Christopher Browning was the chief speaker this evening on a subject that our society considers a blight on human history. Browning, speaking of the Holocaust, Hitler’s attempted genocide of an entire race, and the mass murder of millions.
The University of Calgary’s Rozsa Centre hosted The Frank Eyck Memorial Lecture in German History: Why Did They Kill? Revisiting the Holocaust Perpetrators on Feb. 4 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Grad student Mikkel Dack and colleague Matt Bucholtz, two individuals involved in the study of German history at the University of Calgary requested the presence of Christopher Browning (An acclaimed professor, author, and historian in regards to the Holocaust and the Third Reich) to speak to the general public. Perhaps best known for his 1992 book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101, and The Final Solution in Poland, “Browning has rooted much of his work in the examination of Nazi behaviour” said Dack. “He kind of humanizes the whole process saying that it was a horrible event, it’s unforgivable, but they were just regular people that did it, like you and I.”
“Apolitical were nothing close to apolitical” said Browning. People jumped on the back of the Nazi machine. It was the job of every Nazi to find out what to do and being ordered to do it. Ordinary men claimed they had to do it or they would face horrible, dire punishments. Many felt they had no choice. But there was little to no proof that if these people refused they would suffer horrible repercussions. Many spoke of Authoritarian personality, where mass murders make them seem or act indifferent. “Normal, working class men were sent to perform mass murders” said Browning. “Hitler unleashed the Germans to do what he had wanted.” Browning believes it was a crime of obedience. According to browning there were three types of perpetrators: True Believers, those who not only obeyed the orders, but also believed in them. Roll Adopters, those who were just following orders, being what they believed were good soldiers. Repliers, those who only complied with the orders given under the supervision and command of those in authority. One important fact that Browning brought to light was people could shift from one category to another. Hitler tested people’s ability to conform, using obedience to authority.
Browning spoke of how moral behaviour’s changed in 1941. Post war testimony was abundant, and the Holocaust became the most documented genocide in human history. “But who were the killers, the hardcore killers?” said Browning. Gang dynamics came into play. For some it wasn’t about doing what was right, but more about following the mob mentality.
Browning spoke of the different types of people involved in the Holocaust, many believed in what was being done, under the veil of patriotism to conceal the war crimes being committed, while others felt they were forced participants in the deaths of many. But one central idea was agreed upon. That at one point or another we had failed our fellow man.