Ordinary OrganisationsWhy Normal Men Carried Out the Holocaust
Ordinary Organisations
Why Normal Men Carried Out the Holocaust

During the Holocaust, 99 percent of all Jewish killings were carried out by members of state organizations. In this groundbreaking book, Stefan Kühl offers a new analysis of the integral role that membership in organizations played in facilitating the annihilation of European Jews under the Nazis.

Drawing on the well-researched case of the mass killings of Jews by a Hamburg reserve police battalion, Kühl shows how ordinary men from ordinary professions were induced to carry out massacres. It may have been that coercion, money, identification with the end goal, the enjoyment of brutality, or the expectations of their comrades impelled the members of the police battalion to join the police units and participate in ghetto liquidations, deportations, and mass shootings. But ultimately, argues Kühl, the question of immediate motives, or indeed whether members carried out tasks with enthusiasm or reluctance, is of secondary importance. The crucial factor in explaining what they did was the integration of individuals into an organizational framework that prompted them to perform their roles.

This book makes a major contribution to our understanding of the Holocaust by demonstrating the fundamental role played by organizations in persuading ordinary Germans to participate in the annihilation of the Jews. It will be an invaluable resource for students and scholars of organizations, violence, and modern German history, as well as for anyone interested in genocide and the Holocaust.

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  • November 2016
  • 300 pages
  • 153 x 232 mm / 6 x 9 in
Available Formats
  • Hardback $72.75
  • 9781509502899
  • Paperback $24.95
  • 9781509502905
  • Open eBook $16.99
  • 9781509502936
Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. Beyond “ordinary men” and “ordinary Germans”
  • 1.1. The failure of easy answers
  • 1.2. From the search for motives to the presentation of motives
  • 1.3. The motivation of organization members
  • 2. Identification with the goal
  • 2.1. The formation of an antisemitic fictional consensus
  • 2.2. How ideological indoctrination secured an antisemitic fictional consensus
  • 2.3. From “impassive acceptance” to “active participation”
  • 3. Coercion
  • 3.1. Forced recruitment and barriers to exit
  • 3.2. Avoiding the membership issue in coercive organizations
  • 3.3. The limits of leeway
  • 3.4. The freedom in coercion
  • 4. Comradeship
  • 4.1. The pressure of comradeship and the formation of informal norms
  • 4.2. Levels in the formation of comradeship
  • 4.3. How are comradeship norms enforced?
  • 4.4. Mobilizing comradeship by granting leeway
  • 5. Money
  • 5.1. The function of regular remuneration for the battalion members
  • 5.2. Legalized enrichment through the dispossession of the Jewish population
  • 5.3. Enrichment beyond official forms of remuneration and reward
  • 5.4. The functionality of misappropriation
  • 6. The attractiveness of activities
  • 6.1. Inhibitions against killing and organizational strategies for overcoming them
  • 6.2. The production of motives: Dehumanizing the victims
  • 6.3. An organizational culture of brutality
  • 7. The generalization of motives
  • 7.1. The different ways of portraying personal engagement
  • 7.2. Managing one’s self-presentation
  • 7.3. The separation between goals and motives
  • 8. From killers to perpetrators
  • 8.1. The legalization of the state’s use of violence
  • 8.2. Using violence in the gray zones of legality
  • 8.3. The shift in the concept of law under the Nazis
  • 8.4. Facilitating killing by legalizing it
  • 9. The normality and abnormality of organizations
  • 9.1. Beyond the notion of “abnormal organizations”
  • 9.2. The expansion of zones of indifference in organizations
  • 9.3. Understanding organizations: Conclusions
  • Appendix: The sociological approach and empirical basis
  • Archives
  • Notes
  • Literature
  • Index
About the Author
Stefan Kühl is Professor of Sociology at the University of Bielefeld.
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“In this masterly researched and subtly conceptualized in-depth analysis of the infamous Police Battalion 101, Stefan Kühl shows hauntingly how the ‘normality’ of constraints, enrichment, comradeship, routine, and legality enabled Nazi perpetrators to achieve the ultimate abnormality. Ordinary Organizations will soon be considered as one of the key inquiries into the Holocaust.”
Thomas Kühne, Clark University

“An extremely interesting book, engaging with theoretical approaches to understanding the Holocaust. Kühl makes a strong case for the explanatory power of organizational sociology in understanding how ‘ordinary men’ could be brought to engage in acts of killing without seeing themselves as perpetrators. A controversial and stimulating read.”
Mary Fulbrook, University College London

"Kühl’s analysis takes us as step further than Browning’s and Goldhagen’s by emphasizing how state organizations produce results that would be incomprehensible if they were based solely on individual actions and motives."
Augustine Brannigan, Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

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