I’m a foreign correspondent and author based in Jerusalem and this is my first blog post for the TOI. For more than three years I’ve been gathering the life stories and recipes of Holocaust Survivors and photographing them with their grandchildren.
This blog will be a mix of stories and recipes – is there any better combination?
I began this project with the mother of one of my closest friends. Eva Grinston, now in her 80s, is a devoted mother, grandmother and culture vulture. And a fabulous cook and baker. Ohmigod, what a baker.Eva’s also a survivor of Auschwitz and for years, I watched her cooking up feasts from a battered old recipe book.
It turned out to be a book with a story.
Eva lives in Sydney Australia but was born in Bratislava in Slovakia. She was a child when WW2 began and a teenager – and a different person – when it ended, after she was held for months in the death camp of Auschwitz. She had been a prisoner and slave labourer. Her mother, aunt and her little sister Vera had been killed there.
When Eva returned to her family home after the War she was alone, a gaunt, bereft 16 year old. She found that little remained of her past until she discovered a box in the cellar. In it was a kaleidoscope she had played with as a child, and the last pictures her sister Vera had drawn before the Nazis forced them into the ghetto.
And there was her grandmother’s cookbook.
Eva describes leaving her old family home and sitting on the outside fence, as she had when she was a little girl, and lifting her kaleidoscope to the sky. It was still working. She saw the images of her happy early life — her Granny, all the members of her family, she saw the faces of the ladies who visited Granny, and the children she played with as a child.
“My face was wet with tears. I had no hanky. I opened the cookbook and there were the recipes of my Granny, and Granny’s friends,” says Eva.
She’s been cooking from this book ever since, keeping alive the tastes of that vanished world. It’s a link to her past, and as she cooks from it for her grandchildren, also to her future.
Eva’s granny’s Chocolate, Sour Cherry and Walnut cake is on the table for her grandchildren’s birthdays in Australia. You can see the recipe here.
COOKING UP A BOOK
I’ve interviewed more than 20 grandmothers – and 2 grandfathers! – from across Russia, Europe and North Africa for a new book, Just Add Love – Holocaust Survivors Share their Stories and Recipes (currently launching on Kickstarter.)
The stories are varied, and so is the cuisine. Just Add Love features mezze from Greece and Libya, dumplings from Central Asia and fabulous cakes from Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
Actually, fabulous cakes from all over the world. Grandmothers, it seems, love baking.
These are special women. They survived genocide, and are the last eyewitnesses to the terrible events of World War Two.
But in spite of everything, it’s a joyful book, with its focus on recovery, resilience, and triumph.
Many of these women arrived in their new countries with only the clothes on their backs and the recipes inside their heads. For those who didn’t have even a single photo left from their family, the smell and the taste of the food from home was memory.
This book is about preserving these memories and stories in one place, and paying respect to the female elder. Her-story, not just history.
Perhaps the only downside for me is that I haven’t learned how to refuse a second piece of cake, or even a third – you try saying no to a Jewish grandmother!
Please support our Kickstarter campaign. Pre-order our book Just Add Love, with stories and recipes, including this one from Eva Grinston and enable us to fund the printing of this unique book. Link: hyperurl.co/shbwdb