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Ryan Piurek
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Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2003

World-renowned Holocaust scholar to speak at IU Bloomington

Christopher Browning, one of the world's preeminent Holocaust scholars, will deliver a lecture titled "Decisions for the Final Solution: The Current State of Research in Holocaust Studies" on March 4 at 8 p.m. in Woodburn Hall, Room 120, at Indiana University Bloomington. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Browning, the Frank Porter Graham Professor of History at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, will be visiting IUB as the Class of 1943 Wells Professor. His appearance is being sponsored by the Wells Scholars Program in collaboration with the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program, the Department of History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Browning is the 2002-03 Ina Levine Scholar at the museum's Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.

"Professor Browning is one of the most incisive scholars of the Holocaust," said Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, director of the Borns Jewish Studies Program. "He has written extensively about the perpetrators of this mass murder, their motives and their behavior."

During his visit to Bloomington, Browning will participate in the Wells Senior Seminar, being taught this semester by IUB Chancellor Sharon Brehm. The major text for the class is Browning's book Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (1992). Based on post-World War II interviews with more than 200 members of Reserve Police Battalion 101 in Hamburg, Germany, the book provides a detailed account of the ways in which these men engaged in horrific atrocities against Polish Jews. "Ordinary Men is one of the great social psychological documents of all time, as it forces us to confront the dreadful fact that ordinary people can engage in extraordinary evil," Brehm said. "The book is deeply troubling not only because of what it says about others, but also because it inevitably raises the question about what each one of us would do in similar circumstances. The students and I have discussed Browning's book at great length. We are eager to talk with Browning about his work and his view of human capabilities for good and evil."

In 1993, Browning received the National Jewish Book Award in the Holocaust Category for Ordinary Men, which the Chicago Tribune described as "a staggering and important book, a book that manages without polemic to communicate at least an intimation of the unthinkable." In the book, Browning concluded that the German police officers were not motivated by the ideology or racial hatred that consumes most cold-blooded killers, but, as Rosenfeld explained, "by such common things as peer pressure, loyalty to their superiors, and the desire to advance professionally."

Browning also is the author of Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers (2000); The Path to Genocide (1992); Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution (1985); and The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office (1978). As the Ina Levine Scholar, Browning is examining the factory slave labor camps in Starachowice, Poland, from the perspective of its Jewish inmates, utilizing a rich collection of survivor testimony.

"Professor Browning's research has centered on the question of why human beings periodically abuse one another," said Scott Russell Sanders, director of the Wells Scholars Program and Distinguished Professor of English. "What is it about our societies, ways of life and structures of authority that sometimes lead us into cruel behavior? I can't imagine a timelier question."

Browning received his B.A. degree from Oberlin College in 1967 and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He has given expert witness testimony in several war crimes cases in Canada, Great Britain and Australia.

The Wells Scholars Program is grateful to the Class of 1943 for its generous support of the Wells Professorship. For more information about the lecture, call 812-855-9491.