Monday, March 16, 2009

The 1934-37 Garbaty Film Stars Sets

Cigarettes, Starlets, and Nazis:
The Historical Tale of the Garbaty Film Stars Sets

(by Mike DeNero & Kyleigh Spencer)

Each set of cards is history from an original source. – Jefferson Burdick

The Garbaty Cigarette Company

Moritz Garbaty and his family (wife, Ella, and eight year-old son, Thomas) escaped from Nazi Germany in December 1938. Just days before, Moritz was the majority owner and President of one of the most successful businesses in Berlin, the Garbaty Cigarette Company, started by his father, Josef, nearly fifty years earlier.

While Josef and Moritz owned and managed the company, it was known for the multitude of popular cigarette brands it produced, its generous financial support of a local Jewish orphanage, and its worker-friendly environment, offering unemployment insurance, free meals in its cafeteria, a laundromat, a library, a choir, a newspaper, and even a sports club. Today’s vintage card collectors are familiar with the Garbaty Cigarette Company for producing (from 1934 through 1937) the three greatest sets of cigarette cards featuring film stars ever made.

As Moritz Garbaty and his family boarded the New Amsterdam bound for America, little did he know that an actress featured prominently in the film stars sets inadvertently played a pivotal role in necessitating their escape from Nazi Germany.

The Nazis’ Control of the German Film Industry

The Nazis’ rise to power in January 1933 changed Germany’s political and social climate immeasurably. In addition to implementing its anti-Semitic agenda, the Nazis quickly established an unprecedented propaganda machine led by Joseph Goebbels (Reichminister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda), who oversaw several chambers, including the Reich Film Chamber and the Reich Film Trade Association, which were formed to control the German film industry. Soon, Jews were barred from participation (all those employed in the film industry were required to become members of the Reich Film Trade Association, which barred non-Aryans from membership). Thereafter, they could only be employed by special arrangements, which were arbitrary at best.[1]

While the German film industry technically remained in the hands of private investors who preferred to produce light-hearted and entertaining films -- and the Nazis believed that movies were a perfect medium to keep the masses entertained -- the Reich Film Chamber, however, ensured that the movie-going experience was censored heavily and infiltrated with propaganda, forcing cinemas to show newsreels and a propaganda film before each feature.

During this period of political and cultural transformation, American culture was “both admired and vilified.”[2] Hollywood movies, in particular, were tremendously popular with the Reich’s pre-war audiences – in fact, Adolph Hitler adored Mickey Mouse, and Swedish-born Hollywood legend Greta Garbo was hailed by the German press as “the essence of race.”[3]

The Garbaty Film Stars Sets (1934 through 1937)

In the center of Nazi Germany's pre-war years, the Garbaty Cigarette Company released three sets of incredibly striking cigarette cards: Moderne Schönheitsgalerie (Gallery of Modern Beauty) in 1934; Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Films (Gallery of Beautiful Women in Film) in 1936; and Film-Lieblinge (Film Favorites) in 1937. Each card has a full color, embossed surface, while the back of each card informs the collector of how to purchase an album (cost: one Reichmark) to house the cards. A cigarette brand logo and other information about the cost of the cigarette boxes in which the cards were inserted also appear on the backs. Interestingly, the word “Garbaty” is nowhere to be seen. While most cards measure 2 1/16 X 2 7/16, a select forty in the 200-card Film-Lieblinge set are much larger, measuring 2 7/16 X 3 1/4.

The Moderne Schönheitsgalerie Set: Series One and Two

The Moderne Schönheitsgalerie set, issued in two 300-card series, primarily featured German and Hollywood actresses (Series One also pictured some popular female athletes; Series Two also included a few actors, such as Clark Gable and Robert Montgomery). Each card’s surface is varnished (in addition to being embossed) and the backs feature the logo of one of the company’s most popular brands, Kurmark Cigarettes.[4] There are several dozen unique borders in each 300-card series. In our review of Series One, we counted a minimum of 50 unique borders within the first 150 cards alone.

All of the great Hollywood stars of the day made their way into the set. As German audiences especially adored Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, each is pictured on twelve cards! Clara Bow, Rita Cansino (before her name change to Hayworth), Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Kay Francis, Janet Gaynor, Jean Harlow, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn, Myriam Hopkins, Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Jeanette MacDonald, Maureen O’Sullivan, Ginger Rogers, Norma Shearer, little Shirley Temple, Claire Trevor, Mae West, and Loretta Young are all included, to name a few.

Some of the more interesting subjects, however, are the German actresses. For example, Emmy Sonnemann appears on card #190. In April 1935, Emmy became the second Mrs. Hermann Göring (following World War II, Göring was convicted at the Nuremberg Trials of various war crimes -- the night before he was to be hanged, he committed suicide by ingesting cyanide). Emmy served a one-year post-war prison term after a German court convicted her of being a Nazi.

The Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Film Set

As the nation prepared to host the Games of the XI Olympiad in 1936,[5] the Garbaty Cigarette Company released the Schöner-Frauen Des Films set (Gallery of Beautiful Women in Film), a scaled-down 224 cards with matte finish. The Passion brand logo appears on the backs, which could account for the set’s rarity (i.e., because Passion was less popular than Kurmark, which included the Moderne Schönheitsgalerie cards, the Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Films set is more rare today).[6]

We estimate there are nearly 200 unique borders within the 224-card set. Twenty-four even feature borders with a cut-out design, a curiosity because the other 200 cards are identical to the 200 card Filmsterne (Film Stars) set released that same year by Aurelia Cigarette Company. Perhaps the Garbaty Cigarette Company added the additional twenty-four ornate cards to make the Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Films set more desirable than their competitor’s Filmsterne set.

Once again, several dozen German and Hollywood actresses are pictured in the set. While the set includes several cards of the most popular actresses – e.g., four of Greta Garbo, two each of Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, Jean Harlow, and Rita Cansino (Hayworth) – several other lesser known but equally fascinating, actresses, who were popular in Germany at the time, are included.

For example, Lil Dagover, pictured on two cards,[7] was one of Hitler’s favorite actresses and preferred dinner companions.[8] Another frequent dinner guest of the Fuhrer, Olga Tschechowa,[9] allegedly not only attempted to seduce Hitler on at least one occasion,[10] but acted as a Soviet "sleeper" agent who was later involved in a plot to assassinate him.[11] Renate Müller, an Aryan ideal, who starred in the original Viktor und Viktoria (Victor Victoria), is featured on seven cards.[12] It is rumored that in retaliation for her refusal to appear in Nazi propaganda films (along with the fact that she allegedly had a Jewish lover), the Gestapo threw her out of a hotel window in 1937 (thus, perhaps her premature death was not due to “epilepsy,” as the German press reported).

The Film-Lieblinge Set

The Garbaty Film-Lieblinge (Film Favorites) set, released in packages of Passion Cigarettes in 1937,[13] includes 200 cards, 160 identical in size to those in the previous two Garbaty sets and 40 that are much larger, measuring 2 7/16 X 3 1/4. The larger cards picture Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Rita Cansino (Hayworth), Jean Harlow, Shirley Temple, Carole Lombard, and Clark Gable, to name a few. In addition to the presence of the Passion brand logo, the backs offered the collector an exchange program for the first time – one large card could be exchanged for another of its size or two smaller cards. While the surfaces are embossed and exhibit a matte finish, the borders are far less ornate than those “framing” the previous two sets.

The Garbaty Cards and the Nazi Ideal

While there is no archival evidence pointing to the Reich's direct involvement in the production of the Garbaty sets, many of the cards’ characteristics point to Nazi influence. First, film criticism and theory under the Third Reich emphasized the idea of the ensemble cast,[14] in line with the Nazi focus on Das Volk ("The People").[15] The ensemble, at least in theory, was the Reich’s answer to Hollywood’s star system, derided by the Nazis as excessive, sinful, and "Jewish."

One of the first things that jumps out about these sets is the sheer number of cards, a total of 600 in the Moderne Schönheitsgalerie set alone. Compared to similar sets available in other countries at that time, the Garbaty sets were unusually large. The way the Hollywood stars – still immensely popular despite the Reich's best efforts to control the number of Hollywood films imported for viewing – are scattered among the numerous German ensemble actresses emphasizes that they are no better than other characters in the "cast." Ironically, many of these ensemble actors appeared in so many films that they became famous in their own right.[16] Paradoxically, then, the sets are an ensemble of stars -- the stars become Das Volk!

A second indicator of Nazi influence is how eerily similar all of the images appear. Despite the infinite variety of borders, subjects, and poses, a homogeneous quality emerges. Each image began as a publicity photograph or film still, then was doctored to a startling degree. In some, the artist redrew all but the most basic shape of the subject’s face, with the finished product sometimes bearing only a passing resemblance to the original photograph. Card after card depicts a translucent skinned woman with impossibly rosy cheeks, resulting in Germanic looking subjects regardless of their country of origin – an ensemble cast conforming to the Aryan ideal. Those actresses whose features are too far outside the ideal to be “Aryanized” are clearly depicted as exotic, such as Anna May Wong in traditional Chinese attire and Conchita Montenegro with her bangle bracelets and chunky earrings.

Third, the differences in the cards’ borders are also noteworthy, in light of increasing Nazi influence over all areas of the arts. While the borders in the 1937 Film-Lieblinge set are comparatively traditional and restrained, the first two sets (the Moderne Schönheitsgalerie and Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Films) include scores of elaborate and often highly detailed "frames." These are not only eye-catching, but unique in the world of tobacco cards. They do not resemble the typical frames of that period, but are a rather fanciful, free-wheeling take on Art Deco forms of the day.

This nod to Art Deco is particularly fascinating due to the Reich’s dim view of such non-traditional art. The Nazi disdain for the modern culminated in the their confiscation of more than 5,000 works of art – including works by Picasso, Van Gogh and Chagall – some of which were then chaotically displayed and accompanied by derisive explanatory slogans in the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition staged by the Nazis in Munich in July 1937.[17] As an interesting side note, a few of the confiscated works were later found in the homes of Hermann and Emmy Göring.

It is possible that the Entartete Kunst exhibition and official Nazi policy on art had a direct impact on the Film-Lieblinge set, released in 1937. Steering clear of anything that hinted at modern design, the borders of the set are, without exception, decorative within the bounds of tradition.

Fourth, of peculiar note, eight cards in the Moderne Schönheitsgalerie set (Series One) feature actresses who are identified solely by their first names and last initials (e.g., Myriam H.).[18] Might the eight actresses have been Jewish and their missing last names be the result of forced censorship by the Nazis (most likely, the Reich Film Chamber) or self-censorship by the Garbaty Cigarette Company? While this assertion may seem far-fetched, we note the tale of a book published in 1934, Das Deutsche Fuhrerlexicon (German Leadership Directory), featuring brief biographies of the prominent men in the Nazi Party. Because the directory was still being printed during the “Night of the Long Knives” (a purge of the Nazi Party ordered by Hitler during the summer of 1934, resulting in over 100 political executions), once released, the directory would have featured murdered members. The solution? White out the pictures and biographical information of the dead party members and release the book as-is, with hundreds of blank spots.

The ensemble nature of the sets, the homogenization of the female images to conform to the Aryan ideal, the abrupt change in border styles, and the missing last names of certain actresses all point to Nazi influence in the production of the Garbaty film stars sets. But the cards – or at least those that featured one actress, Lida Baarova, in particular – may have an even more fascinating and chilling connection to the Garbaty Cigarette Company's fate under the Third Reich.

The Czech Actress, the "Night of the Broken Glass," and the Aryanization of the Garbaty Cigarette Company

Czech actress, Lida Baarova, who is featured prominently in all three sets, was just 21 years-old when she met Joseph Goebbels at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, describing him as “a master of the hunt, whom nobody and nothing could escape”[19] – incidentally, Goebbels was notorious for his extramarital affairs, many involving actresses. Their relationship turned romantic during the winter of 1936-37; by October 1938, Goebbels’ sought to divorce his wife, Magda. The soap opera continued when Magda, known as the First Lady of the Third Reich due to her undying affection for the Fuhrer (and perhaps the fact all six of her children sported first names starting with the letter “H”), told Hitler of the affair. The Fuhrer sprang into action, forbade a divorce and ordered Goebbels to break up with Baarova. Goebbels “acquiesced” but reportedly attempted suicide shortly thereafter.[20] Soon, the Gestapo began to harass Baarova, resulting in her decision to flee Germany.

While Baarova returned to her native Prague for the remainder of her life, her countrymen never forgave her indiscretions with Goebbels. She died penniless at the age of 86.

Days after ending his affair with Baarova, Goebbels seized an opportunity to win back Hitler’s favor.[21] That moment arrived after a Jewish youth named Herschel Grynszpan murdered a German diplomat in Paris, an act of revenge for the deportation of his family to Poland. Goebbels orchestrated the “German” retaliation against the Jews, Kristallnacht (“Night of the Broken Glass”), a night of terror during which the Nazis murdered more than 200 Jews (and caused several hundred more to commit suicide), burned, vandalized, and destroyed several thousand synagogues and Jewish-owned business, and transported nearly 30,000 Jewish men to concentration camps.

On Kristallnacht, after hearing rumors that the Gestapo were ordered to arrest Jewish men (especially those of considerable wealth), Moritz Garbaty hid in a garden house owned by his secretary, a Catholic woman, on the outskirts of Berlin. Moritz’ son, Thomas, who was eight years-old at the time, recalls the Gestapo coming to the family’s home to arrest his father, but leaving shortly thereafter. That night, the Gestapo did manage to arrest Thomas’s uncle, Eugene, but released him after the Garbaty family bribed the Head of the Berlin Police Department, Wolf-Heinrich Graf von Helldorf (incidentally, von Helldorf would be hanged in 1944 due to his rumored involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler).

Within days of Kristallnacht, and as a vital step toward the completion of Germany’s Aryanization (the transfer of assets and businesses from Jews to “Germans”), the Garbaty family was forced to sell its cigarette company, undoubtedly at a bargain price. Thereafter, the family resolved to flee the Reich but von Helldorf controlled the issuance of passports to Jews, and Moritz’ father, Josef, was too ill to escape.

Thomas Garbaty, now 78 years-old, told us of his father’s final “donation” to the “von Helldorf Fund” (the colloquial name for a bribe), a payment that secured Josef’s safety (until his death of natural causes less than a year later[22]) and passports for Thomas and his parents. When we asked him to approximate the dollar amount of the bribe, Thomas stated, “huge sums of money, huge sums of money; probably beyond one-million dollars.”[23]



An essay chronicling the Garbaty Cigarette Company featured in a collection titled Juden in Berlin: 1938-1945 includes several captivating images scattered throughout; none more so than two featured on the essay’s final page. The first is a photo of Thomas and his parents, Moritz and Ella, on the New Amsterdam bound for Hoboken, New Jersey in July 1939. In the photo, each person is sporting sunglasses while resting on a lounge chair on the ship’s deck; young Thomas is in knickers. The second photo was taken on September 13, 1942, three years after the family’s arrival in America. In this picture, Moritz has his arm around twelve year-old Thomas; both are standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building with the Manhattan skyline displayed gloriously in the background. The image is priceless; Moritz and Thomas are dressed like any other American father and son of the day. They appear as if they might be heading to the ballpark to root for their home team, or, perhaps, to their local cinema house to see a film featuring their favorite Hollywood stars.

Copyright © 2009 Mike DeNero's Vintage Sportscards, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.


[1] Sabine Hake, Popular Cinema of the Third Reich (University of Texas Press, 2001), 28. [2] Sabine Hake, Popular Cinema of the Third Reich (University of Texas Press, 2001), 130. [3] Sabine Hake, Popular Cinema of the Third Reich (University of Texas Press, 2001), 132 (internal citation omitted). [4] The cards were inserted in Kurmark boxes. [5] For a brief period during the Berlin Olympics, the Nazis toned down their anti-Semitic attacks, due to Hitler’s fear that the “international criticism of his government [could] result in the transfer of the [Berlin Olympics] to another country.” (See United States Holocaust Museum, “The Nuremberg Race Laws,” available at The Reich put its best foot forward for a time, and “even removed some of the signs [reading] ‘Jews Unwelcome’ from public places.” (See id.). The Berlin Games are largely remembered for the performance of American sprinter Jesse Owens, who captured four gold medals in track & field, and the dominance of the German squad, which captured 89 medals, 33 more than the United States, which placed second in the overall medal count. That result caused the Fuhrer to beam; as Albert Speer noted in his memoirs, Inside The Third Reich: "Each of the German victories, and there were a surprising number of these, made him happy, but he was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games. Hitler was also jolted by the jubilation of the Berliners when the French team filed solemnly into the Olympic Stadium ... If I am correctly interpreting Hitler's expression at the time, he was more disturbed than pleased by the Berliners' cheers." (Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs (Simon & Schuster, 1997), 73). [6] In a recent eBay search for cards from the Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Films set, we found one international seller with approximately one dozen individual cards for sale. The cards were graded by a grading company that we do not recognize. Each card is actually a card from the Sultan Filmsterne set but mislabeled as a card from the Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Films set. [7] Lil Dagover also appears on multiple cards in the Moderne Schönheitsgalerie and Film-Lieblinge set. [8] See Guido Knopp, Hitler’s Women (Routledge, 2003), 242; see also Fabrice d’Almeida, High Society in the Third Reich (Polity, 2009), 52. [9] Also spelled “Chekhova.” Tschechowa also appears on multiple cards in the Moderne Schönheitsgalerie and Film-Lieblinge set. [10] Fabrice d’Almeida, High Society in the Third Reich (Polity, 2009), 52. [11] See generally, Anthony Beever, The Mystery of Olga Chekhova (Viking, 2004). [12] Renate Müller also appears on several cards in the Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Films set but was not included in the Film-Lieblinge set. [13] Like the Galerie Schöner-Frauen Des Films set, we have found cards from this set to be incredibly difficult to locate. [14] See generally, Erica Carter, Dietrich's Ghosts: The Sublime and the Beautiful in Third Reich Film (London: BFI Publishing, 2004), 56-83. [15] A popular slogan in Germany at the time was “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (One people, one nation, one leader). [16] But this view of stardom was not unique to the Reich. As Erica Carter opined in Dietrich’s Ghosts, during the Weimar Republic in the late 1920s, many campaigned against star fees and sought government regulation to help the financially struggling German film industry. [17] See generally, Barron, Stephanie, "Degenerate Art" The Fate of the Avant-Garde in Nazi Germany (New York: Harry N. Abrams Publishing and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991). Pieces created by some of the greatest artists of the day were “exhibited”: Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Wassily Kandinsky, to name a few. [18] The eight actresses are identified as Nina von P. (#240), Gert S. (#242), AnneMarie S. (#244), Katja M. (#246), Gertrud O. (#248), Marion P. (#249), Myriam H. (#270), and Francis B. (#282). [19] Peter Conradi, “Goebbels Mistress Tells Tales from the Grave,” review of The Sweet Bitterness of My Life, by Lida Baarova, The Sunday Times, January 21, 2001, available at [20] New World Encyclopedia, “Joseph Goebbels,” available at [21] Ian Kershaw, Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis (W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), 145. [22] A woman named Sophie Boroschek (born 1910) managed and maintained Josef’s home, the Villa Garbaty. Sophie would later be transported, along with 1,000 other Jewish men, women, and children, from Berlin to Auschwitz on May 17, 1943. Immediately upon their arrival at Auschwitz, 805 were murdered in the gas chamber. Two months later, on August 2, 1943, Sophie and 85 other men and women were transported from Auschwitz to another concentration camp, Natzweiler-Strutthof, located in Alsace, France. All 86 were murdered in the gas chamber sometime between August 11-13. Immediately, the victims’ still warm bodies were transported to the nearby Institute for Anatomy at the Reichsuniversity Strassburg (the “Anatomy Institute”) for “research purposes” -- the order to murder the 86 selected individuals came from Ahnenerbe (ancestral inheritance), a “scientific organization,” that planned to display their skeletons in an exhibition at the Anatomy Institute as evidence for Nazi “Rassenideologe“ (human race ideology). However, before the “exhibit” began, Allied troops discovered the bodies, which were chemically preserved and hidden in a basement. See generally, Hans-Joachim Lang, “Die Namen der Nummern,” available at; Roseanne Leeson & Peter Lande, “Natzweiler Medical Experiments, Natzweiler-Strutthof Camp: A Small List with a Big Lesson,” available at [23] Thomas Garbaty Interview, February 27, 2009. Using the Consumer Price Index, one million dollars in 1938 would be worth $15,280,553 today. See "Six Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1774 to the Present," available at


  1. Thanks in large part to this remarkable piece, I just wrote an entry on these cards at my Hollywood history blog, "Carole & Co."


    Thanks for making me aware of this incredible part of history.

  2. The Garbaty 1934-1937 Cigarette Cards are the most beautiful cigarette cards ever created in the field of collecting pre war cards. Each card is stunning is its appearance and is a result of detailed and meticulous art work. However its more than just collecting these gorgeous cards that make it fun. It's the story behind the cards as well. The history and background of the Garbaty family and Nazi Germany even makes the cards more fascinating and historical to collect.
    Thanks Mike and Kyleigh for an absolutely great article.

    1. I am a newcomer to cards and I agree Garbaty are my favorite. Classy looking and Beautiful.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Thank you for the EXCELLENT ARTICLE. I enjoyed this very much. Sad though about the lives of some people mentioned. A shame.