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Japanese propaganda matchbox with Japanese planes flying over a sinking ship with a US flag acquired postwar by a German Jewish refugee

Object | Accession Number: 2010.240.11

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    Japanese propaganda matchbox with Japanese planes flying over a sinking ship with a US flag acquired postwar by a German Jewish refugee

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    Brief Narrative
    Japanese matchbox acquired postwar by Ralph (Ralf) Harpuder. This box features an image of planes flying over a sinking ship with a United States flag. Four year old Ralf, his parents, Hans and Gerda, and his 14 year old sister, Ursula, left Berlin, Germany, following Kristallnacht on November 9-10, 1938. They left for Shanghai because it was an open port with no visa required and arrived in March 1939. Shanghai was controlled by the Japanese military and as the war intensified, they were relocated to the Hongkew ghetto. Food and supplies became extremely difficult to obtain, but Ralf was able to stay in school because they waived his tuition. The city was liberated by the US Army on September 3, 1945. That October, Ralf's father died of malnutrition. In March 1947, the family emigrated to the United States.
    emigration:  1939 March
    publication/distribution:  approximately 1942
    manufacture: Japan
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Yvonne Harpuder
    outer box, front, lower right, black ink : (20[ ])
    Subject: Ralph Harpuder
    Ralf Heinz Harpuder was born on April 12, 1934, in Berlin, Germany, to Hans (Hern) and Gerda Lewin Harpuder. Hans was born on November 26, 1901, in Berlin to Gertrude Hannes Harpuder. Gerda was born on November 21, 1905, in Berlin to Joseph and Selma Nathanson Lewin. Selma was born on July 20, 1878, in Mammendorf. Hans worked in sales and took over his father’s factory that manufactured ropes and canvases; Gerda was a shopkeeper. Ralf had one older sister, Ursula, born in 1925. Gerda and Hans married on December 26, 1931.

    After Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, anti-Jewish legislation and restrictions became increasingly harsh. Hans’ brothers, Alfred and Erich, emigrated to the United States circa December 1938. After the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9-10, 1938, Hans lived in hiding with friends to avoid arrest until he could confirm plans to leave Germany. The family decided to leave for Shanghai in Japanese-occupied China because it was an open port with no visa required. In early 1939, the family and Gerda’s mother, Selma, took a train to Trieste, Italy, and boarded the SS Conte Verde. In March, they arrived in Shanghai and a Jewish organization transported the family to a refugee boarding home in the Hongkew district. Their possessions were sent to Shanghai by a German man who was an expediter for a van and storage company. They sold many of those valuables which provided them with enough money to live in their own apartment and co-own a delicatessen with Gerda’s cousin, Kaethe Benjamin. The store closed after a year and Hans started an ice block company. The family was active in the Jewish community and celebrated the high holidays in rented movie theaters. Ralf attended a Jewish refugee school, the Kadoorie school, and learned Japanese. He played with other immigrant children and Japanese children in the remnants of bombed buildings. He went to the movies often and collected and traded cigarette sleeves with the other children.

    After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the family stopped receiving correspondence from family in Germany. In 1943, Japanese authorities ordered that all Jewish refugees move into a ghetto in the Hongkew district. Their landlord, who was a Jewish refugee, with the help of Japanese authorities, forced the family to move because he wanted the apartment for himself. They lived in one room of a shared apartment with three other families in a less affluent area called Little Vienna because of all the coffeehouses. They had to purchase hot water in a kettle to take sponge baths. Food and support became harder to obtain from Jewish organizations. Hans worked as a sales person for a candy company and Ralf sometimes stole candy from his sample box. Hans had to obtain passes from the Japanese official, Kanoh Ghoya, to sell goods outside the ghetto. Gerda worked in a rag factory and Ursula worked as a beautician. Ralf transferred to a nearby school, the Freysinger school, a private Jewish refugee school. The family could not afford it but the principal allowed him to attend without paying tuition. He also attended Talmud Torah, an afternoon Hebrew school that was very strict, but he returned every year because the students received new shoes. On July 17, 1945, Shanghai was heavily bombed by United States forces. Gerda and Ralf were outside during the bombing. They ran inside a building and Gerda covered his head and prayed. After the air raids, Ralf could smell the stench of burning bodies.

    Shanghai was liberated by the US Army on September 3, 1945. An American soldier who was friends with one of Hans’ brothers in New York brought the family canned goods. In October 1945, Hans died of malnutrition and hook worms. The family learned that Hans's sister, Genia Gritz Harpuder, was killed in Stutthof concentration camp in 1945. Ralf's paternal grandmother and cousin, Gertrude and Peter, died in Auschwitz death camp. Gerda’s brother, Werner, emigrated to California before the war and obtained papers for Ralf, Gerda, Ursula, Max, and Selma to emigrate to the US. While in Shanghai, or possibly in Australia, Ursula married Max Kopstein, a soccer player who was a Jewish refugee from Vienna. In March 1947, they sailed on the SS General Gordon and settled in Los Angeles. Two weeks after arriving, Ralf celebrated his Bar Mitzvah. Werner enrolled him in junior high school and changed his name to Ralph Harper. In 1950, Gerda married Viktor Stummer. They met in 1941 when Gerda asked Viktor to repair a candlestick. Viktor had fled from Vienna to Shanghai in 1938. After high school, Ralph changed his last name back to Harpuder. Selma passed away on May 4, 1958, age 79. In 1965, Ralph married Yvonne Fenton, whose parents had come to the US around 1938 after securing US visas on their honeymoon in Switzerland. Yvonne's grandfather, Isidor Abraham, and uncle, Kurt, lived in Shanghai during the war. Ralph and Yvonne had one son. Gerda passed away on November 22, 1996, age 91. Viktor passed away in 2003, age 94. Ralph passed away on July 31, 2009, age 74.

    Physical Details

    Physical Description
    Rectangular, thin paper covered wooden matchbox with an outer cover with open short sides that slides over an inner drawer. The cover has an abrasive black striker panel on the long sides. The face of the cover has a printed image of a white plane wing with the red Rising Sun symbol of Japan against a greenish blue background. The lower half of the image shows small black planes flying over a sinking yellow ship flying a torn American flag on a black mast. There are Japanese characters printed in black ink near the upper center and in white ink on a dark blue border near the lower center.
    overall: Height: 0.750 inches (1.905 cm) | Width: 1.500 inches (3.81 cm) | Depth: 2.250 inches (5.715 cm)
    overall : wood, paper, ink

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    No restrictions on access
    Conditions on Use
    No restrictions on use

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    The matchbox was donated to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2010 by Yvonne Harpuder, the widow of Ralph Harpuder.
    Funding Note
    The cataloging of this artifact has been supported by a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
    Record last modified:
    2022-07-28 21:51:09
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