Only a few days after Police Battalion 101 arrived in the Lublin District in Poland in November 2, 1943, their job, both in the Erntefest and in the Final Solution as a whole, was complete. From the beginning of their participation in the Nazi slaughter of Polish Jews in Jozefow on July 13, 1942, Police Battalion evolved from a fickle group of men who were too old for service in the military to cold-blooded killers who had a hand in the deaths of at least 83,000 war victims.  In just over a year, these so-called “ordinary men” had, for one reason or another, become an integral part of the Holocaust.
If these men were considered “ordinary men,” meaning that they were not specifically selected to their orders because of any background or predisposition,  how did they evolve, or perhaps “descend,” into accomplices and murderers for Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler? Historian Christopher Browning argues that an amalgamation of ideas helped to turn originally timid, ordinary men into ruthless killers. Among these explanations are ideas of indoctrination, conformity, and the reality that the killings themselves became so regular that the members became desensitized to killing the “others,”  or those ostracized by the Nazis in Germany.
One of the factors the Browning argues against as an important factor is the factor of “following orders.”  Browning argues that there are holes in this explanation, because there has been no documented case where someone had been killed or even harshly punished for refusing to kill an unarmed civilian,  In addition to this lack of evidence that severe punishment was even handed out for refusal, Major Wilhelm Trapp, the commander of Reserve Police Battalion 101, offered to allow any of his men to leave if they did not want to take up their task.  Trapp himself wept at the mere thought of the order,  and his men did not fare any better after they returned from their duty at Jozefow.
Not only did Trapp excuse his men from participation if they stepped out of line, but he also protected men who requested another assignment, including Schimke, who was a part of another man’s company and not Trapp’s.  Trapp himself did not witness the executions in Jozefow, but when the men themselves returned to their barracks, “they were depressed, angered, embittered, and shaken.”  The men were provided with and encouraged to drink alcohol while being consoled by Trapp and encouraged not to discuss what had just happened. 
The before and after of this bloodbath, which saw the commander of the battalion weep before and the men emotionally shaken after, shows that the men were not there to be murderers, and Trapp excusing and protecting men who opted out of the assignment gave evidence that showed men may not have had as much to fear for refusing an assignment as they would like their interrogators to believe. If authority was not a primary factor, Browning argues a different, a possibly more forceful, pressure on the men.
This pressure came from the men themselves. Browning argues that one of the biggest factors that had the men of Battalion 101 participating in the Holocaust was the pressure of conformity.  The men were more worried about fitting in with their comrades and shouldering their part of the unsavory load than they were with upsetting anyone in a position of authority over them. Propaganda, Browning argues, was also a big part in how these men were transformed from sickened men with visible regret to murderous weapons of Himmler.
The propaganda that plagued the minds of the battalion members did not come in the form of indoctrination during training but instead of general Nazi propaganda leading up to World War II. The Nazi propaganda machine did all it could to dehumanize Jews. This was not the largest factor in why these men became killers, but seeing victims as not human helped some of the men, certainly, to ease at least a part of their guilt at the beginning. Another factor, perhaps as scary as the idea of participating merely to “fit in,” was the idea that the men transform into brutal monsters merely because killing became habitual and routine.  The men did not begin at Jozefow with bloodlust or brutal intentions, but instead progressed into a frenzied mind after Jozefow. 
Though racism against Jews was a staple of Nazi propaganda both before and during the war, Browning doesn’t believe that indoctrination of anti-Semitism played a big part in the brutality of the reserve policemen against the Jews. The historian states that, though indoctrination was a part of training, the most detailed pamphlet on propaganda was not given to the troops until 1943,  after the policemen had already become increasingly brutal of their own volition. Browning also points out that most of the men who were affected by propaganda were young men who were raised with Nazi values as social norms, whereas the older men of Police Battalion 101 lived in a world of other social and moral norms before the Nazis.
In his own argument, historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen argues that racism and anti-Semitism was the central factor in the brutality of “ordinary men” during the Holocaust.  He argues that these men were more willing not only to kill Jews, but to do it in a brutal manner and enjoy it while they were doing it. Goldhagen points to the “unnecessarily brutal manner” used to kill and round up Jews during the Holocaust,  but the brutality and torture that Battalion 101 used against the Jews only came after desensitization and the routine approach to the killing that both the Nazis as a whole as well as the policemen who were implementing these ideals took.  Browning argues against Goldhagen’s case, stating that anti-Semitism was not as central a role in the brutalization as Goldhagen thought.
The indoctrination that accompanied the training that reserve policemen were put through was highly anti-Semitic, but the case could be made that it did not encourage such brutality or torture because the goals set forth, namely judenfrei¸ did not explicitly mention that the goal was to be achieved by killing the Jews.  The pamphlets and propaganda themselves wished for a Europe free from Jews, but it did nothing to “prepare policemen to kill unarmed Jewish women and children,” so racism could be a limited factor in why the brutality of the perpetrators, such as Reserve Police Battalion 101, was so severe.
Browning refers to Reserve Police Battalion 101 as “ordinary men,” because he believes that they were not specifically chosen in order to carry out the brutal task assigned to them, but instead the task fell to them after their battalion was already made up.  Coincidentally, the makeup of the men, Browning argues, would in fact lead to the opposite conclusion: that by selection of age, origin, and social background, these men were “least likely to be considered apt material” for the Holocaust.  Instead, these older, working class men became vicious as a result of their task, as opposed to being selected for the task because they were prone to being vicious. Browning echoes this sentiment by stating that “brutalization was not the cause but the effect of these men’s behaviors.” 
I believe, much like Browning, that there was no one true central factor in why these ordinary men became vicious monsters. Unlike Goldhagen, who sees anti-Semitism as this central factor, I believe that the cause of these atrocities set out by these men was a combination of factors, which included anti-Semitism, dehumanization, peer pressure, and the routine method with which the murders were carried out. I agree with Browning in stating that, in a battalion of 500 men, it is impossible to say there was one definitive reason,  because all of the men might have one or a combination of different reasons.
I believe that, to a certain extent, anti-Semitism played a role in the killings. I believe that, since the Jews were specifically targeted, it is hard not to say that it played a factor, but I believe that factor it played correlates more to the idea of dehumanizing the Jews and allowing the men to distance themselves from the murders through making the Jews inhuman. I believe that peer pressure also played a role, a bigger role perhaps than the idea of an authority figure putting pressure on the men. I believe that, because Browning documents cases where men were protected from or excused from punishment for opting out of their task, accompanied with the idea that there has been no documented cases of such a soldier receiving harsh punishment, that after the killings began it became more difficult for the soldiers to escape not because of the superiors but their peers.
Considering that the men were together for a long time throughout their duties, the longer that a man waited to opt out of duties, the harder I think it would have become. The man would have faced isolation,  a grim prospect for a man in such a position in a foreign country.  The men also became increasingly brutal over their short careers in the Holocaust, moving from remorseful, “shaken” boys  to cruel, monstrous men. The idea of being thought of as a coward, too weak, or not wanting to bear their portion of the weight of an unpleasant task made conformity a more realistic option.
After the men were over the first hump of becoming killers, they were quickly lost in the routine, systematic way that they were used to implement Hitler’s Final Solution. The most devastating realization is, perhaps to Browning’s point, that these men were not selected because they were thought to be mass murderers. They were considered ordinary men from ordinary backgrounds, and if they “could become killers under such circumstances, what group of men could not?”  The scariest idea facing this study is that these such circumstances, conformity, obedience to authority, racism, and wanting distancing oneself from an objectionable event while still completing it aren’t things that will ever be erased from the world. Sources
Browning, Christopher. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. (New York: Harper Perennial, 1998).
Goldhagen, Daniel. Hitler’s Willing Executioners. (New York: Vintage, 1997).
 Christopher Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (Harper Perennial, 1998), 142.
 Ibid, 164
 Ibid, 162
 Ibid., 170.
 Ibid, 2.
 Ibid, 2.
 Ibid, 57.
 Ibid, 69.
 Ibid, 69
 Ibid, 189.
 Ibid, 161.
 Ibid, 181
 Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Handout, 91.
 Ibid, 96.
 Browning, 161.
 Ibid, 182.
 Ibid, 164.
 Ibid 164.
 Ibid 161.
 Ibid, 188.
 Ibid, 185
 Ibid, 69.
 Ibid, 189.