One of the preoccupations of the ladies in Ravensbrück, as in many other camps, was the constant “cooking:” describing recipes and lavish dinners that they had once prepared or were planning to prepare after liberation. Olga had already listened to many such recipes in Birkenau and heard women describe their cooking methods. But here in Ravensbrück, this activity took on a greater dimension.
One young girl sent to Ravensbrück in the winter of 1944 was Frantiska Quastler from Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava was a city originally in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Depending on which power was victorious in the constant wars that engulfed the region, this city was called Bratislava when under the rule of Slovakia, Pressburg under German rule, and Pozsony when Hungary was in charge. Culturally, the townsfolk all spoke German, Hungarian, and Slovakian. Their recipes were equally a mixture of the three cultural influences.
Frantiska wrote the following recipe into her secret diary. The diary itself was made of bits of stolen paper, and many of the inmates wrote their own recipes in it. After the war, it was made into a book:
English cookies. Beat four egg whites with 12 dekagrams (units of 10 grams) sugar, for a long time. Add 12 dekagrams almonds (not bleached), and 12 dekagrams flour. Bake in an oblong pan. Slice thinly the following day.
Another Hungarian woman held at Ravensbrück who wrote and published a recipe booklet was Rebecca Teitelbaum. She wrote Rebecca’s Legacy: A Ravensbruck Cookbook.”which was written up in a Vancouver Jewish newsletter.
“Exhausted, cold, and hungry, they [the women of the barrack] would talk endlessly about the food they longed for, about family meals they had shared and the dishes they planned to make if they survived the war […] Each woman in turn would share recipes in a paradoxical effort to stave off hunger. It seems as though these oft-repeated recipes and stories about family meals served as a talisman sustaining their humanity and hope in a time with little hope. Rebecca hid away small pieces of paper and an indigo pencil and set about recording these recipes […] In her clear, measured and even script, Rebecca filled 110 pages. The pages are meticulously hand stitched as a little volume that can rest comfortably in the palm of one’s hand […] The recipes themselves are quite extraordinary and elaborate […] Upon the book’s completion each of the women would take turns reading from its pages: mouss au chocolat, gelee de groseilles, gauteau-neige, plat hongrois, oeuf hollandais, sabayon italien, souffle a la confiture.”
In addition to Rebecca, Yehudit Aufrichtig wrote recipes that survived the war. They found an escape from the daily deprivation and hunger by writing what they called “fantasy recipes.” One day, when Yehudit was too weak to receive her daily ration of food, one of her friends wrote this description to her, which has been recorded at Yad Vashem.
“To allow you to get at least some mental pleasure from our meals, I’ll give you the details of the menu. Breakfast: Karlsbad-style breakfast — eggs, butter, cheese, jam. Brunch: At 10:00 we had yogurt, langus [a deep-fried yeast pastry], and a radish. Lunch: potato soup with sour cream and laurel leaves, asparagus in sour cream and bread crumbs. Sunny-side-up egg and beef in tomato sauce with macaroni. Fried apple in vanilla sauce. Afternoon: chocolate milk with whipped cream and egg bread with almonds and a “hornet’s nest” [a type of cake]. Supper: marrow, fried potatoes with onion, salad with green onion, little cookies and black coffee, fruit. We gorged ourselves with Klari. We ate everything apart from a little slice of bread, which we saved for you.”
Olga “cooked” with the women but mainly listened to the recipes that were repeated night after night and committed them to memory. Having memorized scores of poetry in Hungarian, Latin, and Greek during her student days, she was accustomed to memorizing. It was after the war that she wrote down what she called her “Auschwitz Recipes.”
The two sisters, Jolus and Rebecca, Olga, and the other two girls tried to work together in the same shift. They often managed to get machines close to each other. Rumors, the constant backbone of news in the camps, were rampant here, too. “The Russians are close by. They will reach us any day.” But here the rumors were based on some specific facts. One German foreman or another would not come to the factory one day. Olga heard that their house was bombed during the previous night’s air raid. Even Emil, Olga’s foreman, was missing one day. When he returned to the factory, he also told everyone — quietly, so the Nazis wouldn’t hear him giving news to the prisoners — that his house was bombed the night before.
Such news traveled through the factory and the barracks like wildfire. They were happy that the Germans were getting bombed regularly. It also meant that the German air force was losing. Yes, the rumors were becoming more and more believable; the Russians were getting closer.
The German foremen really didn’t know what the truth really was. Nazi Germany blacked out the news, and they could only rely on propaganda. But from time to time, the foremen got their hands on foreign-language newspapers they could not read, so they brought them into the factory and asked the prisoners to read them. Some of the papers were Hungarian, others Slovakian. What they read in these papers gave them more accurate information about what was really going on. In one of the Hungarian papers they read that Szallasi came to power in Hungary and became the prime minister. Szallasi was the head of the virulently Jew-hating Hungarian Nazis, the Arrow Cross Party. He hated Jews more intensely than the Nazis. With Szallasi as prime minister, Olga thought there must be utter chaos and perhaps the war would be over soon. They realized that the Allies were near.
One day, Kato the blockelteste gave their group a punishment detail for some crime or misdemeanor they had committed. Olga’s good friend Dr. Szilard Vica, a celebrated and successful teacher before the war, turned to Kato and asked her:
“Kato, why are you punishing us now? Don’t you know that the Russians are near and that the Germans are losing the war? The war will soon be over and we will be liberated.”
Kato turned to her and began to berate her in a loud and angry voice:
“How dare you say such a thing? Who told you these lies?” She slapped Vica hard and turned to report the incident to the Nazis.
By this time, the work in the factory had ended for some of the ladies. Some shifts were completely idle, including the shift Olga was assigned to.
Apparently, due to the constant bombing, roads and bridges were destroyed, cutting off the German supply chain. Raw material was no longer available and they could not manufacture any more engine parts. Olga was given a broom instead, and was told to sweep the grounds. Several days were spent on useless sweeping, even during bombing raids. Olga and her friends were sure they would all be killed. The Nazis took the idle ladies outside and had them dig trenches near the factories. The trenches were approximately eight kilometers between the factory and the lager. Now, they were taken daily from the lager to the trenches, walking each way.
They emptied the entire barracks, both night- and day-shift workers, and marched everyone to the trenches for digging. They even emptied the infirmary and had the sick march the eight kilometers to and fro. One of the ladies from Kaposvar, the town next to Dombovar, froze her leg in the bitter cold. She could not walk without significant pain. She limped, something that could be dangerous in any concentration camp.
Olga and her friends helped her up and placed her in the middle of the row so as not to arouse any interest. As they marched they held and supported her. She fell several times, and finally the SS and the aufseherein became aware of her infirmity. The aufseherein called her over and made her walk on the outside of the group. Neither Olga nor her friends were allowed to help her. With each step taken by this unfortunate woman, the aufseherein would trip her, causing her to fall down. The SS and the aufseherein laughed at their cleverness. This went on all the way until the end of the eight kilometers to the trenches. By the time they reached their destination, the woman collapsed and could no longer walk.
So the SS came and dragged the woman away from the group by her legs. They dragged her out of sight of the group, and suddenly Olga heard gunshots. The SS then came back to the group, without the lady from Kaposvar, and told everyone that she was shot because she tried to escape. Obviously, everyone knew she could not have escaped on her lame leg. They had just executed her.
Dr. Alex Sternberg authored the forthcoming book “Recipes from Auschwitz–My Parents’ Story of the Murder of Hungarian Jewry.” He is a lifelong student of Jewish history, focusing on the development of Zionism and the Holocaust. He teaches graduate studies and is active in several pro-Israel organizations. He is a retired research doctor in children’s pulmonary health and a master karate instructor.