Arriving just in time for the Jewish New Year, the cookbook Honey Cake & Latkes: Recipes From The Old Word By The Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivors, is no mere cookery guide. The hard-bound book is a piece of vital history, a love letter to the bonds foods create, and how those memories both unite family members and keep memories of the dead alive. It serves as a valuable legacy and will nourish the Jewish Diaspora for generations to come.
The project was born out of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and the pandemic. In January 2020, Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation Chairman Ronald S. Lauder traveled to Poland with 120 survivors to commemorate that unforgettable day in 1945 and found that more than anything, the survivors talked about food and the family recipes they had taken with them after leaving Europe. Then in the early months of COVID, Lauder and the Foundation recognized the isolation these special seniors were experiencing, in particular during Passover, and put out a call for gefilte fish recipes. The foundation received a deluge and the idea for a collection of what would end up being 110 recipes, took root.
Each contributor is introduced with a bio in which we learn a little about their lives before the Holocaust and what they were able to create for themselves in the decades since. There are youthful photos as well as delightful current photos of some of the survivors cooking together.
The recipes — or really stories — are as simple as a Chocolate Sandwich (the first recipe), to a traditional Cholent, to Plum Cake. And of course, there are recipes for Challah, Elie Wiesel’s Latkes, Ruth’s Honey Cake and other mouth-watering and joy-inspiring goodies.
For Poland-born Eugene Gunter, the Chocolate Sandwich was an ingenious tool his mother (herself rescued by Oskar Schindler) used to get her malnourished son to eat and gain weight after the war. She would slather black bread with butter and chocolate because, as Eugene correctly notes, “How bad could black bread be with butter and chocolate?”
Rosalie Simon grew up eating Cholent on the Sabbath with her family, but during the war, when she was forced to work in a German factory and constantly hungry, dinner was routinely just “two rotten potatoes, and I thought to myself, ‘I only want one thing in my life: I want to get out of here. I want to get liberated, and I simply want enough potatoes in my life. That’s it. I don’t want anything else in my life.’”
Her hearty Cholent is abundant with potatoes. Claire Heymann, who was a child in Germany when their house was trashed during Kristallnacht, could survive two years in Auschwitz because she could speak German. Her father learned how to bake before the family came to America so that he would have a trade, and his Pflaumenkuchen (Plum Cake), a traditional German dessert, became a constant in Claire’s life.
With proceeds from book sales going to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation, this is a worthy addition to the shelves of any Jewish and non-Jewish home, with recipes you’ll truly treasure.