If you’re looking for a book that really makes you question your previous notions, look no further than Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. In this analysis of a Nazi police battalion, Browning documents the process of involvement in the Final Solution and the reactions of the men involved. In short, he attempts to answer how seemingly ordinary men came to take part in the murderous task of killing Jews during the Holocaust. While Browning attempts to understand, he in no way excuses the actions, and makes this very clear: “Explaining is not excusing. Understanding is not forgiving. Not trying to understand the perpetrators in human terms would make impossible…any history of Holocaust perpetrators that go beyond a one-dimensional caricature.”
Having now read this book twice- once in my undergrad and now for a GSA assignment- its importance still rings true the second time around. While many historians shy away from these harder topics that address the idea of seeing perpetrators as humans and not demons, it is crucial to do so. Only then can we gain a fuller picture of the Holocaust and other important events. I highly recommend reading this book!
Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992), xx.