Cigarette case that saved WWII Jewish man found in mint condition

The cigarette box, made of real silver, had been given to prison director Salomon Hercberg by the Jewish artist Chaim Klieger, who had been imprisoned in the ghetto. Shem Olam International Centre

A silver cigarette case used as a bribe to release a Jewish man from the Łódż ghetto prison during WWII has been found in the home of a Polish man.

The man, who had it in his home for over a decade and originally found it among the ruins of the ghetto, handed it over to the Holocaust educational group The Shem Olam Institute which said it was now being taken to Israel. 

The cigarette box, made of real silver, had been given to prison director Salomon Hercberg by the Jewish artist Chaim Klieger, who had been imprisoned in the ghetto. 

Klieger apparently wanted to release one of his best friends, or to improve his conditions and used the cigarette case to bribe the director.

Engraving Hercberg’s name on one side along with the German name for the ghetto and the Star of David and the word Łódż and the date 1941 on the other, the cigarette case would have been considered something of a luxury item for the period.

Probably considered a luxury item at the time, Klieger engraved Hercberg’s name on one side along with the German name for the ghetto, and the Star of David with the word Łódż and the date 1941 on the other.Shem Olam International Centre

According to the Institute it would certainly have saved the prisoner from certain death. 

Chairman of the Shem Olam International Centre Rabbi Avraham Krieger said: "This is a very special item, one that was not customary at the time, certainly not during World War II. 

“The artist Chaim Klieger decided to give this item as a bribe even though he knew it was an extraordinary work of art, in order to save his friend’s life.

“The fact that the box was kept in such a good condition after so many years, indicates the quality of the material and art. 

Prison director in the Łódż Ghetto Salomon Hercberg was an officer of the Jewish ghetto police. In 1942 he was sent to a Nazi-German extermination camp. Shem Olam International Centre

“Every time we find such an item we feel chills, because it is a reminder of the unpleasant actions and slippery ways that had to be taken to convince Jewish functionaries who were swept up with their status to inappropriate places.”

He added: “This time, because this is a piece of art by a Jewish artist whose works were mostly destroyed during the war, this discovery has a greater value in terms of Jewish heritage and memory.”

Klieger survived the Holocaust and moved to Brazil, where he died in 1956.