The song Papirosn (Cigarettes) was written in the 1920s by Herman Yablokoff, who was active in Yiddish theater in Poland and Lithuania in the years after World War I.
The song was inspired by children trying to earn a living on the streets hawking cigarettes. The sight of these children reminded Yablokoff of his own wartime childhood, during which he had tried his hand at the same enterprise – hawking cigarettes to passers-by.
Yablokoff emigrated to the United States in 1924 and the song was made popular by a Yiddish radio show in 1932. It was later a hit number in a musical, also called Papirosn, which debuted in 1935.
During the Holocaust, in the ghettos of Poland and Lithuania, new lyrics were written that reflected the trials of the time and place.