It was in 1934, when I was 14 years old, that Hitler decided to hold a plebiscite to enable him to assume additional power in Germany. If you saw the ballot you knew it was a farce. Besides being decorated with Nazi symbols and Hitler’s picture, it featured two circles; one, a very large one, had the word “ja” (yes) written underneath. The other one, considerably smaller, had “nein” (no) below it. Who could miss the message? Where do you think the check was supposed to go?
We voted in our town and that evening the ballots were counted in our old school house. My friends and I were curious about what was happening, so we headed to the basement of the building. Above us was the area where the counting was going on. The boards on the ceiling were loose and far apart so we could follow what was going on above us. We heard one of the officials say that since 14 of the town’s Jews voted, there had to be 14 “nein” votes.
And in the tally, sure enough, there were 14 votes against Hitler. Except that I checked with a Jewish friend of mine who had voted, and he said – “I knew that’s what they’d do, so I voted for Hitler!”
Who of us doesn’t have memorable stories to tell? Excavated from our lives and our personal experiences they are stored away as part of a permanent repository to be summoned when needed. Carefully crafted and honed, they’ve stood the test of time and can be relied upon to entertain and enlighten. That certainly is the case here. My concern is not with the story, but with the storyteller, who in this case had related this same chilling incident to me on numerous occasions.
It’s not unusual. How often are we warned about certain individuals who, given the opportunity and an audience will relate a certain story or two (or more) that has been told many times before? Being forewarned may prompt you to leave the immediate area before he or she gets underway or to engage with someone else and thus be excused from paying attention.
I find such situations awkward. There are times when I’ve chosen to interrupt immediately, informing the person that I’d already heard it. There are, however, other occasions when I’m caught off guard; didn’t see it coming. So he’s off and running before I can stop him. Once underway I’m reluctant to intervene, recognizing his eagerness to relate the story. So I keep silent; pretend I’m hearing it for the first time, then compliment him for a tale well told and worth hearing. And, indeed, some stories do get better in the retelling.