Cecile Rojer Jeruchim: Recipes Recall Darker Days, the Holocaust & Culinary Memories

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A Crop of Books Link the Holocaust With Culinary Memories

Family Memories: 1940s-era photos of contributors Cecile Rojer Jeruchim with her siblings on right, and Luna Kaufman with her mother appear on the left.

Courtesy of ‘Recipes Remembered’
Family Memories: 1940s-era photos of contributors Cecile Rojer Jeruchim with her siblings on right, and Luna Kaufman with her mother appear on the left.

By Devra Ferst

Cecile Rojer Jeruchim remembers the last meal she shared with her mother. It was a typical Belgian lunch of steak, mashed potatoes and Belgian endives. “I hated Belgian endives!” she recalls. It was 1943, she was 12.

When a non-Jewish friend stopped by during the lunch and offered Cecile the opportunity to accompany her to voice lessons, Cecile jumped at the chance. “Not before you finish your endives, or I will save them for you for dinner,” her mother said. Choosing to put off the disliked dish for later, Cecile left with her friend. While she was gone, her parents were arrested and sent to Auschwitz, where they ultimately perished. Cecile and her sister, Anny, survived the war by hiding in a Catholic convent.

“Today I often eat Belgian endives, as their subtle flavor brings me closer to my mother…,” she writes in “Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival,” a new cookbook written and assembled by June Feiss Hersh in association with the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust.

It may seem strange or even perverse to link food and recipes with stories of the Holocaust, a time when there was such death, hunger and deprivation. But the women caught in these horrors often discussed food, reciting and recording recipes. The experience of starvation in camps and ghettos fortified these culinary memories, and the discussions took on profound meaning as psychological sustenance and as a connection to a Jewish, and even human, identity.

This book, the third published in the United States to link recipes to stories of the Holocaust, represents an important evolution in the genre. While the first two books preserve the recipes of survivors and those who perished exactly as they were written by the original cooks, “Recipes Remembered” is the first to provide readers with tested (and, if necessary, slightly altered) recipes that can easily be re-created at home, allowing the tastes of these dishes to serve as reminders of the lives of the women and men who created them.

The tome comprises a collection of about 80 survivors’ stories and their personal or family recipes. Jeruchim’s entry includes a recipe for Belgian endives along with two others. The stories, which are organized by geographical regions across Europe, are often both remarkable and heartbreaking, ranging from recollections of members of the Bielski partisans in Poland to recipes representing the refined Jewish cuisines of France and Germany. Collectively, the stories and recipes help the reader peer into the kitchen of a generation of European Jews and remember their tales through the dishes that sustained them…READ MORE

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