Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

History Describes You

It’s common knowledge that the Nazi regime wiped out two thirds of the Jewish population in Europe, but what’s often overlooked is that many of the Holocaust killings were done by ordinary men.

Waiters, truck drivers and office workers. Simple working and middle class men without a military background. 

You may argue that these men were already anti-Semitic or slowly grew a hatred for the Jewish people through Nazi propaganda. And in many cases you’d be right.

But not in the case of Reserve Police Battalion 101

The men of Police Battalion 101 were old and their minds rigid. Unlike the naive Hitler Youth, they’d grown up with healthy norms and values and could tell right from wrong. Even more puzzling, most of these older gentlemen came from Hamburg, one of Germany’s least Nazified cities.

Although they seemed utterly pedestrian, these men would commit cruel and wicked acts throughout World War II. 

What did it take to turn these civilized people into mass murderers?

A command from a superior and the means to make it happen.

No more, no less.

Failing to obey the command didn’t even have any consequences. In fact, the first time the battalion was asked to do its first evil deed—the shooting of some 1,500 Polish Jews—their commander gave the men the option to walk away.

Only 20 out of 500 men took the offer. 

Although the men took no joy in the killings and even suffered terrible mental anguish, they never disobeyed an order. By the time Battalion 101 returned to Germany, the group of 500 men had ‘cleansed’ Poland of 83,000 Jews.

Why the horrific history lesson?

Because it describes the human condition. It’s not just about someone else from a time long ago. History describes you.

Although we’d all like to think that we’d rescue Anne Frank from the Nazis, it’s highly unlikely. It takes a rare person to put the lives of themselves and their loved ones on the line for a complete stranger.

As the Milgram and Stanford Prison experiments have shown, cruelty is not a trait belonging only to monsters. Cruelty belongs to us all.

That’s why it’s so important to remember. If we forget, history and its atrocities are doomed to repeat themselves.

P.S. If you want to know more about how 500 civilized people grew into a group of mass murderers, check out Christopher Browning’s book Ordinary Men

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach