In 1969, Anny Stern got a call from a stranger. They told her that they had a package for her from her mother, Mina Patcher. Anny who now lived in Manhattan hadn't seen her mother in many years. In fact, her mother had been dead since 1944.
Due to rising political and social pressure, Anny left Czechoslovakia with her son and met her husband in Palestine in 1939. Her mother refused to leave. She was old, and told her daughter that no one would hurt an elderly lady. Mina was sent to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp near Prague.
Theresienstadt was unique. It was a ghetto, a labor camp, and a transit camp. It was a hub where people were sent to mask transportation to death camps in the East. It was originally advertised as a "spa town" but was the place where well-known Jewish people were sent to prevent public suspicion.
Famous artists, war heroes, writers, professors, musicians were sent to Theresienstadt and were allowed to keep up a rich cultural, albeit extremely censored, cultural life. Painters painted commissioned German art during the day and personal art in secret. The people schooled their children although it was illegal. Mina, an art historian, gave lectures.
It is extraordinary the resolve these people had to do anything. Jews in ghettos were allowed an average of 184 calories a day mostly in the form of watery soup. More food was reserved for laborers. People in the camp reported that the elderly would eat potato peels that were thrown in the street as well as weeds. It was in these conditions that 70 year old Mina and her friends wrote a collection of recipes.
Many wonder why anyone who didn't have food would bother writing down recipes. It was a distraction from reality as well as a memory of what once was. More importantly, it was a form of defiance. In the face of the systematic annihilation of their culture, these women did their part to make sure their contributions and their culture would survive. It was the hope that these foods would be on tables once again.
Of the 140,000 Jews sent to Theresienstadt, about 90,000 were sent to death camps and 33,000 died in Theresienstadt including 90% of the children who were there. (USHMM) Mina died in the camp but entrusted her book and some photos to another inmate with the promise that he would get it to her daughter. The package traveled from family to family for 25 years until it reached Anny. It's unknown whether the carriers knew the story or what was in the package.
Historical Food Fortnightly
The Challenge: Sacred or Profane. This recipe is a little bit of both. Many people do not like the idea of recreating these dishes. According to New York Magazine, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said that the publication of this collection was "sick" although it did not seem as though it was explained to him as a primary source document. Also 35 publishers turned the manuscript down. Personally, as a cook, if I spent my last days writing down recipes it would be because I wanted the dishes to survive into the future. It is my goal to help these recipes survive and the memory of those who wrote them.
Kisses from In Memory's Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin
The Date/Year and Region: 1940s Czechoslovakia/ Europe
How Did You Make It:
- 3 Cups Flour (and extra)
- 2 Cups Rolled Oats
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1 Cup Milk
- 1 Egg
- 1 Tablespoon Margarine
- 2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
- Jam for filling
Instructions: Mix flour, oats, sugar, and baking powder in mixing bowl. Add milk, egg, and margarine, mix until well combined. Add flour until it forms a dough that doesn't stick to your hands. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place one inch balls of dough on a cookie sheet and press your thumb into the center. Fill the indentations with jam and bake for 12-14 minutes. The tops stay very pale.
Time to Complete: About 1 hour.
Total Cost: I had all of the ingredients.
How Successful Was It?: Tasted good. The dough part did not flatten as much as I thought. It had a very white color, even when it was fully baked. If I was to make it again, I would try using 2 cups of flour as per the original recipe but half the milk.
How Accurate Is It? No substitutions.
"Theresienstadt." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. June 20, 2014. Accessed December 27, 2014. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005424.