November, and Fonfon has caught his hand in one of the machines. Riri writes that the damage is not too serious and no bones are broken but it is a deep wound on the back of his brother’s right hand and so he is off work for the next ten days. Two weeks later Fonfon is able to write to Toutou, although he is still on sick leave whilst the wound heals. “The accident insurance covers everything and I’m paid almost as much to do nothing as if I was at work. So the longer it takes to heal the better!”
There is nothing much to report, bar the fact that he has finally managed to recuperate his passport. This has obviously been an administrative hassle, although it is not clear why the police were holding the passport. At any rate he is pleased to have it, just in case they are allowed back to France on leave. Riri is hopeful but Fonfon is not too optimistic on that score, only a small minority are allowed the privilege he says. He’s waiting for “permanent leave” and there he is more optimistic than his brother. Riri thinks they will have to wait until the spring for the war to be over but “I stubbornly persist in the belief that it will end this winter.”
He says, half jokingly, that unfortunately the potato ration has diminished. “It would not be so bad if there was anything else, but potatoes are all we get.” Never mind, he adds “La faim presage la fin”, which is a play on the words hunger and end. It sounds a bit desperate – hunger is the forerunner of the end – but he obviously doesn’t mean it like that because in the next sentence he is mentioning something much more serious – the lack of tobacco. “That is a real disaster, what has happened to our French ration, which at least used to arrive regularly?”
At that time everyone smoked and there was no thought given to the associated health risks. In France the tobacco industry was controlled by a State-owned monopoly la SEITA and the tax revenue raised was used to reduce the national debt and to fund war bonds. Soldiers received a tobacco ration, only discontinued in 1975, on the principle that smoking helped to raise morale.
When Riri and Fonfon arrive in Dresden one of the first things they mention is the quality of the tobacco in their cigarette rations. It is a type of Virginia tobacco from Czechoslovakia; they say it is not bad and it’s apparently preferrable to the Bulgarian tobacco which was previously supplied to the camp. The ration is 160 grammes per month, 30 cigarettes per week, and they eagerly await the fortnightly distribution. For a confirmed smoker, 4 cigarettes a day doesn’t amount to much and non smokers were easily able to barter their ration for food or other necessities. So did the brothers also get the standard soldier’s ration from France, even though they are not military personnel, and is it this which has dried up?
French soldiers were issued with the patriotically named Gauloises, familiar to us all but made with a special blend of dark tobacco, grown in France, called le tabac des troupes and not available for sale to the public.
The cigarettes that some of us smoked in our youth because we thought it made us look chic were Gauloises Caporal, supplied to the officer classes and made using a superior blend (though still as rough as heck).
Dresden has a long historical association with the tobacco industry and one of its most original 20th C buildings is Yenidze, a former cigarette factory, the so-called Tabak Moskee. Its striking Orientalist style was meant to advertise the Turkish tobacco, imported from Yenidze, (now Genisea in Greece) which was used to make the cigarettes.
Blasewitzstrasse, where Riri and Fonfon are working was notable for its concentration of printing and photographic workshops and also tobacco factories, most of which had, by this point in the war, been geared to the wartime economy. Zeiss-Ikon at number 41 for example, where Riri and Fonfon attended the musical evening in July, had taken over the Delta Cigarette Company in 1940 and was now producing aeronautical armament systems.
The Cigarettenfabrik Dressler had been founded in 1929 at number 15 Blasewitzstrasse by Arthur Dressler, who had close contacts in Nazi circles and with the Sturmabteilung or SA, the original paramilitary branch of the Nazi party, the so-called Brownshirts. Dressler negotiated an agreement under which SA members would only smoke his cigarettes and in return contributed 15 to 20 pfennigs for every 1,000 cigarettes sold. Dressler’s brands – Sturm, Trommler, Alarm and Neue Front were the only ones allowed to members of the SA, with bag searches and fines imposed for any transgressions of the rule. To further support this cosy arrangement, the Nazi party contributed 30,000 RM for the construction of the factory.
This sort of wheeze, a common tactic, perfectly aligned with Nazi economic theory, which strongly disapproved of State economic intervention. Immediately upon seizing power they set about de-nationalising state concerns and promoting private businesses, which could easily be manipulated to suit their own ends.
This early advertisement for Sturm cigarettes has the SA logo in the bottom corner as well as the swastika. It mentions the prices of the different brands and bears the slogan Against Corporate Trusts and Groups, neatly combining political and economic theory with rabble-rousing graphics and imagery.
But you need a long spoon to sup with the devil. When the SA fell out of favour in 1934 after the Night of the Long Knives and were supplanted by the SS, Dressler’s fortunes also took a tumble and he filed for bankruptcy the following year.
Meanwhile his main rival, Philipp Reemtsma of Hamburg, had also been doing deals with the Nazis, who had found his business to be an even more valuable milch cow. Reemtsma regularly donated 1 million RM a year to the Nazi party, the SA were also given six figure sums, the Hitler Youth got an aircraft and Herman Göring personally received 12.3 million RM. Philipp Reemtsma was honoured as a Wehrwirtschaftsführer, that is the chief executive of a rüstungswichtiger Betrieb, a company important for the production of war materials, and in 1941, tobacco taxes made up about a twelfth of state income. But by the following year, despite the use of forced labour to harvest crops in the Crimea, there was a severe shortage of tobacco, and two thirds of Germany’s tobacco factories were shut down or converted to armament production.
How could Riri and Fonfon have had any idea of the political ramifications which might have affected their cigarette rations? By now tobacco was certainly in short supply all over Europe.
A small pleasure, a scent of France, the momentary sense of home that they got as they savoured the familiar smell of their Gauloise – all that has been denied them. Perhaps Fonfon is not exaggerating when he calls this a disaster, potatoes are, after all, the same everywhere, but a cigarette is something else.
Unless otherwise stated, all images from Wikipedia commons. Wherever possible I have traced and credited the image authors. Any omissions are unintentional.