The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were mainly middle-aged, family men of Hamburg from humble means. A select few were career policemen looking to move up in the ranks and join the SS. In regard to their attitudes and motives, these men were relatively ordinary. To be a reserve police officer, to protect your community and family in a time of need is something most men of the time would have embraced. Their dedication to family and country is admirable but did not cross into overzealous enthusiasm for nationalist policies. The select few that were more akin to SS personnel were less ordinary in regard to their personal senses of morality and belief systems in a modern sense, but in Nazi Germany were ordinary in relation to other career Nazis.
Browning offers a number of interesting explanations for the Police Battalion’s participation in the killing at Józefów. First, I find it particularly interesting that the Battalion was charged with executing the Jews, not the individuals. Major Trapp obviously capitalized on this and allowed individuals to opt out of shooting, which gave each man an opportunity to evaluate their own sense of morality for themselves. In a group situation, where every member was expected to participate and actively murder innocent civilians, it would have been much harder to resist and abstain from the action, no matter personal moral convictions. Peer pressure, fear of punishment, and the will to survive would have more strongly motivated an individual in a large group setting like that. However, because the option to abstain was offered, instead of it being the Reserve Police Battalion 101 that murdered the Jews of Józefów, individual men of the battalion chose to participate in the murder of innocent people. I think this distinction is noteworthy because in the moment, before the action and during even, the men were able to evaluate their own sense of morality and base their actions off of that, but still many chose to complete the orders.
The ways in which the men show discomfort with the orders is also telling of their personal convictions and priorities. For instance, the men who began killing but could not continue and went to vomit or joined guard duty demonstrate both loyalty to their regiment and to their humanity, sacrificing the former in order to maintain the latter. And although they murdered before they realized the extent and true meaning of their behavior, the ability to stop and reevaluate their actions is notable. However, despite this reflection on moral standards, none of the Jews of Józefów were saved. This idea is harder to reconcile with personal abstention because whatever the motive for abstaining, even if it was because they did not believe in the murder of Jews overall, the Jews still died. If opting out was a personal protest, it failed miserably. Would it not have been better to shoot and maintained dignity among peers if the Jew was to perish anyhow? Browning presents these somewhat paradoxical concepts clearly and explicitly, although not all are so believable or convincing.