Ordinary German Men as Mass Murderers

Police Battalion 101 in Poland

This photograph pictures members of Police Battalion 101 forcing Polish Jews to pose in humiliating positions. 

German Soldiers Murdering Ukrainian Jews

This is a photograph of German soldiers murdering Ukrainian Jews. The murdered Jews were buried in a mass grave. 

          The men and boys of Nazi Germany had been inundated with messages and images equating masculinity with soldiers and wars of conquest. They were also exposed to the ideas of racial purity, anti-Semitism, anti-communism and homophobia. It is well known that extreme violence and mass murder against Jews, communists, homosexuals, and other groups deemed unworthy, occurred under the Nazi regime. Because masculinity was so crucial to the Third Reich’s identity, it is important to understand what role it played in these atrocities. In his book Ordinary Men: Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland which covers a German military police unit and its participation in the mass murder of Polish Jews, Christopher Browning observes that the desire to maintain a masculine persona was a major motivating factor in why these men did what they did. Most of the men in this police unit were middle-aged and working-class, not a cohort generally associated with fanatical Nazism. In fact, most of the men in this unit original joined to avoid combat roles, not for ideological reasons. Browning cites the fear of appearing cowardly and undermining one’s masculinity as a primary reason why most men did not opt out of such actions, even when given the opportunity. At first soldiers like those in Police Battalion 101 committed atrocities due to feeling pressured, but they soon became brutalized. The brutalization process lessened the hesitation that may have been felt before the soldiers were conditioned to murder. While not meant to justify such violence, examining how the role of masculinity influenced the men of Nazi Germany provides some insight into why these atrocities occurred. 

Ordinary German Men as Mass Murderers