Ordinary Men is one of the most influential works on the Holocaust. Before US historian Browning's 1992 book, most Holocaust scholarship focused either on the experience of the victims or on the Nazi political ideology driving the slaughter. Browning investigates the stories of some who carried out acts of extreme violence, those who literally had blood on their hands. Who were they? What were their backgrounds? And how could they end up committing such unspeakable acts?
Browning focuses on one unexceptional regiment of German reservists, Police Battalion 101, carefully reconstructing the men's personalities. While their orders to kill appalled them at first, Browning shows how a combination of reluctance to challenge authority and peer pressure enabled them to face their gruesome task. These men were not driven by ideology. Rather than being moral monsters, Browning insists they were simply "ordinary men."
While some have criticized Browning's relentless focus on the individual, Ordinary Men is nonetheless an essential work for anybody who wants to understand the Holocaust.
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- James Wood