The audience, after first cheering their heads off at his arrival, sat hushed and silent, not wanting to make a sound to disturb the speech of their great leader.
But then, someone in the audience let out a loud sneeze. Stalin stopped and looked around for the scoundrel that just disrupted his speech. “Which one of you sneezed?” said Stalin, obviously perturbed.
But everyone is the audience was too paralyzed with fear to say anything.
So Stalin said, “Very well. First row stand up!”, and on that command the whole first row stood at attention.
Then Stalin ordered “Guards! Open fire!” And with that, the guards shot everyone in the entire first row.
“Now,” said Stalin once again, “who sneezed?”
Again, everyone was too afraid to say anything.
Again he ordered, “Second row, stand up! Guards! Open fire!” And now the second row was shot, falling into a great bloody heap.
“Now, who sneezed? Third row….”
“Wait! Wait!” , cried a man in the back of the hall.
The man hurried forward. “Comrade Stalin! It was I! I’m the one who sneezed!”
Stalin glared at the man, “It was you who sneezed?”
The man looked down ashamedly, “Yes, Comrade Stalin.”
Stalin gave the man a nod and a little smile, “Bless you, Comrade!”