My Note: Many years ago, when I lived in Seattle, I came across a review of In Memory’s Kitchen in The Jewish Transcript. I was so moved by its contents that I purchased a copy and reviewed it at my synagogue in State College after I returned from Seattle. The opening of this review by Jean Levine still ring true:
It appears to be a cookbook, but in Memory’s Kitchen is definitely not. The slender 110-page book is actually a tribute to the unbreakable spirit of the courageous women in the Terezin death camp who experienced the Nazi horrors of WWII.
While it is true that there are recipes gathered by Mina Pachter from other women in Terezin as well as Mina herself, the book is more of a history of what took place before, during, and after the war, because the book is actually the result of several people, including the daughter of Mina Pachter, who fled with her son to America, begging her mother to come with them. Mina refused, thinking she was too old to be a bother to the Nazis. She was wrong.
In Memory’s Kitchen includes the story of how Mina’s packet of recipes and poems reached America a decade after the war, after passing through many hands. When Mina’s daughter Anny Stern received the packet, she could not bear to open it for some time. The hand sewn book felt like something holy to Anny. As editor Cara de Silva quotes Mina’s daughter in the excellent, lengthy Introduction, “After all those years, it was like her hand reaching out to me from long ago.”
Included in this “historical document,” as noted by de Silva in the article in The Jewish Transcript, are some of Mina’s poems written while in captivity, as well as a historical Foreword by Michael Berenbaum, Director of The United States Holocaust Research Institute in Washington, DC when the book was released, as well as the recipes, which are not in the conventional cookbook format seen below in the samples.
For me this book is a treasure, an account of what went on in Terezin through the eyes of one person, Mina Pachter, who had the foresight to bind the recipes (her poems came on separate sheets and were not part of the cookbook), and to entrust them to someone to give to her daughter, Anny. Actually, the subtitle is very accurate. It says: “A Legacy from the Women of Terezin.” And what a legacy! It includes the poems, the recipes, and letters to Mina’s family. (Mina was not sent to Auschwitz, but she died in the ghetto hospital after the war from illnesses and conditions brought on by the lack of food and proper treatment in Terezin.)
Below is one Mina’s poems and two of the recipes from her cookbook (Kochbuch). I served the cookies at our Jewish community gathering on the weekend of Holocaust Memorial Day earlier this month.
Poem #80 (I purposely chose one about food, but all issues about the dire situation in Terezin are covered.)
Two sisters by the door, a pair
Their harmony is something rare
A love of cooking both do share
But it’s platonic, their cupboard bare
The food they had brought no longer there.
(Her grandson David Stern translated Mina’s poems.)
The Recipes (Words in brackets and some punctuation have been added for clarification; otherwise left intact.)
The recipes are translated by Bianca Steiner Brown, a native of Prague, Czechoslovakia, who worked as a nurse in Terezin survived, returned to Prague and then to Ecuador and finally to the US, where her knowledge of food and cooking led her to work both for Good Housekeeping and Gourmet Magazine as well as act as a consultant for Weight Watchers. One retired, she taught adult cooking classes on Long Island.
(Not all the recipes are Mina Pachter’s, as is this one, and most of them are not identified with an author.)
Make a noodle dough and roll it out. Now take boiled grated potatoes, chopped cracklings and browned onions. Fill the pockets [squares], press the edges together and boil them [the pockets[. Pour hot fat and a lot of browned onion [over the pirogen].
2 cups rolled oats, 2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 3-5 decagrams Sana [margarine], 1 cup milk, 1 [packet] baling powder or baking soda, (1 egg). Shape into small balls. In center [put] an indentation and fill with jam.
My notes: You can use your own oatmeal cookie recipe but make it a bit stiffer after in order to hand roll into balls. I used coconut oil (about 2 Tbl.) and I placed jam and fresh berries in the center after I baked them in a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. (No baking time was in the original recipe so I used the temperature I would for my own cookies.) es
Final note: Editor Carla de Silva quotes Mina’s daughter Anny at the end of the historical introduction:
Yet here is the story of how the inmates of the camp, living on bread and watery soup and dreaming of the cooking habits of the past, found some consolation in the hope that they might be able to use them again in the future. By sharing these recipes, I am honoring the thoughts of my mother and the others that somewhere and somehow, there must be a better world to live in.
In Memory’s Kitchen is published by Jason Aranson, Inc., Northvale, NJ. (I found paperbacks on Amazon for under $20.)