Police battalion 101 was a German brigade brought from Hamburg to East Europe with the exclusive mission of killing Jews. They weren't SS members or even Nazi party members, they could even refuse if they found it too distasteful. They were the B-team. Go to the forests, they were told, bring the Jews and don't worry about camps, or ghettos. Just do it right then and there. Please start. And they did – the majority of the victims were women, kids, old rabbis, people like this. We have their names. They were explained their task and 'ordinary' men turned into executioners. When people speak about the facts, they often mention wartime brutalization, racism, segmentation/routinization of the task of killing, the special selection of members, careerism, obedience to orders, ideological indoctrination, conformity.
After the war, they were brought to court and asked to explain what they did and why they did it – many of them tried giving the excuse that they were giving the Jews a quick death, as compared to the horrors they'd face at the hands of Polish anti-semitics. They legit said that.
There were Polish anti-semitics, it must be said. And they were paid to be informers – but there are potentially other incentives for locals to give up Jews. Status under the new regime, for example, or pre-existing hatred. People tried helping Jews escape and when they were caught they were killed along with their families. So folks back then had a choice.
So the thought goes, if reserve police battalion 101 could become killers under such circumstances, what group of people cannot? And you have records of them (again, from Hamburg) going through the Polish forest, finding Jews, hearing them speak Yiddish. Yiddish is quite close to German – in Germany these guys were told that Polish Jews were probably subhuman, incomprehensible, and here they were speaking a kind of German. Enough for hesitation. They were probably still killed anyway.
And then, when all this violence plays itself out, as Clausewitz suggested, then you still have to deal with all the remaining people. Perpetrators too. So do you put them on trial, or were they just following orders? What about the women involved – do they say they were forced to by their husbands? There were some who claimed this – they were seen shooting people for fun (family outing, I suppose). In the Donbas case the Minsk agreement suggests amnesty for people who didn't commit war crimes, but even that document isn't binding. Just push the peace through, some say, just let us stop killing each other. Everything else can wait. Everything else has to wait.
Others worry that amnesty is a kind of forgetting. Others, namely perpetrators, live in fear that the matter will be opened up again. That the lack of loved ones taken away, or limbs, will be a reminder of issues not put to rest. But maybe that's what the next war's for.