When we discuss the horrors of Nazi Germany, many people claim that they would not have turned a blind eye to the atrocities that were taking place. They are full of it. They are mistaken in every way.

There is the Stanford Prison Experiment, where they took volunteers and broke them into two groups, guards and prisoners. Within days, the guards were acting in some of the most atrocious ways possible. Every time the experiment has been repeated, the same results occur.

At Yale, Stanley Milgram conducted an experiment where he had two volunteers come up. They drew for who would play the interrogator and who would be interrogated. The draw was fixed, and the shill was always picked to be interrogated.

The interrogator would then ask questions of the “victim.” If the victim answered incorrectly, the interrogator would move a dial to increase the voltage being applied to the victim.

The entire thing was rigged. There was only one shock given, that was the first, which was given to the actual volunteer, so they would know what was happening to the victim.

Nearly every person who participated in the experiment went all the way to 300 volts. 65% went to the maximum of 450 volts.

The Milgram experiment has been repeated, and the results are consistent.

This is not to excuse the atrocities of the Germans, it is to strongly suggest that it wasn’t the German culture that allowed them to do this to their fellow humans, it was human nature.

In some ways, we can see the same things happening in our country. People that say, “You owning a gun makes me feel unsafe. Since I feel that you will use that gun to kill me or somebody else, you should not have guns. If you don’t give up your gun, I will send the police to take it from you by force, potentially ending up with your death.”

We see it in the othering that happens consistently. How many times have you heard somebody refer to “Maggots” or similar?

Unfortunately, the book is a little dry. It is a difficult read because it was written as a scholarly paper that was turned into a book. The hardbound copy is expensive. The book is filled with numbers, place names and unit names and numbers. Which makes it difficult for many people.

Netflix has turned the book in to an hour-long short. If you have not read the book, take the time to watch it. There are still many numbers, but it is easier to handle. They use a mix of historical images and film mixed with modern re-enactors to create a sense of history that is strong.

If you have read the book, the video is worth watching just for the historical footage and to get a better feel of the men.
Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the final solution in Poland (HarperCollins 1st ed ed. 1992)

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By awa

4 thoughts on “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland”
  1. It’s not an easy book to read, in several senses; but it is worthwhile. Thanks for the Netflix pointer, will try to view next time I’m on travel. (Not Mrs B’s cup of tea, I’d think.)
    Funny how the ones screaming “fascist!” at people today, are often behaving more like the populace of such states than they realize. Of course we all swim in our cultures. At least some of us want to be fish with Zahn cups.

  2. You misrepresent the Stanford Prison Experiment, wherin the ‘guards’ were clearly prompted to be violent and dehumanizing. One of the experimenters (who played the ‘prison warden’) is quoted as specifically telling a fellow guard to ‘Try and react as you picture the pigs reacting’. The same experimenter says that he expected that ‘without gruff and mildly realistic guard behavior, the simulation would have appeared more like a summer camp than a prison’, and that he was asked to suggest tactics given his previous experience as ‘master sadist’ to elicit ‘tough-guard’ behavior by the principal investigator.

    If you are interested you can find these quotes and more problems with this experiment in ‘Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment’ by Thibault Le Texier.

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