A Taste to Remember, an evening of dining and remembrance hosted by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem (CSYV), literally gave guests food for thought.
The dinner was prepared from recipes written down by Jewish women during their imprisonment at various Nazi concentration camps.
About 80 people gathered May 9 at the elegant ballroom of the Windsor Arms Hotel, where they dined on chopped liver and beef goulash as they learned about the lives of Jewish inmates who shared their recipes with each other at the camps.
Talking about food helped them keep a connection to their families and cope with the brutality of life in a concentration camp, Fran Sonshine, the national chair of CSYV, explained. “This year’s theme was about maintaining the human spirit during the Holocaust.
“These women rose above the filth and disease, and the constant hunger to feel closer to their families. [They] maintained a sense of normalcy by sharing their recipes… It was a way for them to maintain their humanity in inhumane conditions.”
Most of the recipes were written down in notebooks cobbled together from scraps, and some of these books have been preserved as original Holocaust artifacts in the archives of Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem.
Sonshine and her husband, Ed Sonshine, the event co-chairs, presented short bios of the seven women whose recipes inspired the various dishes served that evening.
The actual meal was a tasting menu, with many different dishes served in small portions.
The dinner was sponsored by Windsor Arms owner George Friedmann, who is the son of Holocaust survivors.
While his parents talked about the horrors of the war, he said, they also shared their memories of relatives who did not survive. “I have always felt a connection, almost as if I had met them.”
He joked that the hotel’s executive chef had never learned to make many of the dishes served at A Taste to Remember, so his mother, Alzbeta Friedmann, was on hand to supervise the preparation of such dishes as cabbage rolls and cholent with kishke.
The highlight of the evening was the personal story told by keynote speaker Nurit Stern (born Frantiska Quastler), a retired teacher for the blind who lives in Israel.
Stern was born in Slovakia and was only 12 in 1944 when she and her parents were rounded up by the Germans. She and her mother ended up together at Ravensbrück.
The women in the camp often talked about food and recipes in the barracks, Stern recalled. “Hungry people can only dream about food.
“I was a child. I didn’t know anything about cooking. I memorized the recipes and wrote them down.”
Stern said she was able to fashion a diary out of wire, cardboard, a torn stocking and some stolen paper. This diary included the women’s recipes, which she jotted down from memory.
She said she risked keeping the diary, which she hid under her clothing, because if it would have been discovered, she would have been punished for stealing the paper.
Stern ended up in Sweden, where the authorities let her keep her diary after it was disinfected. Today it is part of the archives at Yad Vashem.
In fact, Dorit Novak, the director general of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, brought Stern’s diary to Toronto.
In her address, Novak said much of the intimate experience of Jewish family life has revolved around the dinner table.
“These women [who shared recipes in the camps] used their memories and imagination to memorize this most basic experience… Many chose this way to protect their sanity.”