XXII Debata Lelewelowska: 30 Years After 'Ordinary Men': Groundbreaking and New Perspectives in Holocaust Research

Few books have impacted the field of Holocaust research in a way Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning has. The book was translated into over a dozen of languages and entered the canon of Holocaust historiography. Hardly any other book on the Holocaust is more frequently cited and discussed in Holocaust-related courses – not only in history departments – taught at universities around the globe. The year 2022 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the first publication of Ordinary Men.

By choosing a powerful lens of microhistory, Browning sheds new light on the course of the Holocaust. By following closely the mass atrocities committed by Reserve Police Battalion 101 in German-occupied eastern Poland, Browning’s book “asks large questions in small places.” It not only examines what happened, but first and foremost, how it happened. The people who are the focus of this important book were neither particularly avid Nazis nor pathological killers. They were ordinary men who shot nearly forty thousand Jews and assisted in brutal deportations of even more victims to death camps over a course of
just sixteen months during Aktion Reinhardt. Browning explores the choices these killers had; why and how they made them. Well before the word “interdisciplinary” became
mandatory in all research proposals, Browning wrote a book that combines a meticulous, source-driven study of history with interpretations and explanations offered by the social sciences, primarily social psychology. Questioning ideology as the sole factor responsible for the transformation of ordinary husbands and fathers into ruthless killers, Browning’s book proposes a multicausal explanation; argues that peer pressure and social conformity can prove crucial for understanding social dynamics within killing units and the deadly outcome of their actions.

The publication of Ordinary Men marked the birth of perpetrator studies – an approach that shaped Holocaust research and still remains one of the important streams of scholarly examination of the Nazi genocide. Ordinary Men, much like the works of psychologists Stanley Milgram, and Philip Zimbardo, whose findings Browning discusses and applies to the historical context, prove that there is nothing mystical in extreme violence and genocide; that social and psychological factors and processes play an important role in how genocidal plans, formed by ideology, can be implemented.

Ultimately, Browning’s work leaves us with a haunting question of the potential of everyone to fill the ranks of the perpetrators. For the social mechanisms that Browning investigates did not disappear with the fall of the Third Reich. Dreadful remainders of that fact can easily
be found around the world; in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and today in Ukraine – to name just a few. With this Lelewel Debate, we celebrate three decades of Ordinary Men serving as an inspiration for generations of scholars studying the Holocaust who – to paraphrase the
idiom – stood on the shoulders of Chris Browning. By bringing together eminent scholars with expertise in history, memory studies, and social psychology, this event inquires
into the scholarly impact of Ordinary Men, major breakthroughs in Holocaust studies since its publication, and new approaches that are likely to advance our understanding of the Nazi genocide in the coming years.

30 Years after Ordinary Men Groundbreaking and New Perspectives in Holocaust Research
Friday, 10 June 2022 | 5.30 pm

Christopher R. Browning (University of North Carolina Chapel Hill)
Mark Roseman (Indiana University Bloomington)
Roma Sendyka (Jagiellonian University, Krakow)
Michał Bilewicz (University of Warsaw)
Chair: Łukasz Krzyżanowski (German Historical Institute Warsaw)

Venue: Trybunał Koronny
ul. Rynek 1
10 czerwca 2022, 17:30
Tłumaczenie symultaniczne na język polski


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