Recipes From Auschwitz: The Sur­vival Sto­ries of Two Hun­gar­i­an Jews

  • Review
By – October 19, 2020

The sto­ry of every Holo­caust sur­vivor deserves to be told and as the years go by, the urgency to record these mem­o­ries increas­es. For­get­ful­ness is the ene­my of his­to­ry, as Jews well know. To the chain of Holo­caust mem­o­ry, Alex Stern­berg has added the sto­ry of his par­ents, Olga and Mar­ton, hon­or­ing a promise to his moth­er that he would write about her youth in Hun­gary, her expe­ri­ences in Auschwitz and Ravens­brück and her post­war life. His father is also from Hun­gary, so Stern­berg weaves their sto­ries togeth­er, and through the family’s jour­ney, offers insights into the Hun­gar­i­an Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty before, dur­ing, and after its destruction.

The author uti­lizes the recipes of his moth­er as a touch­stone for her life sto­ry. To help endure their suf­fer­ing, the women in the bar­racks at Auschwitz spoke repeat­ed­ly about the food they used to pre­pare, dis­cussed recipes, and argued about the ways cer­tain dish­es were made. Olga most­ly lis­tened, at the same time mem­o­riz­ing their recipes. After the war, she wrote them down, call­ing them her Auschwitz Recipes.”

Born in 1911, Olga grew up in the town of Dom­bóvár, which had a Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of about 800 fam­i­lies. It was an eman­ci­pat­ed, assim­i­lat­ed com­mu­ni­ty, proud­ly Hun­gar­i­an, yet with a life that was cen­tered around the syn­a­gogue. Mar­ton came from a very dif­fer­ent back­ground, born in 1907 in a rur­al vil­lage where the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty was com­posed of Hasidic rebbes and their fol­low­ers. When they mar­ried after the war, they brought those back­grounds with them, along with their Holo­caust expe­ri­ences. Fur­ther­more, while Olga was tak­en to Auschwitz a sin­gle woman, Mar­ton had a wife and a young son, both of whom were mur­dered there.

The two lost souls,” as their son calls them, mar­ried and set­tled in the town of Pápa, deter­mined to rebuild their lives. Yet for­get­ting was not pos­si­ble, and at the din­ner table, espe­cial­ly at the Fri­day night Shab­bos table, all con­ver­sa­tions inevitably led to Auschwitz.” He adds that, I digest­ed my meals togeth­er with the sto­ries of my par­ents’ painful memories.”

Like­ly for this rea­son, the author has found it dif­fi­cult to leave any­thing out; cut­ting or at least short­en­ing some of the more tan­gen­tial mate­r­i­al might have sharp­ened the focus of the sto­ry. The book also con­tains some gram­mat­i­cal errors, incor­rect word usages, and spelling incon­sis­ten­cies, which detract from the content.

Over­all, how­ev­er, the book is a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to the Holo­caust record and serves as a ful­fill­ment of the author’s com­mit­ment to pre­serve his par­ents’ memories.

Gila Wertheimer is Asso­ciate Edi­tor of the Chica­go Jew­ish Star. She is an award-win­ning jour­nal­ist who has been review­ing books for 35 years.

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