In the summer of 1942, men from Hamburg were recruited for a special assignment. These men were ordinary and came from social democratic backgrounds. "They ranged from bakers and craftsmen to carpenters and tradesmen with office jobs," says sociologist Stefan Kühl. These men were given a vague description of their mission and then transported to Poland. On July 13, 1942, Major Trapp informed the battalion that they had to shoot 1,500 Jewish men, women, and children. What's more, he also assured them they could step out if they were not interested in following the orders. It was not compulsory to take part in the mission.
Major Trapp, we are told, was very popular with his men because he was not a typical authoritarian commander. He was referred to as "Papa" Trapp. Anyway, those who avoided killing the innocent Jews - the objectors - were tasked with cleaning toilets and were called names: Bastard, dirty rat, sissy, and so on. Many men gave in to killing the victims through a combination of coercion and free will. What this means is that the people were told they could refuse to do the killings, but their battalion would do the job anyway. If you are weak, you can walk away, but it's at the expense of your comrades.
This is why the documentary is titled Ordinary Men. The perpetrators of a violent, despicable crime were normal citizens. Some of them were also well-educated and sophisticated and could talk about Mozart and Beethoven. Hate isn't exclusive to illiterate and poor individuals. Even knowledgeable men are capable of harboring disturbing thoughts and ugly viewpoints. One such person was Otto Ohlendorf. He was so charming that even a judge gave him a compliment.
Ohlendorf might have been intelligent, but he was also horrible. He used to tell his men to not smash a baby against a tree to save ammunition. Rather, they should let mothers hold their kids against their chests and then shoot both of them with a single bullet. Many soldiers went through psychological trauma after committing such terrible acts. One of the killers discovered that he was about to shoot the owner of a cinema hall where he used to watch movies at some point. These soldiers got nightmares and confessed they would go mad if they had to kill Jews again. But Ordinary Men: The Forgotten Holocaust doesn't see these soldiers as victims. They are perpetrators who, in the end, did commit appalling crimes.
What made these humans into perpetrators was not their obsession with Jews but their obsession with themselves. They were worried about what other people would think about them if they didn't kill Jews. And many of these perpetrators had their own justifications that allowed them to find meaning in the murders. In other words, the murders were not committed by "killing machines" but by people who comprehended their actions. Someone like Ohlendorf didn't see himself as a bad person. Instead, he was a patriotic man who carried out several tasks for his country and its ruler. But such arguments shouldn't cover up the crimes of humans.
Ordinary Men: The Forgotten Holocaust presents all the information without sensationalism. It respects the facts and tells them in an unvarnished manner. The documentary informs us about the pain suffered by the victims and explains how and why men got converted into murderers. The most pointed (and unfortunately still relevant) comment arrives near the end: "The holocaust was a unique crime in its planning and delivery. Yet, to this day, people continue being killed for belonging to a different group." Don't let this documentary fly under your radar.
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