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Sophie’s Choice

I read Styron’s novel, Sophie’s Choice, when it first came out. I was mesmerized all the way through (and it’s a pretty long book!). I didn’t go to see the movie in the theatre because, knowing the story, at the time, I didn’t want to be depressed. My babies were little and I didn’t think I could handle seeing Sophie make that choice!

A couple of years ago, I bought the movie, but it sat on the shelf for a long time, unwatched until last night when most of us here at SOTT HQ viewed it. I don’t think anyone else here had read the book, so they didn’t know what they were in for.

Ark, my Polish husband left the room about half way through because he just couldn’t stand to be reminded of things that were way too real for him. The rest of us continued to watch, hypnotized by the inexorable unfolding of the tragedy. After it was over, nobody spoke for a very long time. It’s that kind of movie.

However, there is something about the movie that was left out and this “leaving out” suggests that this movie was used as part of the Exclusive Jewish Holocaust propaganda campaign.

You see, the book had a certain emphasis that was excluded from the movie version. In Styron’s novel, he is explicit about the parallels between the Nazi/Jew atrocities and the terrible abuses of the American South against Black Americans. This was an important theme – the universality of suffering – that he then developed more fully by making Sophie, a NON-Jew, the center of the story.

In the novel, the suffering of the Jews IS discussed, but it is made quite clear that Hitler’s main target was the Slavs. He carefully makes his case that the Holocaust is NOT an exclusively Jewish experience or tragedy.

The fact is, 6 million Polish citizens were killed by the Nazis, and only half of them were Jews. The other three million victims were Polish Christians and Catholics. For the Nazis, the Poles were, in fact, the First Target:

“All Poles will disappear from the world…. It is essential that the great German people should consider it as its major task to destroy all Poles.” (Heinrich Himmler)

Hitler quickly took control of Poland by specifically targeting and eliminating the Polish Intelligentsia. One of the means of control of large masses of people, used by all totalitarian regimes down through history, has been to destroy the intelligentsia – the educated classes. (This can be done either by killing them, or, in the case of the U.S. at present, simply downgrade the education system until there is no one left who can think).

The Germans considered the Poles to be an inferior race as they did other Slavic nations. So, according to the plan, the Poles were to be sorted according to strictly racist criteria. Those Poles with German ancestry were to be reclassified as ethnic Germans. The transformation of Poland into a German province was to be carried out over a short period of twenty-five or thirty years. Hence, no mercy was to be shown to this population. And, to guarantee the success of this fast despoliation, the intelligentsia was to be liquidated. “It sounds cruel, ” Hitler reportedly told Hans Frank, “but such is the law of life.”

Through restrictions on marriages, lowering of sanitary conditions, reduction of food supply, and the removal of hundreds of thousands of able bodied men for labor in Germany, a biological campaign was carried out to bring about a sharp reduction of the Polish population. Polish children with strong Aryan characteristics were forcibly taken from their families and sent to Germany for “re-Germanization.”

The Polish language was banned, and Polish towns and cities were given German names. In the Eastern Zamosc region, some 110,000 Poles were evacuated from villages and replaced with 25,000 German colonists.

In other words, the whole of Poland was to be treated as a concentration camp.

During the next few years, millions of other Polish citizens were rounded up made slaves for German farmers and factories or taken to concentration camps where they were either starved and worked to death or used for scientific experiments.

The Jews in Poland were forced inside ghettos, but the non-Jews were made prisoners in the concentration camps very early, as well as inside their own country. No one was allowed out.

That’s what Sophie’s Choice was about, mainly: the suffering of the Poles, and Sophie exemplified this suffering. But this major theme has been completely lost in the movie version.

Nathan, the “spokesman for the Jews” in the novel, is a paranoid schizophrenic which might be considered a subtle way to portray the “paranoid” nature of the Jewish claim for Holocaust exclusivity. Entwined with the major theme of the book is Nathan’s inability to cope with the fact that Sophie, a Polish-Catholic, experienced horrifying sufferings that were claimed to be exclusively Jewish.

The monstrous decision that Sophie is forced to make (sometimes idiomatically used as way of describing a choice between two unbearable options, a “Sophie’s Choice”), is not even fully portrayed in the film version. In the novel, Sophie describes the fussing and whining and crying of her daughter who was sick with an untreated ear infection prior to being forced to make the choice. It is suggested that her choice was partly influenced by her irritation at the child which makes it all the more monstrous.

Meryl Streep gives a fabulous performance as do Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol. All three are perfect for their roles. The movie is only slightly slow, but still manages to carry the viewer along. But, it could have been a better movie if the nuances of Sophie’s choice as well as the primary themes of the book had been included. These elements would have made it stupendous instead of just excellent.

All through the book and movie, Sophie faces choices – as do all of us in our current reality – and in every instance, she chooses from a position of illusion of safety and fear, and it seems to be suggested that when she chooses, someone dies as a consequence of her choice.

For example, after her father and her husband have been taken by the Nazis (at that point, you would think that Sophie would have realized that there was no rationality to Nazism since her father and husband were supporters of the Nazis and died anyway), she has a lover, Józef, who, with his half-sister, Wanda, is a member of the Polish Resistance. They ask Sophie to translate some stolen Gestapo documents, but fearing she might get into trouble, she refuses. Two weeks later, Józef is murdered by the Gestapo. One gets the impression that if Sophie had helped, this might not have happened, but that is uncertain. It is only a short time later that Sophie is arrested and sent to Auschwitz with her children. So, again, holding back, acting out of fear for the self, trying to protect the self, is not seen to be a good choice.

When Sophie is in line at Auschwitz, she again tries to save herself and her children by telling a doctor that she is a good catholic, a supporter of the Reich, etc. Even though she is pretending to support the Nazis out of fear for herself and her children, and trying to save them, it is this act that precipitates the terrible choice. There is clearly no humanity in the Nazi mentality and that is something that Sophie never seems to grasp. She continues to think that they are normal humans, that they can be reasoned with, their consciences appealed to, when it is clear they are psychopaths and have no consciences at all. This occurs again in her interactions with camp commandant Hess. She refuses to help the Resistance in the first case mentioned above, and then again, in the prison camp where she is asked to steal a radio. She caves in to her fears again and pretends to be a Nazi supporter to try to save herself and her son, the result is nothing: her son dies anyway. Had she concentrated on helping the Resistance in both cases, it is entirely possible that, even if her children were not saved, and even if she, herself, were killed, others might have been saved by courageous acts.

But Sophie has no courage. She is little more than a bundle of neurotic fears and emotions, floundering around in a world gone mad like a fish out of water.

And so it is for so many today. It is a movie well worth watching or re-watching just to get the full impact of what is happening in our world and what will be a consequence of either inaction or selling out for the sake of peace and safety. It is also an excellent way to get the full impact of the psychopathic reality that is being created all around us by witnessing Sophie’s interactions with the Nazis.

Again and again Sophie makes the wrong choices until, after it is way too late, finally, Sophie seems to understand that saving herself isn’t worth what she has paid with the coin of her soul. She returns to the deadly embrace of her Jewish lover who, in his paranoid schizophrenia, takes both their lives.

Perhaps a prophetic lesson for our own times.

Originally Published 2008_02_17