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“Behind the enemy powers: The Jew” lies on a poster in Germany in 1943 showing a picture of a man who is supposed to be Jewish, hiding behind the American, Russian, and Great Britain flags with a menacing look on his face. On this poster, the man they’re displaying as a Jew looks dirty, with sharp teeth and a devious look on his face. This is how Jewish people were depicted in Germany during the reining of the Nazi regime. Along with this poster comes hundreds more, one even of a Jewish man demasking himself to show that he is actually the devil with the star of David branded in to his forehead.
You couldn’t turn one corner on a city street in Nazi Germany without seeing a piece anti-Semitic propaganda. As I describe these images you may be thinking about how over the top and unbelievable it was that people bought in to these posters. But, when countless derogatory images of any group of people is burned in to your head by your government time and time again, of course some people are going to buy in to it.
For example, also during World War Two, something that is often conveniently brushed under the rug when WW2 is discussed by American’s, President Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese American’s.
This internment was an order to relocate all people of Japanese ancestry who lived along the pacific coast to move in to concentration camps. Over 100,000 Japanese American’s were incarcerated while we were at war with Japan during WW2.
This went on nearing 4 years without interference from the public because the United States government made it clear that Japan was the enemy. I’m not by any means comparing the trials of Jews incarcerated by Nazi’s to Japanese American’s who were relocated by the United States. As Americans like to believe that our people would never let something like genocide happen on US soil. But, when the government tells society that they are endangered by a certain group, society will often do anything necessary in order to ensure the security of their well-being.
The point is, people want to believe that the Nazi’s and the ordinary men of Germany at this time were horrible people for remaining indifferent toward the treatment of Jew’s in WW2, but this isn’t the case. Readers of Ordinary Men Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning, criticize Browning by saying that he excused the Nazi’s for their misconduct during WW2 and gives an unjustifiably sympathetic portrayal of Major Trapp. I disagree with the critics. When Nazi’s were captured and questioned they often responded something along the lines of they were ‘just following orders,’ and this was the case. Put yourself in their shoes, every day you are told how much Jew’s are scum, lazy, and out to get you.
Every corner you turn there is anti-Semitic news bulletins posted on the sidewalks. You cannot turn on the news without seeing something derogatory about Jewish people. The citizens of this time were described as ‘brain washed.’ As a major in the Nazi regime you are the same way. The higher ranked officials and you share a hatred for Jewish people because of the way they are portrayed and how the ruler of your country talks about them. Trapp was responsible for giving the order to kill anyone trying to escape from the Josefow ghetto and take the remaining alive Jewish people to the marketplace. This massacre claimed the lives of around 1500 Jewish people including women and children. There is no valid excuse for this or any of the murders carried out by the Nazi regime. Millions of innocent people lost their lives to the Nazi’s at this time because they were told what they were doing was right.
This brings up the moral dilemma of genocide. How could anyone be capable of carrying out an act like this? Everyone would like to believe that the soldiers of the Nazi Regime were heartless, evil people because it’s easier to accept the fact that they did horrible things because they were horrible people rather than the concept of these Soldiers were ordinary people like you and me. During these times of war, the public is very malleable, the people want to do anything to return back to their normal lives with no threat at hand. So, when you put a powerful public speaker such as Adolf Hitler in front of them, claiming he has a solution to make all these threats go away, the people listen. Due to the brainwashing and the constant reassuring that Jewish people were Dirty, conniving people who wanted to work with opposing countries with the literal goal of bringing Germany to shambles, the people were okay with the incarceration of Jew’s. it’s easy to say you would never take part in something that horrific if you were faced with the opportunity, until you are faced with the opportunity.
In the book, Browning often suggests that the soldiers didn’t like what they were doing, and they were just following orders. Even suggesting some soldiers would hide from officers so they wouldn’t have to participate in firing squad duties. Also, that when pitted with firing squad duties, soldiers would miss on purpose. Browning suggested these actions were them expressing remorse, that these soldiers didn’t want to kill, they were forced to and truly believed it was justifiable. Browning also states that soldiers claimed it was somewhat peer-pressure, soldiers didn’t want to be looked down on my fellow soldiers for being cowardly. These men believed that the Jewish race posed a threat to their lives and Germany’s welfare.
Browning isn’t being insensitive, and even makes his point that this genocide was wrong. Browning is attempting to make a statement that when there is a wrongdoing, people want to hold someone accountable. While it is easy to blame the man with the gun, Browning is encouraging his readers to look at these acts from a different perspective. in Browning’s text, he does not by any means approve of the actions carried out by the Nazi party. Browning also doesn’t excuse Major Wilhelm Trapp for his actions at Joesfow. Browning is only pointing out that the people responsible for the murders of Jews in WW2 were ordinary men who loved their country and their families and would do anything to protect them.
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