I really did not like the book---a memoir written long after, with many inaccuracies and hearsay sprinkled throughout, and overall a flawed memoir about situations way less dramatic than the title implies. The only informative part was for me the trip to and life in Siberia---the former scary, the latter normal for the times and relative conditions.
The story: thanks to the smartness of her father, Lucy's family escapes to Russia just as Nazi Germany invades Poland (September 1939). They have already suffered abuse from the anti-semitic Polish neighbors. They do not experience the Holocaust as their perishing family; they even learn about the horrors long after the war is over. They (according to Lucy) are relatively well received by the Russians and are sent East, far from the front. They spend several years in (admittedly terrifying) Siberia, but under relatively normal circumstances (no Gulag, no forced labor), then move to Kazahstan and eventually to Tajikistan, where they remain until the end of the war. These could have been spoilers, but Lucy is rather vague (and relatively positive) about all things and the story could have been the same regardless of the actual places---I do not want to be insensitive, but this family seems to go through the regular hardships of the fleeing Russian families during wartime.
The most annoying part was that, by her own admittance, Lucy is the protected kid in the family. Coupled with her young age, this allows her to go relatively unaware of the things around her, which shows in many ways. Her survival story is probably shared by tens of millions across Russia and Europe, and has few Jewish- and Holocaust-related aspects past the original departure of Poland.
I would recommend reading instead a Holocaust memoir from someone closer to the Nazi death camps, for example Primo Levi or Elie Wiesel; in comparison, with all the dreadfulness of the awful pun, this is child stuff....more
Overall, a good but too long read for everyone interested in the Nuremberg Trials. Too detailed for the amateur, too wordy and opinionated for tTODO :
Overall, a good but too long read for everyone interested in the Nuremberg Trials. Too detailed for the amateur, too wordy and opinionated for the expert.
+ comprehensive account of the Nuremberg Trial of the 22 prime Nazi accused and of 7 Nazi-related organizations +++ draws mayerial from the 22 published volumes of the transcripts of the proceedings +++ politics : authors show good evidence that this was not a show trial, despite political pressure (including ruthless Russian desire to kill all defendants and the various national interests represented (and acrimoniously defended) by various countries) +++ an excellent account of the various legal issues involved in the trial, from the fundamental right to even pass judgment, to the setup of an international court, to the reconciliation of the way defendants can act in the trial. The notions of aggressive war and of conspiracy, both crucial to the prosecution, but possibly with much broader reach, were particularly well analyzed. +++ the distinction between the trial of the Nazi regime and that of the German people: the rationale for the distinction (despite mass-scale participation from the German people in the Nazi Party, in the various Nazi-related organizations, and in Nazi-led crimes; and despite clear knowledge of various atrocities committed by the Nazi), the rationale for the trial only of the foremost Nazi members (the definition of guilt by association and the perils of its blind, Nazi- and Russian-style, are remarkable) ++ the political considerations of the end of the First World War, in what concerns the main possible causes for allowing the Nazi party to take over in Germany and Germany to aggressively conquer neighbors (this follows earlier writings, notably from Sir Winston Churchill, but is well summarized) +++/--- the history covered by the trial is heartbreaking; the accounts must be told, but are very, very difficult to read about. +++/--- the transcripts and analysis of the defendants' words are important, but so difficult to traverse and understand (not the fault of the authors). So much evil, so little admission of guilt. - the story of the trials is actually quite boring, with numerous examples of useless detail and authors' opinion,a which deters from the readability of the material --- the presentation of the key material (main ideas, chronological order of events put on trial, summary of main evidence) is erroneously set in prose, greatly detracting from readability, coherence, and clarity. Better: charts, summaries at the end of chapters, etc. Space could have been gained, for example, from cutting the useless details. -- in the Kindle version, the introduction to the defendants at the end of the book is too late and, at that point, useless --- At the end, the authors claim the need to feel admiration for the ability of the defendants to hear the verdicts and to behave well until their sentences were carried out. I am outraged by this, and find that the defendants have done appallingly little, appallingly late, causing the death of tens of millions and atrocious suffering to many more; and thus deserve no admiration for that last bit. --- There is so much material to cover in creating a picture of Nazi Germany and its crimes, that this book, in trying to cover both the Trials and their background, falls way short. Better: offer in the appendices a summary of the main background issues, rather than straight into the text. Making prose only extends the main text with material that is too detailed....more
Ordinary Men Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland is a history book about the WW2 Holocaust inflicted on the Eastern Jewish pOrdinary Men Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland is a history book about the WW2 Holocaust inflicted on the Eastern Jewish population. Christopher R. Browning studies an exemplary Police (so, non-SS) unit, whose 500 men are responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of Jewish people in the Lublin District of Poland. Using the methods of socio-psychological history---studying historical events with a focus on the social embedding and psychological characteristics of the main actors related to the events---, applied to primary documentary material---complete records of post-war judicial interrogations---. Browning finds that the Germans under study have ordinary social and psychological backgrounds, and their reaction is far from uniform: although many are enthusiastic killers and most carry through the orders without complaint, a minority of opponents and non-killers does emerge.
Overall, an excellent study. Albeit truly difficult to read, because of the almost graphic depiction of the atrocities (and Battalion 101 commits so many!), the analysis is both deep and, most importantly, broad. We are finally able to understand the nuances of the killing machine setup by Nazis but perpetrated by ordinary Germans, this time in Eastern territories (so, not main Germany--there are significant differences). The impact of this book is increased by the recent findings (2010+) related to the astonishing number of people killed by Germans in Eastern territories, see for example Alison Smale's "Shedding Light on a Vast Toll of Jews Killed Away From the Death Camps".
Factually, the 500 men in this police unit are responsible for over 80,000 Jewish deaths. The battalion mentioned in the title is deployed between mid-1942 and late-1943 in the Lublin District. They participate in numerous grave atrocities and commit the most despicable of genocides, literally exterminating by shooting the entire Jewish population of the Lublin District. They are further involved in terror of horrific level and man-hunting parties, spiraling down to cordoning Jewish population into the camps at Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor, and Treblinka.
Browning gets access to primary material of great quality and detail. Of about 500 men, over 200 are interrogated by the Hamburg Office of the State Prosecutor (Staatsanwaltschaft), in a decade-long inquiry started in the early 1960s. The group also includes 10-15 police officers from Luxembourg. Although sometimes self-exculpatory, and comprehensively shifting blame from German offices to Polish collaborationism, the testimony allows Browning to conduct a deep socio-psychological study of the group. The same dataset was used in Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners; the results of the two studies are compared, not without self-interest, int he afterword of Ordinary Men.
The first part of the book is dedicated to depicting atrocities and explaining their short-term evolution. There is also piece-wise analysis. Related to the action, what Browning finds: - The total number of victims exceeds 90,000, of which at least 80,000 were Jewish. - The members of Battalion 101 were "ordinary Germans". They were not selected especially for their mission, they were not even self-selected, they simply represent a cross-cutting section of the middle and low-end of the German society. Most of them were not even members of the Nazi party. - Battalion 101 went to great lengths to fulfill their mission, the total extermination of the Jews living in the Lublin District. As a group, they were active, inventive, deceitful, and murderous. For the largest operation, Erntefest, they took great care to orchestrate surprise and achieve their murderous goals. - The SS had relatively little participation in the mass killings in the area; it was the "ordinary Germans" who committed most of the atrocities. - The Germans were actively aided in killing Jews by Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and other Hiwis. - Identifying Jews in villages with mixed population and exterminating Jews in hiding was greatly facilitated by the collaboration of Polish locals. - Polish people who helped Jews hide, or even not report them, were shot by the Germans. - The Jewish communities who have already been subjects to pogroms and mass massacres tried to escape; here, the dedication of Polish informants led to thousands more Jews being killed. In contrast, Jewish communities who had no direct experience with mass massacres , e.g., the Jews of Vienna, hoped for the best and traveled to death camps without major attempts to escape. - The cases where Jews were opposing arm in hand were very rare. The singular case reported here ends with the death of over 100 Jews; numbers are not reported for Germans. Whenever encountering force, the Germans acted swiftly, killing the opponents and them ordering the slaughter of over 100 locals (mostly Jews) for each of their own losses. - Romania is responsible for the single largest massacre of Jews in one operation: the massacre of over 50,000 Odessan Jews in October 1941. (Erntefest in the Lublin District resulted in over 42,000 deaths.) - About 10-15% of the Battalion 101 members have protested, refused to shoot, and overall declined to participate in the atrocities. None of them suffered harsh consequences, albeit none of them was further promoted. In contrast, about 20-25% of the members of Battalion 101 were dedicated, viciously anti-Semitic murderers. (One of them brought his new wife to the Lublin District, to witness the deportation and killing associated with it.) The remainder were selfish, perhaps not entirely willing but certainly participating, killers. - From the members indicted immediately after the was in Poland, none was trialed for the massacre against Jews and, consequently, none was convicted for it. They were indicted over the death of 50-100 Polish citizens. - Only 14 of the over 210 remaining members were indicted (in 1962). The post-war trials resulted in joke-convictions; the largest was 8 years in prison, turned into 4 at the appeal. Even so, this was one of the few convictions given by the German justice system to genociders, post-war.
Browning asks an important question: what drove these "ordinary Germans" to commit their dreadful acts? He conducts a study of the different social (cultural) layers present in Battalion 101---a stratified picture of the middle and low-level classes of Germany. He offers and analyzes several causes for the actions of these Germans: conformity with the actions of peers, deference to authority, lack of control due to distance from the political and executive center, response to war and propaganda(explains racism, especially anti-Semitism, as a response rather than a deeply rooted aversion), desire for promotion, perhaps coercion, and attenuation of responsibility (which may actually be a consequence of conformity and of the duhumanization of victims by propaganda). The nuanced analysis is excellent and well-supported with documentary evidence, and thus convincing. However, the main issue with this analysis is that it can only provide a single, over-arching, pessimistic conclusion: because the predominant social and psychological characteristics of ordinary people are so common and led to so dire consequences, it is reasonable to believe that authoritarian regimes had, are having, and will continue to have an easy task in convincing ordinary citizens to commit atrocious acts and even mass murder. Unfortunately, this conclusion is supported by the many genocides that have occurred in the meantime, including Rwanda, Kosovo, Sudan, etc.
Last, Browning proposes an in-depth analysis of Daniel Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners. He concludes that the single-mind approach proposed by Goldhagen, under which all (or a sufficient majority of) Germans were enthusiastic followers of the Nazi doctrine because of their deeply ingrained anti-Semitism, does not stand ground. The main counter-examples, including the different reactions offered by the 500 police-men of Battalion 101, and the similar treatment of Slavs and Jews during the most murderous years 1941-1943 (and, earlier, the treatment of non-Jewish German citizens with mental issues), are convincing.
To conclude: I would recommend this book to everyone who want to learn about the way ordinary Germans helped with mass murder in Eastern Europe....more
This was a short, high-paced, overview of the Nuremberg Trials. The book explains the necessity of the trial and how it was defined in lack of relevanThis was a short, high-paced, overview of the Nuremberg Trials. The book explains the necessity of the trial and how it was defined in lack of relevant (international) law, sketches the biographies of the accused in the main trial, presents the prices of gathering evidence, comments on short excerpts from the accused and accusation's statements, introduces and comments on the verdict, and skims through the other trials (e.g., the trial of German judges, which was also dramatized as Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)). The epilogue offers an interesting analysis on the impact of the Nuremberg Trials.
Overall, the book was shallow and seemed incremental. As a first read on the topic, it is accessible but relies on the author's interpretation and is light on facts. The inspired wording seems often to be taken - without reference - from other historical accounts, e.g., Hannah Arendt's 'banality of evil'. The strength of the book is the collection of excerpts, but there is little else to like for this reviewer.
I remember my horror seeing the Dachau remains ... Letting it go tells the story of the author-protagonist Miriam Katin coming to grips with her sonI remember my horror seeing the Dachau remains ... Letting it go tells the story of the author-protagonist Miriam Katin coming to grips with her son moving to Berlin. Born in Hungary of Jewish ascent, Miriam must now confront a past she has long tried to forget. The true value of this book resides in the depiction of conflictual feelings, but there's pleasure in dialogue too. Overall, I found the book well-rounded and liked it very much.
The story-- recounted in an excellent tragi-comic voice--is touching. The main characters, old and bickering, young and in-love, play an interesting dance. Miriam is the typical Jewish mom, here harassing her son, there accepting his request to help him obtain the Hungarian citizenship (the horror!) so that he can more easily settle in Berlin (the catastrophe!) She also entertains a quiet husband and a passive-aggressive mom. The circle is complete.
The graphics are nicely done, a bit childish but with skill. The coloring adds to the story and the style looks fresh. Surprisingly good stuff--I did not like it in the beginning, but came to appreciate it by the end. Perhaps the transition from cockroaches to the streets of Berlin did help with this....more