Sophie’s Choice at the Border

Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice


So Kirstjen Nielsen, the face of child separation, kids in cages, and tear-gassed immigrants, has been fired for being too soft. Now the president and white nationalist Steve Miller (and yes, you can be a Jewish white nationalist) want to present immigrants seeking asylum with a Sophie’s choice:

 Under a binary choice policy, which is highly controversial, migrant parents would be given a choice of whether to voluntarily allow their children to be separated from them, or to waive their child’s humanitarian protections so the family can be detained together, indefinitely, in jail-like conditions.

As a reminder, here’s the relevant passage in Styron’s novel: 

“You may keep one of your children.”
“Bitte?” said Sophie.
“You may keep one of your children,” he repeated. “The other one will have to go. Which one will you keep?”
“You mean, I have to choose?”
“You’re a Polack, not a Yid. That gives you a privilege—a choice.”
Her thought processes dwindled, ceased. Then she felt her legs crumple. “I can’t choose! I can’t choose!” She began to scream. Oh, how she recalled her own screams! Tormented angels never screeched so loudly above hell’s pandemonium. “Ich kann nich wahlen!” she screamed.
The doctor was aware of unwanted attention. “Shut up!” he ordered. “Hurry now and choose. Choose, goddamnit, or I’ll send them both over there. Quick!”
She could not believe any of this. She could not believe that she was now kneeling on the hurtful, abrading concrete, drawing her children toward her so smotheringly tight that she felt that their flesh might be engrafted to her even through layers of clothes. Her disbelief was total, deranged. It was disbelief reflected in the eyes of the gaunt, waxy-skinned young Rotten-fuhrer, the doctor’s aide, to whom she inexplicably found herself looking upward in supplication. He appeared stunned, and he returned her gaze with a wide-eyed baffled expression, as if to say: I can’t understand this either.
“Don’t make me choose,” she heard herself plead in a whisper. “I can’t choose.”

In the novel, Sophie survives Auschwitz but descends into alcoholism, depression, and a masochistic relationship with a schizophrenic, with whom she eventually commits suicide. How the already traumatized asylum seekers will respond to Trump’s policies remains to be seen.

We know, however, that what happens to the doctor could happen to America: he loses his soul.

Previous Blog Posts on Trump’s Immigration Policies

Nourish the Refugee Angels

The Snow Queen and Child Snatching

Whitman Would Embrace Trump’s Victims

Silko: Light and Dark Wrestle for America’s Souls

Adrienne Rich Keeps Immigrants Human

GOP Is Lonesome Dove’s Jake Spoon

Welcome, Stranger, to This Place

America As a Mixed Nut Bowl

Strangers Are Guides from Beyond

Imagining the Poor as Breeders

Thomas Mann on Nationalists’ Faustian Bargain

Goethe on Trump’s Faustian Bargain: Stop Caring

Trump Policy Is Oliver Twist Redux

The GOP and Trump’s Modest Proposals

Trump, Clifton, and Immigrants as Animals

Happiness Based on Another’s Oppression

DACA Kids Back to the Shadows

The Synergy between the Statue of Liberty and the Lazarus Poem

A Fascist Novel and Immigration Policy

Immigrants Face a Sophie’s Choice

Langston Hughes Dreams the Real American Dream

Our Version of Plague-Maddened Villagers

Trump’s Crusoe Wall Also Goes Up in Airports

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