"Papirosn" (Yiddish: פּאַפּיראָסן, transl. Cigarettes) is a Yiddish song that was written in the 1920s.[1] The song tells the story of a Jewish boy who sells cigarettes to survive on the streets. He depicts his tragic fate; having lost his parents, his younger sister has died on the bench,[2] and eventually he loses his own hope.[3]

Original cover
External video
video icon "Papirosn" by Dudu Fisher, YouTube video

The song's author Herman Yablokoff was a member of the Yiddish theater that was active in Lithuania and Poland in the years following World War I. He was inspired by children who tried to make a living selling cigarettes in the streets.[2] The sight of the children reminded him of his childhood in World War I in Grodno, where he tried selling cigarettes to passers-by.[2]

Yablokoff went to the United States in 1924; the song was published in an American radio program in Yiddish in 1932 and became a hit as part of a musical of the same name that premiered in 1935. Many music sheets of the song were sold.[4] A silent movie in which Sidney Lumet played the Jewish boy was made.[5]

"Papirosn" was later amended to mirror the tribulations of the Holocaust in the ghettos of Poland and Lithuania.[1] The song was used as a base for many Holocaust songs in the Lodz and Vilna Ghettos, among others.[6] Shmerke Kaczerginski found two alternate versions of the song, both of which share the tune of the original but have different stories:[7] One version was written by Yankele Hershkowitz, a famous street singer from the Lodz Ghetto; it follows the story of the original song but tells a story about ration coupons in the Ghetto.[3] The other version, written by Jewish poet Rikle Glezer,[8] describes the Ponary massacre. An additional version from the Warsaw Ghetto makes a direct allusion to the original but the boy sells ghetto black bread instead of cigarettes.[3] There have been other versions of the song, including non-Yiddish versions.[3]

The song was not officially prohibited in the Soviet Union but it was usually played at private events—it was seldom allowed to be played in public because it was argued that the lyrics were not about Soviet Jews.[2]

The melody of the song was first documented as an “unnamed melody” recorded in 1929 by Russian ethnomusicologist Moisei Beregovsky (track 25 of Historical Collection of Jewish Musical Folklore 1912-1947 Vol 6).[9] It was also published in 1920 by Abe Schwartz as “Freilach #317”.[10] It is nearly identical to the Bulgarian folksong Аз съм Гошо Хубавеца ("I am Gosho, the handsome one").[11]


  1. ^ a b "Papirosn". web.nli.org.il. Retrieved June 18, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Shternshis, Anna (2006). Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939. Indiana University Press. p. 131. ISBN 0253218411.
  3. ^ a b c d Adler, Eliyana R. (July 12, 2006). "No Raisins, No Almonds: Singing as Spiritual Resistance to the Holocaust". Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies. 24 (4): 50–66. doi:10.1353/sho.2006.0078. ISSN 1534-5165. S2CID 170966198.
  4. ^ Jewish Companion Bk Cd. Hal Leonard Corporation. 2002. ISBN 9781928918240.
  5. ^ Strom, Yale (2011). The Book of Klezmer: The History, the Music, the Folklore. Chicago Review Press. ISBN 9781613740637.
  6. ^ Rosen, Alan (November 14, 2013). Literature of the Holocaust. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107008656.
  7. ^ Flam, Gila; פלם, גילה (1993). "משמעות הקונטרפקט בשירים ביידיש מימי השואה / The Meaning of Contrafact in Yiddish Songs of the Holocaust". Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies / דברי הקונגרס העולמי למדעי היהדות. יא: 267–274. JSTOR 23537932.
  8. ^ ORT, World. "Music and the Holocaust". holocaustmusic.ort.org. Retrieved June 28, 2018.
  9. ^ Beregovski, Moisei. Historical Collection of Jewish Musical Folklore 1912-1947: The First Folklore Expeditions of Moisei Beregovskii 1929-1930 (Kiev, Odessa, Belaia Tserkov, Slavuta). Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  10. ^ Kandel, Harry. "Freilachs nos. 238, 316 and 317". Notated Music. Library of Congress. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  11. ^ [1]: "In his book _Bulgarski gradski pesni_ (_Bulgarian Urban Songs_, Sofia, 1968), the noted Bulgarian folklorist Professor Nikolai Kaufman includes a song called 'Az sum Gosho khubavetsa' ('I am Gosho, the Handsome One').... [T]he melody of the Bulgarian song is nearly identical to that of 'Papirosn.' Although Professor Kaufman recorded the song from an informant in 1965, he indicates that it goes back to about 1918. In the introduction to his book Professor Kaufman cites the song as an example of songs song to Romanian urban melodies and popularized in Bulgaria by the circus _kupletist_ [singer of (usually satirical) cabaret songs] Dzhib, whose real name was Iakob Goldshtain. "In response to a letter from me asking him about the Bulgarian song, Prof. Kaufman writes that his informants mention 1922 or 1925 as the time when Dzhib popularized 'Az sum Gosho khubavetsa.' They all agree, however, that by 1932 (when Yablokoff started singing 'Papirosn' on the radio in New York) the song had been displaced in Bulgaria by new songs. (Prof. Kaufman adds that the melody is still used as a folkdance tune in northern Bulgaria, where it is considered to be a Bulgarian folk- song.)"