When three prisoners escape from Auschwitz, 10 others are selected for execution.
Sturmbannführer Karl Breitner makes a magnanimous gesture. Instead of ordering that the 10 inmates be immediately executed in reprisal for the successful escape, he has them marched to the secluded wash house, barricaded in, and given 24 hours to decide which one of them shall be shot. Then he returns to his rooms to play chess with his young son, Felix, while the prisoners debate who shall die. Their first choice succumbs to disease before his name can be given to the Kommandant. Their second choice, desperate to save himself from their vote, crashes through the wash-house window and is shot as he is trying to escape, rendering himself ineligible as the group’s choice. They’re replaced by an SS officer condemned for insubordination and the wife of one of the captives, who not only never forgave her husband for thwarting efforts to save their daughter, but also turned to the arms of a colleague who’s also incarcerated. Meanwhile, Breitner’s chess game goes on. To amuse his son, he gives each of the pieces on the game board the name of one of the prisoners. Then he shortens the time the prisoners have to reach a decision. The prisoners continue to argue on their own behalf, until Moishe Sirovich, inmate 76.723, realizes that they must act together to have any chance of survival. The diversion they plan saves some, buries others, relieves the Sturmbannführer of his post, and sends Felix to security in Argentina.
Not by any means as emotionally draining as Sophie’s Choice, but highly effective on its own terms.