Rape, Concentration Camps and the Trolley Problem

Situational Ethics on a Personal and Societal Level

Shefali O'Hara
4 min readJul 30, 2019


Choices by Shefali O’Hara

I recently posted a moral problem on Facebook. Someone I thought was a friend became angry, called me a racist and blocked me.

What horrible sin did I commit?

I posted honestly. Here is what I wrote. You can read it and let me know what you think…

“Relative morality: It’s wrong to lie. But it’s worse to allow an innocent person to die, so of course you should lie to the Nazis about the Jew hiding in your basement. So far so good.

“But what if the Jew is not “innocent” — what if he’s a thief? What if he’s stolen from you personally? I would contend — you still lie. But what if he’s a murderer?”

“Yes, I am a weird person who thinks of this stuff sometimes before I have my coffee. And, just to clarify — it’s never OK to cooperate with Nazis.”

Looking over what I posted — other friends got where I was going. One buddy pointed out that it was basically a re-statement of the Trolley problem.

So why did I post this? To point out that there are shades of gray and life involves tough choices. And that a just law protects not just the innocent, but also the guilty.

As a corollary, just because someone is unjustly persecuted does not mean that person is an innocent.

The Nazis sent many people to their death. They started off by killing disabled children. Parents allowed their children to be taken, thinking they’d be getting treatment. Some of these poor babies were starved to death. The death of these innocents breaks our hearts.

The Nazis went on to expand the groups they targeted. Poles, Jews, Catholic resistors, Gypsies…. Some of those people might not have been “nice” or “good” people. But even the worst of them did not deserve to be summarily executed simply for an accident of birth.

Even if a person is a murderer, he or she deserves a trial in a court, not to be thrown into a concentration camp.

Why did I post what I did?

Because so often people justify abuse by claiming the person being abused is not really innocent, so they…



Shefali O'Hara

Cancer survivor, writer, engineer. BSEE from MIT, MSEE, and MA in history. Love nature, animals, books, art, and interesting discussions.