The Cigar Box

A Bit of Nostalgia


Ralph Harpuder

Almost everybody we know had their treasures or some of their personal items stashed away in an old cigar box. And seeing an old cigar box always causes a rush of nostalgic memories.

This was the case when yours truly recently discovered an old eye-catching cigar box, shown in figure one, that was stored among my late stepfather‘s belongings he brought along from the Shanghai ghetto in 1949. He used this cigar box, made from wood, to store all his shaving gear and toiletries, illustrated in figure two, while living in the Heim. The forced close relationships in the Heim, and the limited space for the inmates living together in one room, necessitated proper identification of each personal item. Therefore, his name, and the Heim he was residing at, and the date, was printed with a red indelible pencil on the bottom of the cigar box, shown in figure three.

The original shaving paraphernalia and accessories he brought in his little suit case * from Vienna, and used while living in the Heim, are listed below:

A straight edge razor

An old fashion razor strop

An early Gillette razor blade

A fever thermometer

I remember vividly that cigar box when as a young boy I visited him with my mother in the Heim before he became my stepfather, and how neatly those shaving tools were displayed on a footlocker in front of his bunk bed.

The cigar box that originally contained the “Handmade Long Havana Filled Cigars” is at least sixty-three years old, ascertained from the handwritten date mentioned above. It was also franked by a strip of Chinese tariff labels pasted around the cigar box, which tells us that the cigars were legally imported from another country. Once the cigars arrived, presuming in Shanghai~ they were sold for 13 cents per cigar at the Heim canteen, as crudely marked on the box. This was, of course, in the late 30’s before inflation set in.

In conclusion, I must quote some fitting words that my mother used to utter in German: “Alles lebt länger als der Mensch”. 

*Shown in figure four is a metallic nameplate mounted on a remaining section of the suitcase that my stepfather, Victor Stummer, carried while fleeing from the Nazis. This suitcase had secret compartments between the lining and inside the handle, crafted carefully by my stepfather to hide jewelry and other small precious keepsakes while crossing Nazi checkpoints. Outsmarting the Nazis, the suitcase with the jewelry hidden inside, arrived safely in Shanghai.