Was Nazi Germany’s murder of six million Jews and millions of other unarmed persons the work of "real Nazis"—i.e., fervent Nazi ideologues and murderous sadists—or was it carried out by "ordinary" men? Passionate debate has raged over this question in recent years.
In Hitler’s Willing Executioners (1996), a bestseller in Germany and America, historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen argued that "ordinary Germans" full of anti-Semitism did much of the Holocaust’s work. In Ordinary Men (1992), historian Christopher Browning contended that the killers in Hamburg’s Reserve Police Battalion 101, for instance, were unexceptional men driven to act by the atmosphere of total war and their fear of breaking ranks.
Clearly, committed Nazis, as well as some sadists, were leaders in the genocide, and the perpetrators were so numerous that "fairly ordinary people" must also have been involved, says Mann, a sociologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. But after examining the backgrounds and characteristics of 1,581 presumed German war criminals—"the largest and most representative sample of mass murderers yet studied"—he finds these individuals "clustered toward the ‘real Nazi’ end of the spectrum."
Ethnic German "refugees" who had been living abroad in Alsace-Lorraine and other territories lost after World War I, or living in regions near borders threatened with Allied intervention, were especially "overrepresented" among the war criminals, Mann notes. Their circumstances apparently inflamed nationalist and Nazi sentiments. A conspicuous exception: the Sudeten Germans, whom Czechoslovakia treated quite well during the interwar years. "When Hitler marched in, fewer than two percent of Sudetens were in the Nazi Party."
Ninety-five percent of the war criminals were men. Few of the women had any record of having joined an adult Nazi organization before 1939, or of having taken part in any previous violence. The women, the Sudeten Germans, and the foreign ethnic Germans not recruited until after their "liberation" by the Wehrmacht—these, says Mann, seem the likeliest candidates among the war criminals for "ordinary" status.
"Most of the remaining 90 percent of the sample had some [prior] Nazi record, rising to a large majority in the upper ranks," he writes. One-third of the men on whom prewar records were available, he says, had been involved in serious violence or noted as especially fanatic Nazis.
It appears, says Mann, that at the center of Nazi genocide were "ideological, experienced Nazis," who were driven not simply by Nazi Party members—twice the level of all anti-Semitism but by "broader currents of German men at the time, he points out. Of embittered nationalism." the 13 battalion members convicted of war
Even in Police Battalion 101, which crimes, 10 were Nazi Party members. Even Browning and Goldhagen closely studied, in this "ordinary men" battalion, "the hier-Mann finds signs "that things might actual-archy and the experienced core were mostly ly have been a little out of the ordinary." Nazis or initiates in violence, ordering and Thirty-eight percent of the policemen were guiding the rawer recruits into genocide."