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In his book, Ordinary Men, Christopher R. Browning creates a vivid and heart wrenching depiction of the genocide of the Jewish population living in Poland during the 1940’s. Approximately six million Jews were killed throughout the course of the Holocaust. Thousands of Nazi soldiers, under the command of their platoon supervisors and ultimately Adolph Hitler, were responsible for the fateful demise of the Jews. The subject group of soldiers Browning focused on was the Reserve Police Battalion 101. Much of the population will not admit it, but a genocide in today’s time is not a ridiculous thought; education, the protection and appreciation of opposing views and common moral ideals will keep us from a genocide in America.
The right and ability to obtain an education in America is a privilege that one should not take for granted. A common person living in European countries in the early 1900’s might obtain a grade school level education and then acquire a trade which made it possible to earn a living. The men of Battalion 101 as described by Browning, “…were from the lower orders of German society. Except for apprenticeship or vocational training, virtually none had any education…”. Education increases thought processes, makes one a critical thinker and gives a person the confidence to make sound, rational decisions based off of logic. Many people still question the validity of the Holocaust and say it never occurred. Parents need to teach their children that the Holocaust was real, and that it did, in fact, happen. We Americans must forever keep the events that took place during the Holocaust at the forefront of our minds to ensure a tragedy similar to the attempt by the Nazis to eradicate the Jews will never happen on American soil. The educated man will lean on his own understanding of truth and not concern himself with the thoughts and opinions of his fellow man.
Civil liberties were created to protect American’s basic rights and freedoms that are guaranteed through the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Activist groups fight to keep the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to vote. The popular opinion of today is to feel free to think and say as one feels, just as long as it goes along with the mainstream culture. Browning wrote in his book, Ordinary Men, that many of the men assigned to Battalion 101 were too afraid to speak out against the destruction of the Jews and instead joined the Nazis in killing them in order to save space. Browning writes, “As important as the lack of time for reflection was the pressure for conformity — the basic identification of men in uniform with their comrades and the strong urge not to separate themselves from the group by stepping out.” The men of Battalion 101 were all given an opportunity to step out of the ranks and identify themselves if they felt they were unable to perform the task of murdering the Jews at Jozefow. Only about twelve men of approximately 500 assigned to Battalion 101 had excused themselves from participation in the genocide. Americans must allow one another to express themselves freely. There must be a robust opposition to conformity and we need to encourage opposing views. The right to have a view that differs from the rest of society is one of the civil liberties that mankind has fought for and died to protect. This nation is moving towards a “group-think” mentality where we must agree with one another and we must not say certain things in order to keep from offending our fellow man. This type of mentality will lead us down the same path to destruction the Jews faced during the Holocaust.
Browning reveals to the readers of Ordinary Men several reasoning’s for the men who chose to step out on the mass murdering of the Jews living in Jozefow. Some stopped due to the absolute revulsion at what they had done. Others had a mere political agenda attached to why they quit after killing only a few Jews, stating they were either joined to the Communist Party or a Social Democrat. One man stated he had an ethical reason for his refusal to participate, he could not bring himself to shoot women and children. The overall apparent reason for the participation of the men assigned to Battalion 101 was a lack of morals. Common moral ideals need to be the grounding root in American society. As Americans, we need to agree that certain things are not permitted. As human beings, we must not kill other humans out of malice or spite. We must not rape women and children nor steal from one another. We must adhere to the values and principles that helped found this great nation. The refusal to come together and share common moral ideals will undo the hard work that our forefathers fought for when creating this great nation.
Christopher R. Browning made a great contribution to American Society when he wrote Ordinary Men. The Holocaust was indeed one of the darkest times throughout all of history. Almost seamlessly, Hitler and the Nazis gained total control in the European hemisphere. It happened right in front of all of mankind’s eyes, for all to see. A lack of education, lack of protection and appreciation for opposing views and no common moral ideals all aided the Nazis in the near genocide of the Jewish population in the European countries. Here in America, we must not forget the past, we must always remember the suffering the Jews endured and we must commit ourselves to never make the same mistakes that led to the murders of six million innocent men, women and children.
Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland. New York: Harper Perennial, 1998. Print.
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