This past weekend, the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Many of us also know it as the day that Auschwitz was liberated. The hashtag #We Remember was used throughout the day to acknowledge its solemnity and meaning in the annals of history and in the lives of those who survived.
In one of my courses, “Language and Prejudice,” I teach my students that language can be an incredible force for good or, as is seen in the Holocaust, evil. I also teach them about identity and how language can attempt to strip people of even that. We also talk about how food is so strong a part of identity that efforts to eradicate this aspect of who people are was thwarted time and again, even in the Shoah. American POWs wrote recipes on scraps of cloth and paper. Inmates of Auschwitz and Treblinka and Terezin and more scrawled recipes on scraps and on stolen posters screaming Hitler’s supremacy. The recipes survived. Many of those who scribbled them did not.
“In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin,” was published in 1996. This book featured a collection of recipes written by the women in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp and reflected the starving women’s obsession with food. Even as they struggled to get through a day, they found scraps of paper on which to write their family recipes — as if they were writing them for their daughters — to maintain some semblance of continuity.
Some of these recipes survived as “Minna’s Cookbook,” a compilation of recipes from the inmates of Terezin. The recipes are translated exactly as written from the writings of the authors’. Some recipes can be recreated; others are, sadly, a brief memory without proper instructions. Mina died from protein deficiency. Her cookbook made a decades-long journey to her daughter who had escaped to Israel in 1939.
In 2011, June Feiss Hersh compiled a book of recipes that sustained those who survived and honored those who did not. “Recipes Remembered” is a compilation of those stories of harrowing experiences and the strength of the human spirit to survive and even flourish after enduring hell on earth for years. The stories are moving. That these recipes were remembered at all is astounding.
A survivor I know, a relative by marriage, once told me that the first time she ever really felt that everything would be all right was when she made her fist Shabbat dinner from chicken soup to mandal bread in the safety of her own new home. I asked her how she had the recipes from her mother and sister and she told me that she did not need any recipes, the recipes were in her heart and mind during the long years she hid in the Hungarian forest. To this day, whenever we visit her, she makes the same mandal bread that allowed her to feel that, finally, she was safe.
While I usually have my own original recipes for this column, today I feel compelled to honor those who lived and those who perished with their recipes. I am always grateful for the abundance of food in my life and the lives of those I love; grateful that my children never cried in hunger. Never again!
From ‘IN MEMORY'S KITCHEN’
Pachter Cake by Mina Pechter
This is all there is. There are no baking instructions.
15 decagrams sugar, 15 decagrams butter, 15 decagrams ground hazelnuts, 10 decagrams softened chocolate or 2 tablespoons cocoa, lemon rind, 3 tablespoons black coffee, 2 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks are stirred vigorously for 15 minutes. Then add the snow from 2 (stiffly beaten) egg whites. 20 decagrams flour.
This recipe was mostly illegible and also had no directions. The ingredients indicate how little food was available during the war, especially for Jews.
7 boiled potatoes, grated, 5-6 spoons sugar, 2 spoons flour, 1 spoon cocoa, 2 spoons dry milk, 1 spoon (illegible), I knife point (illegible). Bake slowly.
From “RECIPES REMEMBERED”
Reni Hanau’s Winter Celeriac (Celery Root) Salad (pareve)
Reni remembers her mother making this for the family in Germany. They survived the war on the Isle of Man as prisoners of war.
1 celery root peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup diced, kosher pickles
1/2 red onion or 2 to 3 shallots, finely diced
1/4 cup olive or canola oil
1/2 cup white vinegar
Pinch of sugar
Kosher salt and pepper
Place the celery root and the carrots in a pot of salted, boiling water and boil for about 20 minutes, or until tender, but not mushy. Drain and add to a large bowl. Add the pickles, onions or shallots, oil, vinegar, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight to allow flavors to blend. Makes about 6 cups.
Miriam Margulies’ Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage
Miriam and her mother escaped from Vienna and came to America in 1940 after the Nazi’s took control. Her father made it to the states years after the war ended. This is one her mother’s favorite dishes.
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 small head red cabbage, cored and shredded
1 tsp. unbleached flour
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
Heat a large skillet and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 15 minutes, until softened and lightly golden. Add the cabbage and 1/4 cup of water. Mix and cover the pan. Cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, until the cabbage is wilted. Sprinkle with the flour and add the sugar and vinegar. Mix well and taste and adjust the vinegar and sugar to taste. Makes 4 to 6 cups.
Henny Bachrach’s Almond & Apple Cake
This recipe was created by Henny Bachrach, the mother of Holocaust survivor Irma Reich. Henny had no measuring cups, so she measured with the shells of eggs. That is left in the recipe. Irma was a child on the Kindertransport. She never saw her parents again.
FOR THE BATTER:
8 large eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
8 ounces ground almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of half lemon
1 large red apple, peeled and grated
MOCHA (COFFEE) CREAM FILLING:
1 cup heavy cream
1-1/2 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. coffee, cooled
Raspberry jam for filling
OPTIONAL: Coffee beans for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until thick and pale, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the bowl from the stand and, by hand, mix in the almonds, lemon peel, lemon juice, matzah meal and grated apple.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry peaks form. Gently fold the whites into the apple mixture and until no streaks show. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. Cool completely before removing from the pan.
While the cake is cooling, make the filling. Place the cream, sugar, and coffee in the chilled bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until thick, but not hard.
ASSEMBLY: Carefully slice the cake in half to form two equal layers. Spread the bottom layer with a medium coating of raspberry jam. Place the second layer on top and add frost the top and sides with the coffee cream. Serves 8 to 12.
NOTE: Mocha, in this case, means only coffee flavored. You can add some cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon, mixed into the coffee for a true mocha flavor.