The title of Holocaust Survivor Cookbook (Caras & Associates) is a misnomer — this volume goes far beyond a collection of recipes, memorable though they may be.
The contributors are more than 135 survivors from countries all over the world — Austria, Israel, Poland, Australia, South Africa, Sweden, and China, among others — and from across America. With the recipes, they offer tales both tragic and heartwarming, of happy childhoods transformed into nightmares and the lives they rebuilt after the dark scenes of their youth.
Joanne Caras, who with her family lovingly collected the recipes and stories, will speak to the Women’s Circle of Chabad of the Shore Wednesday evening, Nov. 2, at the Chabad Center in Long Branch.
Some of the contributors are: Rachel Pirak, who lived in a small Czechoslovak town and survived slave labor in a munitions factory after she, her siblings, and parents were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz, where her 46-year-old mother was gassed; Rena Finder and her mother, who survived because they were on “Schindler’s List” and who writes, “I stand in front of the pictures [of my family] and remember how much love was in our lives”; and Jack (Kuba) Glotzer, who was forced to witness his mother and nine-year-old brother shot to death during the liquidation of the Rohatyn Ghetto in Poland.
How the book evolved is a story of inspiration whose connection with food leads to an uplifting story from another time and place. When Caras and Gisela Zerykier traveled together from America to Israel in 2005 to visit one’s son and the other’s daughter — a young couple who had made aliya — they visited the Carmei Ha’ir soup kitchen in Jerusalem, where the new olim were volunteers.
The two women were impressed by Carmei Ha’ir — an Hebrew acronym that stands for “All who are hungry shall eat” — which serves over 500 meals daily to the poor and hungry. In a telephone conversation, Caras said the soup kitchen “looks like an elegant restaurant…. Waiters take orders, and the people are served with respect and dignity. Whoever can pay does so, and those who cannot don’t.” The kitchen also serves as a community center, offering counseling, holiday programs, literary and artistic evenings, and even as a venue for birthday and bar and bat mitzva parties.
Caras and Zerykier were so moved, they decided to raise money to support Carmei Ha’ir. Then Zerykier’s mother, a survivor who lived in Belgium, died, sparking the idea to create the cookbook as a tribute to her and a way to raise funds for the kitchen.
With family support, the contributions were collected from survivors all over the world. Some were reluctant to write, noting that they had never before shared their experiences with anyone; others wrote poems and stories in grief and in joy. Black and white photographs show families in prewar Europe, holiday gatherings around festive tables, teenagers socializing in town parks. There are also pictures that are testament to the survivors’ rebuilt lives: wedding photos, families with grandchildren and even great-grandchildren — illustrating a continuing Jewish legacy and, to quote many survivors, “our greatest blessings.”
The recipes are evocative remnants of Jewish life before the Holocaust. Each evokes warmth, care, love, and the tantalizing aromas and tastes of home cooking. They describe how the dishes were passed down from grandmother to daughter to granddaughter, and several recipes are published in the original handwriting.
The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook is a powerful mix of stories, remembrances, and resurrected recipes — whispers from the past. It can be ordered from www.survivorcookbook.org. All proceeds benefit Carmei Ha’ir in Jerusalem.