Police Battalion 101 Research Papers
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During World War II, Reserve Police Battalion 101 was a Nazi paramilitary organization under the control of the SS. In 1939, Police Battalion 101 entered Poland alongside the Wehrmacht, becoming a major force in the implementation of Hitler’s Final Solution in Poland. Organized in Hamburg, the group carried out several missions of genocide, and its leader, Major Wilhelm Trapp, was executed for war crimes in 1948.
In addition to the regular German army (Wehrmacht) and the SS, the Third Reich created numerous battalions of German Order Police, which numbered almost 250,000 men by mid-1940. These battalions were charged with controlling civilian populations in nations conquered by the Nazis. Police Battalion 101 operated in Poland, conducting mass deportations of Poles in order to free space for incoming German colonists. Beginning in November 1940, Police Battalion 101 was charged with guarding the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, the second-largest Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe.
- By 1942, Police Battalion 101 were rounding up Polish Jews and transporting them to extermination camps such as Sobibor and Treblinka.
- The men of this unit were largely considered too old for regular service
- Police Battalion 101's actions displayed a particular cruelty, often simply shooting people in the face.
- It has been estimated that the 500 or so “ordinary men” who comprised Police Battalion 101 were responsible for the deaths of at least 83,000 Jews.
Reserve Police Battalion 101 first participated in atrocities against their fellow man at Jozefow in July of 1942. Here, the policemen from Hamburg slaughtered an estimated minimum of 1,500 hundred Polish Jews. This first massacre seemed an attempt by the leadership to “ease” the Battalion into the act of mass murder. Christopher Browning, in his book Ordinary Men, describes a situation where the men of the unit were “awakened early in the morning for a major action involving the entire battalion” but “were not officially informed” of what that major action would entail (56). Additionally, the actions at Jozefow were executed after a relatively short time had passed since the orders for the massacre had been given. This allowed ample little time for a number of men to beg out of the assignment. Only a dozen unit members abstained from murder at Jozefow (71).
From Jozefow, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 proceeded to Lomazy, then Miedzyrzec, then Serokomla, then to eight other regions or cities where the slaughtered human beings en masse, until they executed their final atrocities at the Harvest Festival in Poniatowa in November of 1943. In all, the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 murdered an estimated minimum of 38,000 Polish Jews and deported another 45,000 to the gas chambers of Treblinka. With each step of the Battalions’ journey, two things become apparent. First, the pretenses of humanity become less and less apparent until they are all together nonexistent. Once the Battalion had a few massacres under their belt, the men of the unit knew what was expected of them, and participated to varying degrees. This shows that as the Battalion’s campaign of murder progress, atrocity became normal action. However, as the timeline advances, and increasing number of men also begged out their duties, showing that the process of mass killing either became “normal” for an individual or it didn’t. Once the routine was established of which individuals could be counted on to perform what levels of action, then atrocities became a mere fact of daily life for the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101.
Browning offers his estimate that between 80% and 90% of the men assigned to Reserve Police Battalion 101 engaged in atrocities including mass murder and genocide. Browning also details the litany of explanations which have traditionally been employed in an attempt to explain wartime behavior by individuals who would have otherwise not engaged in such behavior. This list of explanatory circumstances includes, but is not limited to “wartime brutalization, racism, segmentation and routinization of the task, special selection of the perpetrators, careerism, obedience to orders, deference to authority, ideological indoctrination, and conformity” (159). However, for Browning none of these traditional rationalizations can entirely explain the actions and the circumstances of the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101. Rather, Browning sees the explanation of the actions of the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 as being attributable to a complex mixture of several of these circumstances.
The first point that Browning makes is that the war waged by the German against the Jew constituted the epitome of hateful race war. The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were indoctrinated with a hate for the people they committed atrocities against. This type of race war, according to Browning, differs significantly from conventional warfare, of the type seen in the combat between Germany and the Western allies, in that wars imbued with racial hatred constitute “war without mercy.” As Browning writes, “War, especially race war, leads to brutalization, which leads to atrocity” (160).
Browning also attributes the actions of the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 to the culture of murder cultivated by the Nazi regime. Browning calls this “atrocity by policy” and reserves a special disdain for this type of rational action in comparison to acts committed in“battlefield frenzy” (159-160). This type of “atrocity by policy” seems to be inescapable. Whereas typical battlefield horrors can be escaped, the continuation of murderous policy is an inescapable, calculated gesture. This had the effect of inuring the men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 to the horrors of their actions, which in part can explain the continuance of atrocities.