Although our world has seen many events occur which defy explanation and simply boggle the mind, thus far none has matched the Holocaust in the intensity and sheer damage that it caused the world and more significantly the Jewish population of Europe. Yet, to this day who should be blamed for the Holocaust has still been an open question, yes it was Hitler's plan and original idea, but was he the only one behind it?
All along it was the idea that the Jews had been the downfall of the German empire and something has to be done about them. A large factor in these ideas was the use of Einzatsgruppen and Police detachments behind the Army Front in clearing out and containing the Jewish populations in Ghettos or simply to eliminate them. Who these men were and what they represented is what Christopher R. Browning discusses in his book "Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland."
We are shown what kind of men comprised this unit, Party members, members of the SS, which social class did they come from, working or privileged upper higher classes, and so on. The first killings are examined and how individuals reacted to them. None of the members of Police Battalion 101 had any idea that their first shooting of unarmed Jews was to take place, thus when asked by the commander of the Battalion those who wish to step out can, and they will be assigned other jobs, at first one man stepped out and was immediately berated by his commanding officer. After Trapp (the commander of the battalion) "had taken Schmike (the man who stepped out) under his protection, some ten or twelve other men stepped forward as well. They turned in their rifles and were told to await a further assignment from the major (pg. 57)."
Later on even more men would step out or at least be asked to be excused after they had shot five or six people while others simply milled about at different junctures of the area trying to avoid being asked to be part of the shooting squads. No one was punished, which goes to show that the Germans did have a choice in taking part in the Holocaust or being left out.
Another large part of the job that Police Battalion 101 did was to have Jews board trains which would take them to concentration or death camps, they would have tens of thousands sent to their death. Eventually as the battalion partook in a larger number of operations to round up and execute Jews they would grow more and more accustomed to it and at times would even joke about it.
The last job that the Police Battalion had was to form hunting units to hunt down Jews who had run away and hid in the forests or elsewhere in the country side, these actions would have hundreds of casualties on the Jewish side while rarely would the Germans encounter opposition from Partisan type units. A helping hand was given to the Germans in their executions by groups like Ukrainians and Latvians, they would get thoroughly drunk and start to shoot carelessly and widely usually wounding the Jews and then shooting more and more victims on top of those wounded without administering any `mercy shots.'
Although the Poles were not used in these kinds of units many did help the Germans by showing them where Jews were hiding out, the Germans would write how they often `betrayed' the Jews to them, whereas I doubt the Poles thought the same way about the Jews. While `betraying' might be used when talking of a friend or family member, the Poles saw Jews as neither. After we are taken through all the actions of Police Battalion 101 we are presented with the question of what could have made them do something like this?
Some would say it was the battlefield position they found themselves in, this is incorrect. Those who participated saw mostly no battlefield experience, they were mostly older men who would not see service in the German Wehrmacht and were used for rear area security. The book is an excellent introduction and analysis to help us understand why those in the Police Battalion took actions against the Jews, and at the same time see that those who did not want to or could not, for whatever reason, were not punished but adopted for other work.