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Hitler's Willing Executioners

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 05:27 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 36.6 
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In Daniel Jonah Goldhagen\'s book, Hitler\'s Willing Executioners, Goldhagen explains what could have provoked the German people to support the murder of six million European Jews. His central theory is that the perpetrators of genocide in Nazi Germany were not a small group of SS zealots but thousands of ordinary Germans who killed with the consent of millions more.

One of his most convincing examples is that of Police Battalion 101. Due to manpower shortages during the war, the police battalions could not be composed only of fanatical Nazis or impressionable youth; instead, they recruited a representative sample of German society. Members came from all occupations, and the proportions of Nazi-Party and SS members approximated those in Germany as a whole. Goldhagen describes in shocking detail the actions of these men, which often involved clearly targeting children and the elderly, who could not work in the camps. The murders, however, were not forced upon the battalion, as revealed by the members\' testimony. In Police Battalion 101, the choice to choose out of the murders was offered both before the first killings and after. Out of 550 men, only twelve declined to take part, and they were not harmed in any way.

The haunting question is what could have compelled the members of Police Battalion 101 and other German institutions to such voluntary cruelty. Goldhagen disproves the five conventional explanations for the perpetrators\' actions. The theory that the perpetrators were forced by authorities is disproved by testimony from the police battalions and the astonishing fact that there is not one verified case of anyone\'s being sent to a concentration camp or killed for not obeying an execution order, despite the extensive efforts of the Nuremberg defense.

A second theory, supported by psychology experiments, is that people, or Germans in particular, will impulsively obey orders that come from a source perceived to be legitimate. This is...


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