Product of Situation
As we have discussed in class, many of the men who took part in the atrocities of the war and the Holocaust were ordinary men. One of the explanations for their participation in these is based on the situation they were put into. In Christopher Browning’s novel Ordinary Men, one officer recalls that his lieutenant told him that he needed to become tougher and learn how to kill.(1) Officers and soldiers were forced to conform to the orders they were given even though they may not have agreed with them. “Others were more cautious and refrained from shooting only when no officer was present.”(2) Some were strong enough to resist conforming completely and only showed conformity when their leaders were present. Whether through orders or peer pressure, individuals were placed in situations which led them to conform and take part in the killings.
I find this idea of situation to be very depressing. It shows that there were many soldiers or officers who did not want to take part in the killings but were almost forced to take part. The idea that the situations these individuals faced forced them to conform makes me wonder what I would have done in the same situation. I know we sort of talked about this in class, but honestly, it is hard to imagine what I would have done because I have never been put in a situation like that before. There were so many factors outside of the situation that would have affected their choices. The situation is sort of the deciding point for everything put on the soldiers since Hitler took power. I see ideology as one of those factors; when the soldiers enter into a situation with minds filled with Nazi ideology, that they may or may not have agreed with, their actions will be decided based on that ideology. With so many factors that could explain why soldiers did what they did, I think situation was a big one.
- Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 130.
- Browning, Ordinary Men, 130.