rope.” Due to my shout the entire formation came to a halt, including the Hiwis, who as I remember turned toward me quite perplexed. I shouted at them once again to the effect—they were all armed—that the business with the rope was nonsense. Away with the rope. After my second call the Jews let the rope drop, and the entire group was able to move forward as a normal column. I myself then returned to the schoolyard. Agitated and vexed, I immediately went into the school and drank a schnapps.15
As the columns of marching Jews reached the forest, they were separated by sex and sent to one of three collecting areas. Here they were ordered to undress. Women were allowed to keep their shifts. In some areas the men were totally naked; elsewhere they were allowed to keep their underpants. Policemen in each area were appointed to collect clothing and valuables. They were warned that they would be searched afterward. The Jews approached with their bundles of clothing, which were laid on a pile and searched. After depositing their valuables in a large container or throwing them onto an open blanket, the Jews were made to lie face down and wait once more, often for hours, while their exposed skin burned under the hot August sun.16
The preponderance of testimony indicates that Lieutenant Gnade was “a Nazi by conviction” and an anti-Semite. He was also unpredictable—affable and approachable at times, brutal and vicious at others. His worst traits became more pronounced under the influence of alcohol, and by all accounts that afternoon in Łomazy Gnade was drunk senseless. In Poland he in fact degenerated into a “drunkard.”17 Gnade’s increasing dependence on alcohol was not unusual in the battalion. As one nondrinking policeman noted, “Most of the other comrades drank so much solely because of the many shootings of Jews, for such a life was quite intolerable sober.”18
If Gnade’s drinking was commonplace, the streak of sadism he began to display at Łomazy was not. The previous fall Gnade had put his men on the night train from Minsk to avoid becoming involved in the execution of the Jews he had brought there from Hamburg. At Józefów he had not distinguished himself from his fellow officers with any especially sadistic behavior. All this changed in the forest outside Łomazy as Gnade sought to entertain himself while waiting for the Jews to finish digging the grave.
Even before the shooting began, First Lieutenant Gnade had personally picked out some twenty to twenty-five elderly Jews. They were exclusively men with full beards. Gnade made the old men crawl on the ground in the area before the grave. Before he gave them the order to crawl, they had to undress. While the totally naked Jews crawled, First Lieutenant Gnade screamed to those around, “Where are my noncommissioned officers? Don’t you have any clubs yet?” The noncommissioned officers went to the edge of the forest, fetched themselves clubs, and vigorously beat the Jews with them.19
When preparations for the shooting were complete, Gnade began to chase Jews from the undressing areas to the grave.20
In small groups the Jews were forced to run between a thin cordon of guards some thirty to fifty meters from the undressing areas to the grave.21 The grave itself had mounds of dirt piled high on three sides; the fourth side was an incline down which the Jews were driven. In their state of intoxicated excitement, the Hiwis initially began shooting the Jews at the entry to the grave. “As a result, the Jews killed first blocked the slope. Thus some Jews went into the grave and pulled the corpses away from the entry. Immediately large numbers of Jews were driven into the grave, and the Hiwis took their positions on the walls that had been thrown up. From there they shot the victims.”22 As the shooting continued, the grave began to fill. “The Jews who followed had to climb on and later even clamber over those shot earlier, because the grave was filled with corpses almost to the edge.23
The Hiwis, often with bottle in hand, as well as Gnade and the SS officer, became increasingly drunk.24 “While First Lieutenant Gnade shot with his pistol from the dirt wall, whereby he was in constant danger of falling into the grave, the SD [sic] officer climbed into the grave just like the Hiwis and shot from there, because he was so drunk he could no longer stand on the wall.” Groundwater mixed with blood began to rise in the grave, so that the Hiwis were soon standing in it over their knees. The number of shooters steadily diminished as one by one the Hiwis fell into a drunken stupor. Gnade and the SS officer then began to scream reproaches at one another loudly enough to be heard by everyone standing within thirty meters of the grave. The SS officer yelled, “Your shit police don’t shoot at all.” Gnade retorte
Lieutenants Drucker and Scheer summoned their NCOs and passed on the order to form firing squads and carry out the executions in the same way as the Hiwis. According to Sergeant Hergert, the NCOs rejected the Hiwis’ methods “because the groundwater already stood more than half a meter. Moreover, corpses already lay—to be more precise, floated—all over the grave area. I remember as especially horrifying that large numbers of the Jews who were shot had not been fatally hit during the execution and nonetheless were covered by the following victims without being given mercy shots.”26
The NCOs decided that the execution should continue with two firing squads on opposite sides of the grave. The Jews were forced to lie down in rows along each side of the grave and were shot by the police standing on the opposite wall. Men from all three platoons were formed into squads of eight to ten and were relieved by others in rotation after five or six shots. After about two hours the Hiwis were roused from their stupor and resumed shooting in place of the German policemen. The shooting was finished around 7:00 p.m., and the work Jews who had been kept aside covered the grave. The work Jews were then shot as well.27 The thin covering of the overfilled grave continued to move.28
First and Second Platoons returned to their stations that evening, but Gruppe Bekemeier remained in Łomazy. A few days later it carried out a sweep of the Jewish quarter. Searching the cellars and looking for bunkers dug under the floorboards of the houses, the policemen seized another twenty to thirty Jews. Bekemeier telephoned Gnade, who ordered shooting. Accompanied by three or four Polish policemen, Bekemeier and his men took the Jews to the edge of the forest, forced them to lie down, and shot them in the neck from behind, once again using the bayonet as an aiming guide. Each man shot at least once, some twice. The Polish mayor was ordered to bury the bodies.29
Ordinary Men by Christopher R. Browning / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes