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Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,600 Ratings  ·  300 Reviews
The shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews.
Paperback, 271 pages
Published April 24th 1998 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 1992)
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78th out of 541 books — 2,211 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jan 19, 2012 Mariel rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Television and the devil
Recommended to Mariel by: Paul Bryant
Jessica Mitford claimed in her book A Fine Old Conflict that the racism in her new home Oakland, California was from people who moved there from the Southern states (I guess we kept moving there for those acts of racially led police brutality over the years). No one else would be capable of that. Bitch, please! (Of course, I don't have a photo selection of myself with black people I got on well with as she does. So I MUST be a racist, coming from the American South as I do.) I can't help but thi ...more
Paul Bryant
May 29, 2011 Paul Bryant rated it it was amazing
This is one of the essential books of Holocaust literature. When I read it, some years ago now, it changed me.

It's about a Reserve Police Battalion in Poland. This was a bunch of middle-aged guys who were unfit for military service, so they were given an easier job, which was to shoot Jewish people and bury them in woods (okay, the last bit could be hard, but generally you could get the Jewish people to do all the digging before you shot them).

This was the pre-industrial phase of the Holocaust,
Oct 09, 2008 Tim rated it it was amazing
Christopher Browning, one of the better known Holocaust scholars today, used evidence from the post-war investigations of Police Battalion 101 to create an image of the "ordinary men" who participated in the massacre of Jews in Eastern Europe. By examining testimony, documents, and diary excerpts, he pieces together a chronological history of the unit’s participation and involvement in the Nazis' Final Solution.

Even though Browning is writing as a scholar, with the intent of persuading through
Jan 13, 2014 AC rated it it was ok
Shelves: fascism
A book and approach (the 'functionalist' approach to the Holocaust) with which I am quite out of sympathy. According to this view, adopted also by Broszat and Hans Mommsen, the Holocaust was not planned, but came about almost by accident, as local administrators tried to deal with the excess of refugees, and the like. In my opinion, which is certainly only that of the semi-educated layman, this is complete and utter B.S.

I say that with all due respect to Mr. Browning, of course...
Dec 07, 2008 Carol rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Carol by: Professor Peter Hayes
Whenever you heard people ask, "How could someone do something like that?" and the topic is genocide, this book provides the answers. Drawing on psychology, sociology, and lots of direct testimony, Browning explains how the need of individuals to conform to group expectations can result in horrendous acts of evil.
Jan 18, 2010 Eric_W rated it it was amazing
And another in our continuing series of depressing books: Christopher Browning examines the motivation of a 500 man police battalion assigned to the rear lines of Germany's Eastern Front. This small group of men was personally responsible for the massacre of over 38,000 Jews and the deportation of some 45,000 more to Treblinka. These were not racial fanatics nor committed Nazis. Their motives were quite ordinary: careerism and peer pressure. Browning's book is based on interviews with the partic ...more
Jul 28, 2014 Andrew added it
Shelves: history
While Browning's book was apparently a serious academic volley in the world of Holocaust studies, it strikes me as very measured and commonsense. Here, in their own words, are a bunch of people who did what they were told, because that's what they were told to do-- and we can ask why they didn't question it, but speculation is all you'll come up with. Recently, a lovely afternoon in the killing fields of Cambodia and a bus stop in the middle of a pogrom in progress in Myanmar have confirmed that ...more
Mar 05, 2012 Chris rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, history
I had to read this for a class otherwise I probably wouldn't have picked it up. Holocaust lit is depressing enough and this had its share of horrific tales but it didn't seem to be more than an elongated account on one battalion. It was missing more. Browning starts off with this claim that he is going to analyze and explain why 'ordinary men' become killers and I feel he really failed to do that. Towards the end, he explains several factors that helped many of the men get to that point (wanting ...more
Bryn Hammond
Jan 06, 2015 Bryn Hammond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title says it.

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

I can’t weigh this against other books on the subject; I came to it as a classic case study that accepts the ordinary person in the perpetrator of historical atrocities, whom we tend to distance, essentialise, and see as inherently ‘unlike us’ by one stratagem or other.
May 14, 2011 Devon rated it liked it
Normally the type of history I’d be very interested in reading about. When I read the title and the summary, I was very excited to start the book. It was well-researched. The opinions were well thought out. Historically, it was sound, in my very amateur opinion. However, the writing left much to be desired. It’s one thing to write a book that’s completely factual and write it in a way that keeps the audience interested. It’s another thing to write so poorly that members of the audience who are i ...more
Sep 24, 2007 Nathan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who need people.
Christopher Browning's study of one Nazi police battalion, Ordinary Men, is disturbing not for its subject but for its implications for humanity. The story follows one battalion as they murder innocent men, women and children while acting as the mobile enforcement wing of the SS in completing the "final solution". The book studies how these men were turned into killers, and what their actions did to their psyches. Browning's research is impeccable and his results terrifying.

Feb 14, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it
Browning reviewed hundreds of interviews conducted with former members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 during the 1960s. He used these to explain how "ordinary men" could commit the crimes of the holocaust and what made those men different from us. The disheartening answer is nothing made them different, they're just like us. About 20% of the members took no or little part in the killing, about 20% were glad to take part, and the remaining 60% just went along. A very interesting and informative ...more
Dec 04, 2009 Nicole rated it it was ok
At first I thought this book deserved one star...after more consideration I have decided to give it two. This is probably one of the most boring books I've ever read about WWII, however, it does hold an important message.
Liz Polding
Sep 11, 2014 Liz Polding rated it it was amazing
This is an outstanding and scholarly book, but its conclusions are very disturbing. The banality of evil has been widely discussed in psychology and philosophy and the text examines this in some detail and considers the work of other historians in relation to the same area. We need people who have done terrible things to be different from us and it is hard not to look for (and find, somehow) evidence that they are. The author clearly understands this and as part of his analysis, he considers som ...more
Ordinary Men, by Christopher Browning, is about the German Reserve Police Battalion 101. The battalion was assigned to occupy Poland. The mens jobs were to clear out ghetto’s, and sometimes to perform mass murders of Jewish people. These killings were only a “small” contribution to the Final Solution in Poland. The book follows how the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 transform from average working-class men, to brutal killers.
I can honestly say that this is one of the most boringly written b
Feb 08, 2008 Justin rated it really liked it
Shelves: historybooks
As his title suggest, Christopher Browning's book is an exploration of the ordinary men involved in the Holocaust. Examining the actions of Reserve Police Battalion 101, a police unit stationed in Poland and Eastern Europe during World War 2, a unit responsible for the deaths of an estimated 80,000 men, women, and children. Rather than focusing on the party leaders and the masterminds of the Final Solution, Browning looks at the men of the battalion, reconstructing their actions from testimony g ...more
Che cosa spinse i tedeschi comuni a diventare esecutori dell’Olocausto?
Non solo “assassini da tavolino”, ma esecutori materiali, gente che dovette letteralmente immergersi nel sangue delle vittime uccise a bruciapelo.

Poliziotti, operai, commercianti, impiegati, artigiani, 'ordinary people', tutti ‘riservisti’, furono chiamati a partecipare, a dare il loro contributo diretto al massacro.

Qualcuno si sentì male, qualcuno si rifiutò la prima volta, qualcuno ebbe sc
Feb 16, 2011 John rated it really liked it
This is very good, significantly better than "Hitler's Willing Executioners." The argument makes more sense, and the evidence is presented in a much more coherent manner.
But I can't really recommend that anyone read this unless you are devoted to studying the Holocaust. It is so awful and grim. It makes one weep for humanity. Really, it is tough to read about war crimes all day. I started to have nightmares about halfway through the book. The sad thing is, it is probably important for humanity
Aug 31, 2013 Martin rated it really liked it
Christopher Browning's 'Ordinary Men' is a concise, important contribution to Holocaust studies in which the author demonstrates a grasp of the existing body of scholarship on the subject and the documentary evidence. His final chapter and afterword -- in which he responds to Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's attacks on his scholarship -- are superb. These two chapters alone are worth the read.

In my view, Browning's multi-layered, multi-causal interpretation of German history and the Holocaust is more pe
Joshua Horn
Jun 22, 2015 Joshua Horn rated it it was amazing
This book is a very sobering reminder of the depravity of man's fallen nature. It examines the history of one battalion of police in Nazi Germany, and how they went from normal civilians to mass murders, by killing tens of thousands of Jews as part of the Holocaust. Browning shows that they were ordinary men - not unusually violent or anti-Semetic. At first they killed with reluctance. But due to peer pressure, the desensitization to violence, and other factors, they all participated in murders. ...more
Ordinary people, when faced with enough social pressure, and a limited array of choices, will not shrink from becoming monsters. Essentially, that is the theme of the historical review of a German reserve police battalion from WWII. Much of the records from this group were provided in the years after WWII thru interviews from the members themselves though there were also witness statements about the events they participated in.

10 to 20% of the men refused or asked for other jobs when they were
Katherine Addison
There's a way in which reading this book, for me, forms a ring composition with Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, because Goldhagen spends a great deal of time and energy passionately arguing with Browning.

Now that I've read Ordinary Men, I can see why.

But first I want to talk about what this book does well, because there are things it does very well indeed.

Ordinary Men is about a reserve battalion of the Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) se
Jan 05, 2015 Lukas rated it really liked it
Ordinary men is a revealing and sobering analysis of the conduct and background of a particular police battalion that wreaked havoc in German-controlled Poland in 1941-42. Especially the last chapters are worth your while because Browning meets one of his strongest critics, Daniel Goldhagen, head-on and completely unravels the latter's monocausal explanation of why it is that ordinary German men wound up to be the perpetrators of such extraordinarily gruesome crimes. It is hard not to agree with ...more
Nathan Thomas
Feb 15, 2014 Nathan Thomas rated it really liked it
Quite an incredible book that shines light on so much of human nature. Should be a required read for those entering any sort of situation where they might hold the power of life and death over others (ex. police. militrary). It demonstrates the horrors of the holocaust, but more importantly talks about how it happened. Rather than atributing it to necessarily horrible men, he attributes it to normal men who became horrible. . A great read for those interested in the Holocaust or interested in hu ...more
Jessica Magnusson
Apr 19, 2008 Jessica Magnusson rated it liked it
What can I say? This book was disturbing and important. Can't rate it highly even though I am sure it is well written, simply because it makes one feel so dark. The thought of you or me having the potential to be these monsters . . . It did shed lots of light on my Holocaust studies though.
Mar 27, 2015 Gernot rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Is mankind good or bad? Or more specifically: Was Hitler the bad man who led germans to be evil?
Here is the true story about ordinary men - german men- who were not fanatic nationalsocialists but policy men. And nevertheless became mass murderers!
Could you become a killer to? And we are speaking of thousands ans thousand of innocent men, woman and children. Unbelieveble, is it?

This is he historical real world continuation of the milgram experiment and Zimbardos standford prison experiment. If yo
Dec 27, 2014 Yvonne rated it liked it
Reviewing this book is rough--I can't say that I "liked it" at all--liking that book would be a testimony to a pretty sick psyche. It's a tremendous work of history that led someone through sickening research to roll out facts on a chapter of history everyone would rather sweep under the rug. But with millions dead, the Nazi's genocide can't be ignored. This particular close-up insight into the work of the soldiers who went into villages, mostly in Eastern Germany, to round up the undesirable, l ...more
This is an important record of how groups of Nazi soldiers committed the murders of entire Jewish villages in Poland and Eastern Europe. These military groups would go from village to village and completely wipe the residents out. The fact that they kept such meticulous records of how many people were killed in each village like it was nothing more than an inventory list is also something I can never get my head around. This is one of the most difficult books I have ever read because you see exa ...more
Jul 07, 2012 Michael rated it it was amazing
I read this for a class on the problem of evil. This book is a great illustration of how mankind is depraved. Monsters are made of ordinary men who don't stand up for good.
Sep 26, 2015 J. rated it really liked it
I did not finish this book because it was so difficult to read. On an emotional scale it is absolutey horrifying. I think I shall try finishing it in small doses.
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Christopher Robert Browning recently retired as Frank Porter Graham Professor of History at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. He is the author of numerous books on Nazism and the Holocaust, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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“I fear that we live in a world in which war and racism are ubiquitous, in which the powers of government mobilization and legitimization are powerful and increasing, in which a sense of personal responsibility is increasingly attenuated by specialization and bureaucratization, and in which the peer group exerts tremendous pressures on behavior and sets moral norms. In such a world, I fear, modern governments that wish to commit mass murder will seldom fail in their efforts for being unable to induce “ordinary men” to become their “willing executioners.” 0 likes
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