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Food connects us over generations and creates good, warm, lasting memories - even in light of heinous events like the Holocaust.
Food is also about survival - it nourishes our bodies as well as our souls.
"People starving in death camps would build whole meals in their minds," says Sydney Perry, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven. "Their memories of preparing meals, the smells of the kitchen, are what helped to keep (them going)."
So it is fitting that Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) which was commemorated on April 8, is being honored this year with an event this Sunday at the Jewish Federation's Shoreline office titled "Living Memories: Stories and Recipes of Holocaust Survivors."
Recipes from the 9th edition of the "Holocaust Survivor Cookbook," which were collected from around the world, will be prepared by members of Shoreline Hadassah and served to attendees of the event along with recipes from the few remaining local Holocaust survivors, prepared by family and friends, who will share their stories.
Jill Lesage, program director of the Shoreline office of the Jewish Federation, cooked up the idea of the event, along with Ethel Anne Chorney, president of Shoreline Hadassah.
"Sharing stories and food seemed like a wonderful way to honor local survivors because there are so few left," Lesage says. "It reminds us of what happened and to make sure it is never forgotten."
"As survivors pass, and we move into another generation, having their memories is especially precious to us," Perry adds. "Starvation was one of the sadistic tools Nazis used to break down human resistance."
Perry notes that the highest birthrate in the world was right after the Holocaust.
"They provided their families with the gift of rebuilding their lives," she says. "When you look at this, you not only look at the terrible hardships and man's inhumanity to man, but the ways mothers and grandmothers were able to provide savory food for their children and build a positive future."
Selma Engel, 91, and Miriam Swidler, 86, will be honored at the Living Memories event.
Originally from Holland, Selma Engel of Branford survived the Sobibor death camp in Poland, where she met her future husband Chaim when the guards demanded they dance for them as "entertainment." They eventually escaped together after the prisoners revolt, returned to Holland, went on to Israel, and ended up in Connecticut. They had three children - one baby died on the boat to Israel - many grandchildren, and even a great-grandchild.
Sixty-eight members of Selma Engel's family were murdered by the Nazis, and Chaim, owner of Engel Jewelers in Old Saybrook, died in 2004.
The Engels were subjects of a made-for-TV movie "Escape from Sobibor." The book "Dancing Through Darkness: The Inspiring Story of Nazi Death Camp Survivors, Chaim and Selma Engel" by Ann Markham Walsh was published this past fall.
Miriam Swidler of Liege, Belgium, was 15 years old when she had to go into hiding. She spent years as a maid and governess for a wealthy Christian family under a Catholic identity. She was separated from her family for months, raising herself for about a year and a half. Her father's family lost 28 members in the camps.
Swidler met her husband Jack in New York in 1950 while she was here on a visitor's visa. They married two months after meeting so she would not have to return to Belgium. They lived most of their married life in Poughkeepsie, New York, and retired to Florida in 1990. Jack died in 2005, and today, Swidler, who has two children and three grandchildren, lives in Branford's Evergreen Woods retirement community, near her daughter, Clo Davis of Madison, and her family.
Lesage notes that proceeds from the sale of "The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook," published by the Caras family of Florida, will benefit the Carmei Ha'ir Soup Kitchen in Jerusalem that serves more than 500 meals each day to poor and hungry Israelis.
Since the first edition of the cookbook was published in 2007, close to $1 million has been raised to feed the hungry, preserve great Jewish recipes, and keep the stories of Holocaust survivors alive.
Appeltaarte (Dutch Apple Cake)
This is one of Selma Engel’s favorite recipes. Her friend Andrea Kaye, who will prepare the cake for the event, describes Engel as an “effortless baker.” The recipe was printed in a cookbook published by Madison’s Temple Beth Tikvah, of which Engel is a member.
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons apricot jam
Liqueur, optional (author suggests Amaretto)
Bring ingredients to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix butter and sugar very well with mixer or in food processor. Add eggs one at a time, and then add vanilla and mix well. Sift flour and baking powder and gradually add to butter mixture. Put batter into 9" spring form pan or pie plate.
Peel and quarter apples. Make at least five thin cuts in the outside of each quarter, but do not slice all the way through apple. Place apples in a circle pattern on the cake batter, rounded side up.
Bake 30 minutes or until golden brown and when toothpick inserted near center of cake comes out clean. While cake is still warm, melt jam in microwave and mix with liqueur. Brush hot jam over top of warm cake. Serve sprinkled with confectionary sugar.
Clo Davis will bake her mother Miriam Swidler's honey cake, because she says it's something from her childhood that her mother made especially for Rosh Hashanah for a sweet year. Swidler also made enough for everyone at Davis's wedding to her husband Stephen so that their marriage would be filled with sweetness.
From "The Jewish Festival Cookbook" by Fannie Engle and Gertrude Blair, 1954
1 3/4 cups dark honey
1 cup coffee, double strength
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
Dash of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
Bring honey gently to boil, cool, then add coffee. Beat eggs until light and lemon colored; then add oil gradually, beating well to blend and then add sugar slowly. Sift dry ingredients and add to egg mixture, alternating with honey-coffee, about a third at a time. Mix well. Pour batter into greased 9.5-by-5.5 loaf pan and bake in 300-325 degree oven for about 1 hour. Cool in pan.
This traditional Eastern European Jewish stew is from "The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook," submitted by William H. Donat of Purchase, N.Y., who was a young child in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943. Food was scarce, but occasionally his parents and other people in his building were able to gather the ingredients to make a cholent, cooking it slowly overnight for a simple meal the next day.
2 onions, sliced
½ cup kidney beans
½ cup white lima beans
1 cup pearl barley or wheat
1 piece flanken (beef short ribs cut horizontally)
3 to 5 potatoes, peeled and cut into large bite-size pieces
1 onion chopped
Salt and pepper
Add to large pot in order listed and completely cover the surface with heavy sprinkling of sweet paprika. Add 1-2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper (optional). Cover completely with water. Bring to boil on stove top, and then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook for several hours or overnight on low heat.
What: “Living Memories: Stories and Recipes o fHolocaust Survivors”
When: Sunday, April 14, 3 to 5 p.m.
Where: Shoreline Jewish Federation Office, Lighthouse Square, 705 Boston Post Road, Guilford
Cost: $5 donation; includes food tasting and refreshments. “Holocaust Survivor Cookbook” will be available for sale
($36). Proceeds benefit The Carmel Ha'ir Soup Kitchen in Israel.
Info/RSVP: Call (203) 738-0033 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.