„A Generation after Christopher Browning’s "Ordinary Men" -Perspectives of new Police Perpetrator Research and Holocaust Education“.

Peter Römer Announcement
Subject Fields
German History / Studies, Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, Human Rights

International Conference: Münster, Germany, October 29th to 31st

Registration: Mail to anmeldung@facingpoliceandholocaust.org from June 24th to July 1st.

Fee: 25 Euros.


Talking about Holocaust History: „Perpetrator Research“, Didactic Mediation Strategies and Ethical Consequences Today


25 years ago, Christopher R. Browning's groundbreaking book "Ordinary Men" was published. His work on the Reserve Police Battalion 101 caused a sensation in Germany not only in science but also in the media; even the influential news magazine “Der Spiegel” did a cover story on it. The uniformed police then came into the spotlight as an essential group of perpetrators in the Holocaust. In German media and research as well as within the context of historical culture (Geschichtskultur), "normal" men came to be seen as "mur-derers in green uniforms". Instead of „friends and helpers", they were regarded as executioners and the "infantry of the final solution". With Daniel Goldhagen's book "Hitler´Willing Executioners", published in 1996, the police became known worldwide as the key organization in the implementation of the Holocaust. One issue remained the focal point of all discussions about police perpetrators: what were the motives of the police? Did they murder for racist and ideological reasons, did situational factors come into play or can their actions be explained by the structure of their´ organization?

Henceforth, groundbreaking publications, new museums and exhibitions advanced the research on perpe-trators. New research on perpetrators (“Neue Täterforschung”) began to develop and is still developing into a scientific discipline. The historical place “Villa ten Hompel” in Münster, founded in 1999, was the first memorial site that focused on the Ordnungspolizei as a criminal organization in its 2001 permanent exhibition "Im Auftrag" („On behalf of“). At the same time, the memorial also developed pedagogical programs for visitors like pupils, students, police officers and other occupational groups. This process continued with the new permanent exhibition "History - Violence - Conscience" in 2015. In Germany, numerous regional projects followed as well as the central exhibition "Order and Destruction" in the German Historical Muse-um Berlin in 2011. In addition, the new perpetrator research brought about a general change of perspective in memorial sites. In German but also Polish, American and Israeli Holocaust memorials, the widespread focus on victims’ perspectives was expanded to include research and exhibitions on perpetrators in the sphere of influence of the police as well as in concentration and extermination camps.

The research on perpetrators around Himmler's power apparatus of police and SS associations focused on stimulating discourse-oriented research and didactics exploring Browning's core question: How can average men be turned into mass murderers and – if policemen can indeed be regarded as "normal" men – did the “mainstream of society” contribute to the Holocaust to a significant extent?

But there is also a second dimension to Browning's core question that is just as fundamental as it builds a bridge from history to the present. The reasons that Browning highlights on the basis of his research as to why people become mass murderers are determined by the contemporary setting and circumstances. Still, if we assume that the (exclusively male) personnel of the "normal" uniformed police was and is a mirror image of German society, the following crucial question implicitly arises: how manageable and easy to se-duce are majority societies today? We do not want to ask whether certain occupational groups in today’s Germany or Europe could be formed into mass murderers. But the ongoing shift in what can be said and be accepted should be taken into account – especially viewed in the context of the current global phenome-non of right-wing populism enforcing stereotypical views that result in a misconduct towards social minori-ties and dissidents.

“Perpetrator research” around police and the SS has not lost its relevance and, what is more, this year marks the 25 year old milestone of "Ordinary Men" as well as the 20th anniversary of the memorial “Villa ten Hompel” in Münster. We would like to seize the opportunity to take stock with an international confer-ence and to develop perspectives for future research and pedagogical strategies. With reference to Brown-ing's work, the conference will serve to 1) discuss current interpretations of Holocaust historiography and “perpetrator research”, 2) reflect on innovative methodological perspectives and approaches to sources, and 3) discuss the relevance of pedagogical concepts in the sense of a human rights-based "Holocaust edu-cation" for the 21st century.

During the conference, Browning's scientific achievements will be honored with a public ceremony in the Festsaal of Münster’s Historical Town on the occasion of his 75th birthday, and Christopher R. Browning himself will review his research "25 years later".

The international conference is interdisciplinary in its subject matter, including approaches to history, cul-ture, and history didactics. It aims to bring together protagonists in research and pedagogy and an interest-ed audience from academia, civil society, and the police in order to discuss the balance and perspectives of “perpetrator research” and the ethical consequences of this research today.

Conference languages are German and English. Simultaneous translation will be provided.

Tuesday, October 29th (Villa ten Hompel)


10-12 am: Arrival and insights into the permanent exhibition "History - Violence - Conscience" at the Villa ten Hompel


12.00 - 13.30 h: Kick-off

    • Research and Education about Ordinary Policemen, Ordinary Germans and the Victims of National Socialism at the historical site Villa ten Hompel (Thomas Köhler, Münster)
    • Why should we learn about the Holocaust and perpetrators? (Thomas Krüger, Bonn)
  • „Living Democracy“ as a Challenge for the 21st Century (Maria Springenberg-Eich, Düsseldorf)
  • Bureaucratic “Gehorsamkeit”, Peer Pressure, Bottom-up Iinitiatives: Ordinary People and the Successful Implementation of anti-Jewish Policies (Dan Michman, Jerusalem)


- until 14 h: coffee + snacks


14 - 16.30: Panel 1: Perspectives on Perpetrators and Victims in the National Socialist War of Extermination

  • Chair: Alfons Kenkmann (Münster /Leipzig)
  • "Perpetrators" - In the Perception of Research and Society after the Holocaust (Dieter Pohl, Klagenfurt)
  • "Victims" - In the Perception of War and Violence in Modernity (Svenja Goltermann, Zurich)
  • Consuming the holocaust: "Bystanders" as heroes of the media (Wulf Kansteiner, Aarhuis)


17-19.30: Panel 2: Police and Perpetrators in a European Perspective

  • Chair: Patrick Wagner (Halle-Wittenberg)
  • A European Geography of (Sexual) Violence? Alcohol, Police-Masculinity, Mass Murder (Edward B. Westermann, San Antonio)
  • The German Police and the Polish Resistance in the Generalgouvernement: Ghettos, Deportations, Aktion Rheinhardt (Włodzimierz Borodziej, Warsaw)
  • „Mass Murder and Mutiny“: Police Battalions and their European Helpers in the Eastern War (Stefan Klemp, Dortmund/Münster)
  • come together and buffet

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019 (historical town hall)


10.00-10:45 a.m.: Reception by Markus Lewe, Mayor of Münster and vice-President of the German Association of Cities at the historical Friedenssaal in the Historical Town Hall

10.45 - 11 a.m.: Coffee break


11 - 13.30 Panel 3: Grey areas of (co-)perpetratorship

Chair: Martin Cüppers (Ludwigsburg/Stuttgart)

  • Jewish „Ordnungsdienst" in the Ghettos of Litzmannstadt, Warsaw and Wilna (Svenja Bethke, Leicester)
  • The Dutch police during the German occupation between resistance and collaboration (Guus Meershoek, Twente)
  • The Gestapo in Spain: Collaboration of the German Police with Franco´s Regime and the Persecution of Jews (Patrick Bernhard, Oslo)


15 - 17.30 Panel 4: Tracing: Multi-perspective source accesses

Chair: Mechthild Black-Veldtrup (Münster)

  • "Aktion 1005" - Removal of traces of NS mass crimes 1942-45 (Andrej Angrick, Hamburg)
  • Gender and Perpetrator Testimonies (Wendy Lower, Washington D.C.)
  • On the trail of the last perpetrators. Approaches and experiences from the perspective of the criminal investigator and public prosecutor (Stefan Willms, Düsseldorf and Andreas Brendel, Dortmund)


17.30-18.30: Fingerfood


19.00: Christopher Browning on his 75th birthday (in the Historical Town Hall Festival Hall)


  • Opening speech: Cornelia Wilkens (Münster)
  • Welcoming speech: State Secretary Klaus Kaiser (Düsseldorf)
  • Laudatio for Christopher R. Browning: Norbert Frei (Jena)
  • A Generation after Ordinary men: Probing Perpetration and Holocaust in the 21th Century (Christopher Browning, Chapel Hill)

Music: Choir of the Gymnasium Paulinum Münster



Thursday, October 31st, 2019 (historical town hall)


09 - 11.30: Panel 5: Holocaust Education and Human Rights


Chair:  Mirjam Zadoff (Munich)


  • The Universalization of the Holocaust as a Moral Standard? (Thomas Pegelow Chaplain, North Carolina)
  • Role model or phase-out model? Discussion of police perpetration in memorial sites and educating police forces in Germany today (Peter Römer, Münster)
  • The next Chapter: family members of Holocaust survivors to speak about their family's history (Alexis Herr, San Francisco)
  • Righteous Among the Nations with Police Background (Joel Zisenwine, Yad Vashem)
  • 11.30 12 Uhr: coffee break


12 – 13.30 Uhr: Round Table Diskussion: „Perpetrator Research“, Didactic Mediation Strategies and Ethical Consequences Today


Chair: Sabine Mecking (Marburg)

  • Christopher Browning (Chapel Hill)
  • Yariv Lapid  (Washington D.C.)
  • Christoph Spieker (Münster)
  • Sybille Steinbacher (Frankfurt a.M.)
  • Dervis Hizarci (Berlin)
  • Elke Gryglewski (Berlin)


Concept: Thomas Köhler, Peter Römer, Christoph Spieker, Simon Lengemann, Hans Wupper-Tewes

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Peter Römer

Geschichtsort Villa ten Hompel

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