In 1932, the German people went to the polls to choose between Hitler and President Hindenburg, the incumbent. My parents were afraid to vote in their small home community where the citizens all knew each other by name. They feared reprisal because they could easily have been identiﬁed as anti-Nazi voters. As a family, we drove to a distant, larger town, where my mother and father voted. They took clean handkerchiefs with them into the booth and after voting used them to carefully wipe their hands because it was rumored that the Nazis had put chalk on the pencils used for voting: red chalk if you voted for Hitler, white for Hindenburg. The political bent of the person who exited the voting booth could be identiﬁed by the color of their hand.
My two sisters and I waited in the car while my parents voted. We did not speak. We were terriﬁed without knowing why. An atmosphere of danger and secrecy held us in its grip as we watched the Nazi guards in their brown uniforms with the swastika armbands march up and down in front of the voting booth. Warily, we drove away when my mother and father ﬁnished. I noticed that they sent frequent glances into the rearview mirror to reassure themselves that no one was following us. I did not understand why my parents risked being apprehended just to cast their ballot. In the car, on the way home, my father undoubtedly talked to us about voting, its imperfections, about consensus and politics. I do not recall any of that. I only recall my parents’ civic courage and brave dedication in their attempt to save Germany from disaster by casting their vote, inviting imprisonment. As Jews, this was the last time they voted —to make their voices heard, as German citizens.
I vividly remember the ﬁrst time I voted as an American citizen in 1948—Thomas Dewey versus Harry Truman. This was the election when all the predictions were wrong and the newspapers had to revise their headlines: Truman, not Dewey, won. After I closed the black curtain of the booth and punched the buttons, I had to pull a lever to record my vote. I was awed by what this simple gesture implied: I was responsible to my country, to the world, for inﬂuencing the outcome of the election. In the privacy of the curtained space, I burst into tears, grateful that I was permitted to record my opinion without fear of retribution and that my vote would be counted among millions to determine the political future which American citizens would accept. When I left the voting booth, no soldiers in uniform were visible; no swastikas were in sight. I was safe. My vote was secret. No one knew or wanted to know whom I voted for.