Read in its entirety for Western Civilization class.
A scholarly examination of one German Reserve Police battalion’s participation in civilian murder and deportation during World War II. Based on court records of the battalion’s post-war trial (in the 1960’s), the book first presents background for the case of Reserve Police Battalion 101, describing the history of police forces in the war and the earlier murder campaigns in Russia; then goes on to give evidence describing the battalion’s participation in murder and deportations of Jews (and Poles) in Poland; and ends with Browning’s arguments about what could make “ordinary men,” such as the older reservists of the battalion, do what they did.
No sensationalism or novelistic color here; Browning seems very conscientious about his work. Every piece of information is scrupulously cited, and the language is clear and practical — a laying out of evidence as opposed to a narrative intended to fully recreate events. Browning bases his conclusions largely on two scientific experiments (the Stanford prison experiment and Milgram’s obedience experiments); though I think that’s a very small, questionably accurate base to build on, his conclusions themselves seem evenhanded — and he never claims that his arguments are definitive or unquestionable.
There’s a long afterword, added after the book had been in print for several years, in which Browning addresses attacks on his work by another scholar, Daniel Goldhagen, author of Hitler’s Willing Executioners, another book dealing with Reserve Police Battalion 101 (which I haven’t read). Whee, scholarly angst. Again, Browning’s tone seems evenhanded — I’m led to think that, even if I’d read Goldhagen’s book, I’d still be on Browning’s side. But who knows?
My favorite bit in the book:
“The scholar’s quest is not a multiple-choice exam. Or at the very least there must always be another choice: ‘None of the above.'” (220)
From the afterword, if you couldn’t already guess, that is.
Zloty: The Polish unit of currency. Made up of 100 groszy.
“Both lists of names, three wagons of baggage (with food supplies) as well as 100,000 zlotys were turned over to SS-Obersturmfuhrer Pohl in Lublin.” (28)
Manichaeism: “1. The syncretic, dualistic religious philosophy taught by the Persian prophet Manes, combining elements of Zoroastrian, Christian, and Gnostic thought and opposed by the imperial Roman government, Neo-Platonist philosophers, and orthodox Christians. 2. A dualistic philosophy dividing the world between good and evil principles or regarding matter as intrinsically evil and mind as intrinsically good.”
Manes’ name is also spelled Mani. For more about him, there’s always Wiki.
“The time had come to examine the inhabitants of the ‘gray zone’ between the simplified Manichean images of perpetrator and victim.” (187)
Tendentious: “Marked by a strong implicit point of view; partisan.”
“A pattern of tendentious selection of evidence can also be seen in Goldhagen’s portrayal of near total uniformity among the men.” (213)