The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were just ordinary men, from a variety of backgrounds, education, and age. It would appear that they were not selected by any force other than random chance. Their backgrounds and upbringing, however, did little to prepare these men for the horrors they were to witness and participate in.
The group was made up of both citizens and career policemen. Major Wilhelm Trapp, a career policeman and World War I veteran headed the battalion. Trapp joined the Nazi party in 1932, but never became an office in the SS. His two captains, Hoffmann and Wohlauf, were SS trained officers. The reserve lieutenants, all seven of them, were drafted into the Order Police because they were ordinary. They were middle class, educated, and successful in their civilian lives. Five of them were members of the Nazi party, but none were in the SS. Of thirty-two remaining officers twenty-two were Party members, but none were members of the SS. Sixty-three percent of the rest of the battalion were blue-collar workers. About thirty-five percent were lower-class workers. The remaining two percent were middle-class but not greatly successful. Many were in their late 30s, too old for active army duty, but just right for police duty. They were old enough to know of political ideology other than that of the Nazi party, even though most were members.
Without a doubt, the men of this battalion greatly contributed to the final solution. The first action the 101st Battalion was order to do took place in Józefów. They went into the town and were ordered to "shoot anyone trying to escape" and "those that were too sick or frail to walk to the marketplace, as well as infants and anyone offering resistance or attempting to hid, were to be shot on the spot". (Browning, 57) They then trucked or marched the Jews they found into the woods just outside the village. "When the first truckload of thirty-five to forty Jews arrived, an equal number of policemen cam forward and, face to face, were paired off with their victims." (Browning, 61) The shear atrocity of this was too much for many of the policemen, so alcohol was provided to calm the men?s nerves. Only a dozen men stepped out and refused to shoot at all. As the day went on, however, many could not continue. They even had a "special technique" dubbed the "neck shot". "The men wer...
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...test, it is hard not to draw some parallels. Milgram noticed that if people did not have direct contact with the people they were inflicting pain on, two-thirds of the subjects inflicted what was considered extreme pain. If they had visual and voice feedback, only forty percent obeyed orders. The number fell to thirty percent if they were in direct contact with the person they were shocking. Browning also points out that the social pressures of conformity were quite apparent. "Within virtually every social collective, the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets the moral norms. If the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men cannot?" (Browning, 189) In closing, these men, who appeared to be quite ordinary, became extraordinary in their brutality and killing, no matter what the reason. Decidedly, their contribution to the genocide was quite significant. It is a shame that many received little, or no punishment for the slaughter they participated in.
Browning, Christopher. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
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