Sneha Girap (Editor)

Christopher Browning

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Occupation  Historian, author
Name  Christopher Browning
Role  Historian

Christopher Browning wwwtheatlanticcomunboundinterviewsimagesint2
Born  Christopher Robert Browning May 22, 1944 (age 71) (1944-05-22)
Notable works  Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland
Movies  Refuge: Stories of the Selfhelp Home
Education  University of Wisconsin-Madison, Oberlin College
Awards  National Jewish Book Award for Holocaust
Books  Ordinary Men: Reserve, The Origins of the Final Solution, Remembering Survival: Inside a, Nazi Policy - Jewish W, The Path to Genocide: Essays o
Similar People  Daniel Goldhagen, Raul Hilberg, Saul Friedlander, Nechama Tec, Ian Kershaw

Hitler and the decisions for the final solution christopher browning

Christopher Robert Browning (born May 22, 1944) is an American historian, known best for his works on the Holocaust. Browning received his bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in 1968 and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1975. He taught at Pacific Lutheran University from 1974 to 1999, eventually becoming a Distinguished Professor. In 1999, he moved to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to accept an appointment as Frank Porter Graham Professor of History. Browning was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2006. Browning retired from teaching in Spring 2014.


Christopher Browning httpsiytimgcomviwhK8jmVgy2Mhqdefaultjpg

Christopher browning speaking on revisiting the perpetrators why did they kill

Ordinary Men

Browning is best known for his 1992 book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, a study of German Ordnungspolizei (Order Police) Reserve Unit 101, which committed massacres and round-ups of Jews for deportations to the Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland in 1942. The conclusion of the book, influenced in part by the famous Milgram experiments popularized in the 1970s, was that the men of Unit 101 killed out of a basic obedience to authority and peer pressure, not blood-lust or primal hatred.

As presented in the study, the men of Unit 101 were not ardent Nazis but ordinary middle-aged men of working class background from Hamburg, who had been drafted but found ineligible for regular military duty. After their return to Poland in June 1942 these men were ordered to terrorize Jews in the ghettos during Operation Reinhard, and in notable cases, committed wholesale massacres of all Polish Jews – men, women and children – as in the towns of Józefów and Łomazy. In other cases, they were ordered to merely kill a specified number of Jews in a given town or area usually helped by Trawnikis. The commander of the unit gave his men the choice (once) of opting out of this duty if they found it too hard. Almost all of them chose not to exercise that option. Fewer than 12 men opted out in a battalion of 500 willing executioners.

While the specifics of this book deal with killings performed by otherwise average men, the general implication of the book, consistent with the theories advanced by Stanley Milgram, is that when placed in a coherent group setting, most people will adhere to the commands given, even if they find the actions morally reprehensible. Additionally the book demonstrates that ordinary people will more than likely follow orders, even those they might personally question, when they perceive these orders as originating from an authority.

Browning also provides ample evidence to support the notion that not all of these men were hateful antisemites. He includes the testimony of men who say that they begged to be released from this work and to be placed elsewhere. In one instance, two fathers claimed that they could not kill children and thus asked to be given other work. Browning also tells of a man who demanded his release, obtained it, and was then promoted once he returned to Germany.

Ordinary Men achieved much acclaim but was denounced by Daniel Goldhagen for missing what Goldhagen considered the importance of a specifically-German political culture, characterized by what Goldhagen terms "eliminationist anti-semitism," in causing the Holocaust. In his book review published in the July 1992 edition of The New Republic, Goldhagen called Ordinary Men a book that fails in its central interpretation. Goldhagen's own controversial 1996 book Hitler's Willing Executioners was largely written to rebut Browning's book, but ended up being criticized much more.

Witness in David Irving vs. Deborah Lipstadt case

When David Irving sued Deborah Lipstadt for libel in 2000, Browning was one of the leading witnesses for the defense. Another historian, Robert Jan van Pelt, wrote a report on the gassing facilities at Auschwitz, and Browning wrote a report on the evidence for the extermination of the Jews on a wider scale. During his testimony and a cross-examination by Irving, Browning countered Irving’s suggestion that the last chapter of the Holocaust has yet to be written (implying there were grounds for doubting the reality of the Shoah) by replying: "We are still discovering things about the Roman Empire. There is no last chapter in history."

Browning countered Irving’s argument that the lack of a written Führer order disproved the Holocaust, maintaining that no such order need ever have been written down, given that Hitler had almost certainly made statements to his leading subordinates indicating his wishes in regards to the Jews of Europe during the war, thus rendering the question of an extant, written order irrelevant. Browning went on to testify that several leading experts on Nazi Germany believe that there was no written Führer order for the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”, but no historian doubts the reality of the Holocaust. Browning noted that Hitler’s secret speech to his Gauleiters on December 12, 1941, strongly alluded to genocide as the “Final Solution”.

Browning categorically rejected Irving’s claim that there was no reliable statistical information on the size of the pre-war Jewish population in Europe, or on the killing processes; he asserted that the only reason why historians debate whether five or six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust is a lack of access to archives in the former Soviet Union. Likewise, Browning argued that it was possible to become soaked in human blood after shooting people at close-range, and dismissed Irving’s argument that accounts of German personnel being soaked in blood were improbable because it is not possible to have a blood-splattered uniform after shooting people at close range. The American journalist D.D. Guttenplan, who covered the trial, considered Browning to be the most effective of the witnesses for Lipstadt.

Browning's interpretation of the Holocaust

Browning is a functionalist in the origins of the Holocaust debate, following the principles of the "moderate functionalist" school of thought, which focuses on the structure and institution of the Third Reich, moving the focus away from Hitler. Functionalism sees the extermination of the Jews as the improvisation and radicalization of a polycratic regime. Functionalists do not exonerate Adolf Hitler, yet they recognize that many other factors were involved in the Final Solution.

Browning has argued that the Final Solution was the result of the "cumulative radicalization" (to use Hans Mommsen's phrase) of the German state, especially when faced with the self-imposed "problem" of 3 million Jews (mostly Polish), whom the Nazis had forced into ghettos between 1939 and 1941. The intention was to have these and other Jews resident in the Third Reich expelled eastward once a destination was selected. For a time in 1940, the Madagascar Plan, in which, after Germany defeated Britain, France was to cede Madagascar to Germany, and then all of the Jews of Europe were to be expelled to that island, was considered as an option. Germany's inability to defeat Britain prevented the execution of the Madagascar Plan. Browning has been able to establish that the phrase "Final Solution to the Jewish Question", first used in 1939, meant until 1941 a "territorial solution". Owing to the military developments of World War II and to turf wars within the German bureaucracy, expulsion lost its viability such that, by 1941, members of the bureaucracy were willing to countenance the mass murder of Jews.

In a speech given in Paris in 1982, Browning summarized the state of the historiography as follows:

In recent years the interpretations of National Socialism have polarized more and more into two groups that Tim Mason has aptly called Intentionalists and Functionalists. The former explain the development of Nazi Germany as a result of Hitler's intentions, which came out of a coherent and logical ideology and were realized due to an all-powerful totalitarian dictatorship. The Functionalists point out the anarchistic character of the Nazi state, its internal rivalries and the chaotic process of decision-making, which constantly led to improvisation and radicalization...These two modes of exposition of history are useful for the analysis of the strongly divergent meanings that people attribute to the Jewish policy of the Nazis in general and to the Final Solution in particular. On the one hand, Lucy Dawidowicz, a radical Intentionalist, upholds the viewpoint that already in 1919 Hitler had decided to exterminate European Jews. And not only that: He knew at what point in time his murderous plan would be realized. The Second World War was at the same time the means and opportunity to put his war against the Jews into effect. While he waited for the anticipated moment for the realization of his great plan, naturally he tolerated a senseless and meaningless pluralism in the Jewish policies of the subordinate ranks of state and party.

Against the radical Intentionalism of Lucy Dawidowicz, which emphasizes the intentions and great plan of Hitler, the Ultrafunctionalism of Martin Broszat constitutes a diametrically opposed view of the role of the Führer, especially with respect to the decision on the Final Solution. It is Broszat's position that Hitler never took a definitive decision nor issued a general order for the Final Solution. The annihilation program developed in stages in conjunction with a series of isolated massacres at the end of 1941 and in 1942. These locally limited mass murders were improvised answers to an impossible situation that had developed as a result of two factors:

Browning divides the officials of the Government-General of occupied Poland into two factions. One, the "Productionists", favored using Jews of the ghettos as a source of slave labor to help with the war effort. The other, the "Attritionists", favored letting the Jews of the ghettos starve and die of disease. At the same time, there were struggles between the SS and Hans Frank, the Governor-General of Poland. The SS favored "The Nisko/Lublin Plan" of creating a "Jewish Reservation" in Lublin, Poland, into which all the Jews of Greater Germany, Poland and the former Czechoslovakia were to be expelled. Frank was opposed to the "Lublin Plan" on the ground that the SS were "dumping" Jews into his territory. Frank together with Hermann Göring wished for Government-General of Poland to become the "granary" of the Reich, and opposed the ethnic cleansing schemes of Heinrich Himmler and Arthur Greiser as disruptive of economic conditions.

An attempt to settle these difficulties at conference between Himmler, Göring, Frank and Greiser at Göring's Karinhall estate on February 12, 1940 was scuttled in May 1940, when Himmler was able to show Hitler a memo entitled "Some Thoughts on the Treatment of Alien Population in the East" on May 15, 1940, which Hitler called "good and correct". Himmler's memo, which called for expelling all of the Jews of German-ruled Europe into Africa and reducing Poles to a "leaderless laboring class", and Hitler's approval of the memo led, as Browning noted, to a major change in German policy in Poland along the lines suggested by Himmler. Browning called the Göring/Frank-Himmler/Greiser dispute a perfect example of how Hitler encouraged his subordinates to engage in turf battles with one another without deciding for one policy option or other, but clearly hinting at the direction he preferred policy to go.


  • The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office : a study of Referat D III of Abteilung Deutschland, 1940–43, New York : Holmes & Meier, 1978.
  • “Zur Genesis der "Endlösung" Eine Antwort an Martin Broszat” pages 96–104 from Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte, Volume 29, 1981.
  • Fateful Months : Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution, New York : Holmes & Meier, 1985.
  • Ordinary Men : Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, New York : HarperCollins, 1992.
  • The Path to Genocide : Essays on launching the Final Solution, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1998, 1992.
  • Nazi policy, Jewish workers, German killers, Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Collected memories : Holocaust History and Postwar Testimony, Madison, Wis. ; London : University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.
  • The Origins of the Final Solution : The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939 – March 1942 (With contributions by Jürgen Matthäus), Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 2004. ISBN 0-803-25979-4 OCLC 52838928
  • Everyday Lasts a Year: A Jewish Family's Correspondence from Poland, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. ISBN 0-393-07019-0 OCLC 317919861
  • This book earned Browning the 2011 Yad Vashem International Book Prize for Holocaust Research.
  • References

    Christopher Browning Wikipedia