>>> Item number 1011, dated 96/04/16 14:53:43 -- ALL
Date:         Tue, 16 Apr 1996 14:53:43 -0500
Reply-To:     H-NET List on German History 
Sender:       H-NET List on German History 
From:         H-GERMAN EDITOR Dan Rogers 
Subject:      Re: Goldhagen, Browning & Expertise

Submitted by:   Paul Kern 

H-German members who want to follow up on Mitchell Ash's speculation
about the impact of Browning's _Ordinary Men_ on Daniel Goldhagen
in 1992 will want to look up the review of Browning's book that
Goldhagen wrote for the July 13, 1992 issue of the _New Republic_.

Paul Kern

From the editor:

Following up on this tip, we looked up the review in question and present
selected excerpts from it below.  The choice of what to excerpt from a
three-columned, four-page review was ours, so if it displeases you, please
don't fault Paul Kern.  We thank him for the citation. d.r.

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "The Evil of Banality," Review of Christopher
Browning, _Ordinary Men: Police Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final
Solution in Poland (New York: Harper Collins, 1992). _The New Republic_,
13/20 July 1992, pp. 49-52.

(All excerpts below are verbatim quotations from the pages in the review
indicated in parentheses.)

Still, for all its virtues, for all the author's considerable ability as a
historian, this book fails in its central interpretation. (49)

For a start, it exposes as a myth a dominant conception about the
Holocaust, namely that the killers were all SS men, the most ardent
votaries of the Nazi creed. (49)

The emphasis on the opportunities that the men of this police battalion
had to avoid their task of mass murder is a singularly important feature
of this study. (49)

More generally, Browning makes a crucial point that has been made before,
but continues to escape many, that not once in the history of the
Holocaust was a German killed, sent to a concentration camp, or punished
in any serious way for refusing to kill Jews. (49)

The social-psychological conditions, the objective and keenly felt
pressures of the group, the fear of being held in contempt by one's
comrades: these were what turned these men into killers, in Browning's
view, and kept them at it. (50)

Anyone who has worked with these materials (as I have, including the
existing primary material of Reserve Police Battalion 101)...(50)

Still, having come across so many demonstrably false attempts at this kind
of distancing, I have reached the methodological conclusion that such
claims must be treated with great circumspection.  This Browning does not
always do.  He consistently presents self-exculpating assertions as fact,
without letting the reader know that they could be questioned. (50)

Many, in sum, were hiding their crimes; and so Browning's estimate that
perhaps as many as 20 percent of the men in Reserve Police Battalion 101
did not become killers is simply not supported by the evidence. (50)

Browning does discuss the volunteerism -- which was in fact so frequently
exhibited in the battalion -- but fails to give it adequate attention.
For example, one of the killers who excused himself while the first
killing operation was under way admits to having later volunteered for
subsequent ones.  The man is discussed, yet this fact about his later
conduct remains unmentioned, although its significance is substantial.(51)

Much more evidence exists in the testimony of the men of Reserve Police
Battalion 101 -- some of it already contained in this book, though in need
of reinterpretation -- to suggest that this was not a group of men who
inwardly opposed the mass murder of Jews. (52)

It is the singular conception of the Jews and not, as Browning tepidly
puts it, mere "negative stereotypes" that contributed to these men's
willingness voluntarily to hunt Jewish mothers and their infants hiding in
remote forests and fields. To a great extent, this book reduces the
Germans' singular and deeply rooted, racist anti-Semitism to little more
than one manifestation of a common social psychological phenomenon.  It
reduces the mass slaughter of the Jews to a phenomenon that belongs in the
normal continuum of ("race") war. (52)

The men of Reserve Police Battalion 101 were not ordinary "men," but
ordinary members of an extraordinary political culture, the culture of
Nazi Germany, which was possessed of a hallucinatory, lethal view of the
Jews.  That view was the mainspring of what was, in essence, voluntary
barbarism. (52, last sentence of review)