Beliefnet News

Beliefnet News


Cookbook Preserves Treasured Recipes from the Holocaust

(RNS) The last time Regina Finer’s mother cooked the soft, dense potato dumplings called kluskies, Regina couldn’t have been more than 12.

It was the same year the Nazis took Finer’s parents from their home in the Warsaw ghetto — she never saw them again — and sent her, her sister and an aunt to the Majdanek concentration camp.

Finer’s mother never got a chance to teach her daughter how to make the dumplings, a Passover specialty. By the time Finer landed in America with a new husband and young child, she brought with her only persistent yet elusive memories of her mother’s cooking.

Even at age 84, she can still recall the sizzle of a potato latke hitting a hot pan, the faint scent of almond in the gefilte fish, the comforting pillow-like bulk of those kluskies.

And although that world is gone, Finer, like other Holocaust survivors, have found ways to resurrect it, one bite at a time.

Finer’s story and her beloved kluskie recipe is part of Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, a cookbook published in conjunction with the Museum of Jewish Heritage: A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York. Writer June Feiss Hersh interviewed Finer and dozens of other survivors and their families for the book, which comes out in May.

When Hersh first approached the museum about exploring the food memories and recording the recipes of Holocaust survivors, they let out a little gasp — after all, starvation claimed the lives of many of Hitler’s victims.

“But what I found, what I knew to be true, is that food conjures up my most wonderful memories,” Hersh said. “It’s that thread that can take you from tragedy to triumph. You could see that you were able to bring the survivor to a place that was comforting and nourishing and nurturing, and that was the place that was the happiest.”

In researching the book, Hersh found that the psychological scars of near-starvation manifested themselves in the kitchens of survivors — in gefilte fish and chopped liver that must be made from scratch, in gut-busting rich stews and fatty kugels, in second and third helpings, in empty freezers.

Hersh asked survivors about aromas they would never forget, or how their mothers prepared for Shabbat or what they ate during Passover.

Reni Hanau fled Germany with her family and eventually settled in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Her mother died relatively young, and since then, Hanau often returns to the food of her childhood — a pickled celery root salad or waffles dusted with confectioner’s sugar.

“After my mother’s passing, I found comfort in making the foods my mother used to make,” she told Hersh. “If you make the same things your mother made, you feel a little less alone.”

Anna Sabat, whose father survived Auschwitz and whose mother spent five years in a Nazi work camp, told Hersh she was a thin child, and for her parents, that was almost shameful.

“You have to remember,” Sabat’s uncle once told her when she tried to refuse yet another “absurdly large” slice of cake, “the war made us all a little crazy about food.”

Almost without fail, the survivors who entrusted Hersh with their family recipes assured her they would make the creamiest noodle kugels, the most flavorful borscht, the most mouthwatering brisket.

What makes a dish the best, Hersh decided, had much more to do with the person who prepared it than the ingredients or cooking technique. “The matzo ball that sinks and sits in your stomach for days? Your mother made that matzo ball and you enjoyed that meal, so that became your standard,” she said.

The recipes run the gamut from Eastern European standards like stuffed cabbage and blintzes to dishes that reflect the cuisine of the Diaspora. Hersh also asked professional chefs and cookbook writers to step in when survivors had no recipe, only a memory of a beloved dish.

Extracting the recipes tried her patience — bisele, Yiddish for “a little,” is not exactly a standard measurement — and she had to consult repeatedly with the survivor when a test recipe proved disastrous.

JoJo Rubach’s father, uncle and grandmother survived the war in hiding. His grandmother later shared her family’s recipe for gefilte fish with Rubach’s mother, who in turn showed Rubach how to make it. Each year before Passover, he and his daughters gather for a marathon gefilte fish-making session at his home in Tenafly, N.J., even though Rubach despises the smell and taste of fish.

“My parents have gone through things that very few people have ever gone through. It puts everything in perspective for me, what they went through, how they persevered and came here and made a life,” Rubach says. “It’s an example for me. So I can take the smell.”

- VICKI HYMAN, Religion News Service

(Vicki Hyman writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark.)



Advertisement
Comments read comments(4)
post a comment
Henrietta22

posted April 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm


Food and relatives seem to go together, when I cook like my mom and my aunts it is like a visit from them, and all the times and what happened come floating back. I’m not Jewish, I think this is a woman thing.



report abuse
 

Pingback: Huckleberry Syrup Recipes | JAMS, JELLIES AND PRESERVES

Pingback: Sugar Free Rhubarb Recipes | JAMS, JELLIES AND PRESERVES

pagansister

posted April 22, 2011 at 9:27 pm


What a wonderful way to remember and treasure the memories of those that were lost in Nazi Germany.



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Hispanics turning evangelical, Jews secular
Worship service attendance is up in New York City, but down among young adult Jews, according to recent studies. On the other hand, fewer Spanish-speaking teens are attending Catholic mass, but more are showing up at Evangelical churches. [caption id="attachment_12343" align="alignleft" width="48

posted 3:10:30pm Nov. 05, 2013 | read full post »

Billy Graham: I know where I'm going
“Daddy thinks the Lord will allow him to live to 95,” said Franklin Graham recently. It was not a prophecy but a hope, Franklin explained, that he would live to see the beginning of a Christian re

posted 10:02:01am Oct. 24, 2013 | read full post »

Are All These Christians' Complaints of Persecution Just So Much Empty Whining?
The headlines are alarming: “Catholic-Owned Company Wins Religious Freedom Court Decision,” “Death Toll Rises to 65 in Boko Haram Attack on Students,” “Little Sisters Catholic Charity Victimized By Obamacare,” “Christians Sought Out, Murdered in the Kenyan Mall Massacre,” “Judicial

posted 2:41:26am Oct. 07, 2013 | read full post »

How can Christians defend themselves against today's random violence?
So, a crazed gunman opens fire and you’re caught in the middle. How can you survive? Heroes come in all sorts of packages. And they wield all sorts of defensive weapons. Such as guns and Jesus. Sometimes both at the same time. [caption id="attachment_12246" align="alignleft" width="480"] Ant

posted 2:53:48pm Sep. 27, 2013 | read full post »

Does Sunday Morning Church Really Need All This Glitter, Showmanship and Gimmickry?
What’s wrong with church today? Are we in danger of turning worship into a flashy concert? Of watering down the message so nobody is offended? Of forgetting the simplicity of the Gospel? I grew up with a preacher’s kid. He was a fake following in the footsteps of his flimflamming father who d

posted 11:26:20am Sep. 20, 2013 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.