Shipka Memorial

Shpika 1877 Cigarette Pack
Russian Jewish Soldiers YIVO
Benjamin Freiman (right) from Marijampol (now in Lithuania) and another Jewish soldier in the tsarist army, Kronstadt, Russia, ca. 1890s. Photograph by U. Ia. Iakovlev (YIVO)

Family lore has it that two of the Fruman boys, my great-great-great uncles, fought in the Tsarist Army. By law, every Jewish community had to send a percentage of its boys to the army. Life  was brutal, and remaining Jewish was a challenge, especially when military service took the men far from any Jewish communities. The Fruman boys, I’m told, fought as far afield as Manchuria and Korea – we think they originally hailed from Yekaterinaslav (Diepropetrovsk) in Ukraine. While defending and growing the Empire, these soldiers built nationalist ideologies that helped fuel the political and economic modernization of Eurasia.


Later generations fondly recalled the great achievements of their military ancestors. Bulgarians erected the Monument to Freedom along Shipka Pass to commemorate the Russian soldiers who defended Bulgaria from their Turkish overlords in 1877. By holding the Turks away from this critical passage through the Balkan Mountains, the soldiers helped the rest of the army press the advantage all the way to Constantinople. Despite British opposition, the Russians succeeded in creating an autonomous state in Bulgaria supported by Russian military might and political power.

The Defence of the Eagle’s Nest in the Battle for Shipka Pass.
Alexey Nikola’evich Popov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Depicted on a Russian cigarette pack, the impressive Monument to Freedom matches the immensity of the battle, in which some 7,500 defenders (5,500 Bulgarians and 2,000 Russians) held the pass against 38,000 Turks. The structure resembles a medieval Bulgarian fortress. At 31.5m high, it towers over the surrounding fields and trees that cover the mountain. At its base, a bold bronze lion – symbol of Bulgarian sovereignty – guards the gate against would-be oppressors.

Shipka Memorial, by Klearchos Kapoutis [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
At the center of the fortress sits a marble sarcophagus, containing some of the defenders’ remains, resting on the backs of four lions. Two stone soldiers – a Russian and a Bulgarian – stand side-by-side guarding the sarcophagus for eternity. (See some beautiful photographs of the monument at



Cookie Jar – From R. R. Tobin to A. A. Milne

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet Take a Cigarette Break

Of all the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Woods, I suspect Owl would be the most likely to develop a smoking habit, puffing on a pipe packed with sweetly flavored tobacco, probably cherry berry.

Actually, Gopher would probably smoke too, but he’s not in the book you know.

But if you cured some tobacco with a honey run smell and marketed it with the brand name “Cookie Jar,” I think Pooh Bear might be tempted…

Continue reading Cookie Jar – From R. R. Tobin to A. A. Milne

JONNY Spielt Auf – Cigarettes Against Hitler

Jonny Cigarettes - Austria

The end of World War I broke the Austro-Hungarian Empire apart and years of political and economic disarray, culminating in the Anschluss of 1938 that united Austria with Nazi Germany.

But this period also witnessed great cultural growth. Austrian respect for the arts was sufficiently strong for a ground-breaking opera, Jonny Spielt Auf (Jonny Plays), to earn its own cigarette brand, known simply as Jonny. Of course, back when Jonny hit the scenes in 1925-1926, you could probably still smoke in the opera house. Today, most opera-goers have to stand outside the building to smoke, so they’d do better checking out the opera on YouTube.

Czech-Austrian composer Ernst Křenek incorporated Jazz and Blues elements into the score, along with an assortment of mundane sounds like loudspeakers and alarm bells. Not your typical Mozart and Haydn composition – Křenek wanted to infuse Austrian culture with energy from the New World.

Cover of Musical Score for Jonny Spiel Auf. By graphic design: Arthur Stadler (1892-1937) (Andrea1903) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By graphic design: Arthur Stadler (1892-1937) (Andrea1903) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading JONNY Spielt Auf – Cigarettes Against Hitler

The Kaiser in Arab Headdress

Senoussi Cigarettes

One snowy morning in World War I Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm II was fed up with the cold and the seemingly-stalemated war. “Which of our allies has the warmest climate? Where does Mexico stand?”

“It seems,” replied his American Affairs adviser, “as though our negotiations with El Guapo fell through after Ned Nederlander shot one of our agents.”

“What!?! That shrimp from Hollywood… I didn’t know he was an American agent.”

“Nederlander’s friends, Lucky Day and Dusty Bottoms, also American agents from Hollywood, then proceeded to wipe out El Guapo’s forces and stole all the rifles and tequila we’d sent them.”

“We paid good money for those guns. Oh well, just like the Western Front. Who else has a warm climate?”

“Your highness’ friends among the Senoussi brotherhood are still fighting the Italians in the Libyan desert. A little dry, but warm.”

“Sounds delightful! We must visit them immediately.”

His advisers were all too happy to shed their winter uniforms, so they visited the Grand Senoussi. In diplomatic fashion, donned the flowing red-and-white capes and rimmed headdresses of their allies. For a final touch, they armed themselves with long Arab rifles and posed for a photo-op.

Senoussi Cigarettes

Years after the war collapsed and Hitler came and went, a lonely student of history in Berlin named Franz Kopfschmuck took a job as a graphic designer in a Berlin tobacco company. Charged with finding a cigarette brand name that recalled a happier era in German culture, he sifted through his textbooks until he stumbled upon the Senoussi revolt against the Italians in World War I.

Read about the Senoussi Campaign.

Intrigued, he couldn’t recall any notes about the Senoussi in General March’s lauded History of the World War. Reading further, he discovered that the Kaiser had encouraged the Senoussi – a political movement begun decades earlier as a Sufi brotherhood – to fight the Italians. On one of the Entente’s few Arab World achievements, the Senoussi revolt had helped keep untold numbers of British and French troops tied up in North Africa for much of the war. Some years later, the Senoussi even gained sovereignty over Libya! And to think Germany had helped them along the way.

Senussi going to fight English in Egypt (circa 1915).
Senussi going to fight English in Egypt (circa 1915). By Bain News Service, publisher [Public domain], Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons.
At the end of the chapter, Franz stumbled across one of the photographs from the photo-op. With some artistic flair, he transformed the black-and-white photograph into a stunning cigarette cover, which graces the pack displayed above. Pleased by his work, the cigarette manufacturer gave Franz enough pay to complete his studies, though he soon disappeared into the thick of German academia.

Disclaimer: I like to write fiction occasionally, though the impact of the Senoussi Campaign in WWI is a matter of historical record. I’m grateful to the designer of this German pack – perhaps his name really was Franz – for encouraging me to learn more about the Libyan front in the war that was supposed to end all wars.

For further reading on the Senoussi campaign, check out:

(1) David Olusoga’s The World’s War (Head of Zeus, 1914).

(2) Hew Strachan’s The First World War: Volume 1: To Arms (OUP, Oxford, 2001).