Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Polandby Christopher R. Browning
The shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews. See more details below
The shocking account of how a unit of average middle-aged Germans became the cold-blooded murderers of tens of thousands of Jews.
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One Morning in Jozefow
In the very early hours of July 13, 1942, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were roused from their bunks in the large brick school building that served as their barracks in the Polish town of Bilgoraj.They were middle-aged family men of working- and lower-middle-class background from the city of Hamburg.Considered too old to be of use to the German army, they had been drafted instead into the, Order Police.Most were raw recruits with no previous experience in German occupied territory.They had arrived in Poland less than three weeks earlier.
It was still quite dark as the men climbed into the waiting trucks.Each policeman had been given extra ammunition, and additional boxes had been loaded onto the trucks as well.Theywere headed for their first major action, though the men had not yet been told what to expect.
The convoy of battalion trucks moved out of Bilgoraj in the dark, heading eastward on a jarring washboard gravel road.The pace was slow, and it took an hour and a half to two hours to arrive at the destinationthe village of Jozefowa mere thirty kilometers away. Just as the sky was beginning to lighten, the convoy halted outside Jozefow.It was a typical Polish village of modest white houses with thatched straw roofs.Among its inhabitants were 1,800 Jews.
The village was totally quiet. The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 climbed down from their trucks and assembled in a half-circle around their commander, Major Wilhelm Trapp, a fifty-three-year-old career policeman affectionately known by his men as "Papa Trapp." The time had come for Trapp toaddress the men and inform them of the assignment the battalion had received.
Pale and nervous, with choking voice and tears in his eyes, Trapp visibly fought to control himself as he spoke.The battalion, he said plaintively, had to perform a frightfully unpleasant task.This assignment was not to his liking, indeed it was highly regrettable, but the orders came from the highest authorities.If it would make their task any easier, the men should remember that in Germany the bombs were falling on women and children.
He then turned to the matter at hand.The Jews had instigated the American boycott that had damaged Germany, one policeman remembered Trapp saying.There were Jews in the village of Jozefow who were involved with the partisans, he explained according to two others.The battalion had now been ordered to round up these Jews.The male Jews of working age were to be separated and taken to a work camp.The remaining Jewsthe women, children, and elderlywere to be shot on the spot by the battalion.Having explained what awaited his men, Trapp then made an extraordinary offer: if any of the older men among them did not feel up to the task that lay before him, he could step out.
Meet the Author
Christopher R. Browning is professor of history at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. He is a contributor to Yad Vashem's official twenty-four-volume history of the Holocaust and the author of two earlier books on the subject.
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