Sophie’s choice (plural Sophie’s choices) A choice between two persons or things that will result in the death or destruction of the person or thing not chosen. From the title of the book Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, in which a … Continue reading →
Sophie’s choice (plural Sophie’s choices)
A choice between two persons or things that will result in the death or destruction of the person or thing not chosen.
From the title of the book Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron, in which a mother is forced to decide which of her children will die.
Hobson’s choice (plural Hobson’s choices)
The choice of taking either the primary option or nothing.
After Thomas Hobson (1544-1631) of Cambridge, England, who rented horses and gave his customers the choice of the horse nearest the stable door or no horse at all.
A Morton’s Fork is a specious piece of reasoning in which contradictory arguments lead to the same (unpleasant) conclusion. It is said to originate with the collecting of taxes by John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury in the late 15th century, who held that a man living modestly must be saving money and could therefore afford taxes, whereas if he was living extravagantly then he was obviously rich and could still afford them.
The name comes from the tax-collecting practices of John Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor under Henry VII. He reasoned that anyone who was living extravagantly was rich, and so could afford high taxes, while anyone who was living frugally had saved a lot, and so could afford high taxes. Bear in mind before you get too crazy that this was typically used to keep people well-known to be well-off anyway from trying to weasel their way into not paying; he wasn’t exactly trying to collect from peasants in hovels. Instead, he was trying to get around a then-common excuse for not paying taxes (that is, not having any money to do so) by discounting the proofs used to support the excuse (actual profligacy and feigned poverty). This is often confused with “Hobson’s choice.” Thomas Hobson leased horses, and in order to make sure all got used and exercised, he had customers automatically assigned the one nearest the door rather than let them pick which one they wanted; the customer’s choice was “Take the horse assigned, or don’t get any horse.” A Hobson’s choice is still a choice, because there are still two different results. A Morton’s Fork is a false choice because both options have the same result.
On September 11, 1942, Meir Berliner, an inmate of the Treblinka Extermination Camp, stabbed Unterscharführer Max Bialas to death with a penknife during evening roll-call. The Nizkor Project summarizes:
At the evening roll-call of the prisoners, Max Bialas instructed those who had arrived that same day to line up on the side. It was not clear who was to be liquidated — the new arrivals or those who had arrived earlier. At that moment Berliner jumped out from the ranks of the prisoners, lurched toward Bialas and stabbed him with a knife. A great commotion followed. The Ukranian guards opened fire. Berliner was killed on the spot. and in the course of the shooting more than ten other prisoners were killed and others were wounded. When the tumult subsided the prisoners were lined up again for roll-call. Christian Wirth, who was in Treblinka at the time, arrived on the scene accompanied by Kurt Franz, the second in command of the camp. Ten men were removed from the ranks and shot on the spot in full view of all the others. On the following day, during the morning roll-call, another 150 men were taken out, brought to the Lazarett [the so-called “hospital” which was in fact an execution site] and shot there.
Little is known about Berliner.
According to the testimony of fellow-inmate Abraham Krzepicki, he was a middle-aged Jewish citizen of Argentina who had lived in that country for many years.
He and his wife and young daughter traveled to Poland on vacation in the summer of 1939. They could have picked a better time: when Germany invaded on September 1, 1939, the Berliners were unable to return home. Their Argentine passports should have protected them, but they ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto and were transported to Treblinka. Berliner’s wife and child were gassed immediately, but he was spared to work.
This reprieve would be expected to last days, or a few weeks at the most before he too would go to the gas chamber. Berliner became consumed with rage and the thirst for revenge, supposedly saying, “When the oppressors give me two choices, I always take the third.”
And so he took the first opportunity he could to kill one of his tormentors. As Yitzhak Arad said in his book Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka: The Operation Reinhard Death Camps*: “His was an individual act of heroism and despair.”
As he must have known he would, Berliner died a horrible death — according to Krzepicki, he was beaten to death with a shovel.
Ironically, following Bialas’s murder, conditions for prisoners at Treblinka actually improved.
This was strictly for pragmatic reasons, as Arad noted: “The Jews selected for temporary work were a danger to the Germans, and the Berliner incident had proved it … When people knew they had nothing to lose, an act of despair like that of Meir Berliner could happen again and again.”
Rather than constantly killing and replacing their workers, the Nazis in charge of the camp decided to create a permanent staff of prisoner-workers and treat them with relative humanity. In this way, they hoped to prevent further acts of suicidal violence on the part of the Jews.
The existence of a permanent cadre of workers made it possible to plan and organize a revolt and mass escape from the camp. In August 1943, after months of conspiring and gathering the necessary weapons, the inmates killed most of the guards and made a run for it. About 300 or so actually made it outside of camp; of those, approximately 60 would survive the war.