As Mallman and Paul demonstrated in their examination of the Gestapo, the Nazi apparatus depended on the cooperation and assistance of members of the state. This aid was vital to the military, economic, and social programs of the regime. In describing the role of “ordinary” Germans in the slaughter carried out at Jozefow, Christopher Browning suggests that they willingly murdered the Jewish population of the Polish town, even though participation was not mandatory.
According to Browning, Reserve Police Battalion 101 was comprised mainly of native Hamburgers, with most men coming from working class backgrounds, although there were a few craftsmen and professionals. Most men in the unit were middle-aged and, because they were from the working class, weren’t registered as Nazi Party members. Notably, however, the two captains of the battalion were career Nazis and SS officers. Still, given that most members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were not in the SS or closely affiliated with the Nazi Party, they seemed unlikely to perpetrate the atrocities at Jozefow. In fact, prior to Jozefow, these men hadn’t distinguished themselves as murderers or brutal proponents of Nazi extermination policies. To this extent, they could be considered “ordinary” because they were not extraordinarily “Nazified,” in both their careers and in their political views.
To explain the involvement of these “ordinary” men in the massacre at Jozefow, Browning presents two reasons: opportunity for career advancement and pressure to conform. Participating in the murders may have improved career prospects; yet, Major Trapp offered to remove any men from the mission and protect them from punishment. In fact, Browning states that one of the men who opted out was eventually recalled to Hamburg and promoted. Thus, though careerism may have been a minor consideration, it certainly could not have been the main reason for participation. Similarly, because Trapp had volunteered the offer, I don’t believe that pressure to conform was significant.
In his conclusion, Browning notes that the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 didn’t discuss the role of the antisemitism in the massacre. Perhaps, though, this conditioned hostility towards Jews motivated them to partake in Jozefow. According to Nazi rhetoric, the people of the Volksgemeinschaft needed to eliminate the Gemeinschaftsfremde because they threatened the existence of the Aryan race. Moreover, they posited, women, children, and the elderly needed to be killed because they lacked utility, occupied space where ethnic Germans could be settled, and were financially detrimental to the state. Therefore, by internalizing this logic, the members of the unit may have been convinced that they really did not have another choice.