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Recipes from the Cookbook of Eva Oswalt

Oswalt Recipes
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gift of Eva Guttsmann Ostwalt

Although many traditionally held gender and family roles were turned upside down during the Holocaust, these social traditions also grew in importance for some people as they struggled to preserve a sense of their identities and their normal daily routines. One of the ways in which people preserved their prewar gender identities and family roles during the Holocaust was by recording recipes.1

This cookbook was written by Eva Oswalt between 1943 and 1945 while she was imprisoned at Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women.2 She had been living with her daughter Heidemarie in Merano, Italy, until they were forced to return to Germany after her passport expired in 1938. Heidemarie stayed in Dresden with her father, while her mother moved to Cologne. Eva was arrested with her mother, Else, in 1943. Else was sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered. Eva was sent to forced labor at Ravensbrück.3 At the end of the war, she was evacuated from the camp on a death march. In summer 1945, she traveled to Dresden to find her daughter only to learn that Heidemarie had been killed in the Allied air raids on the city.

The two recipes featured here—apricot dumplings and a Hungarian omelette—are fairly typical Central European dishes. The ingredient list includes rich, filling items like butter, sugar, potatoes, apricots, eggs, and even (in the case of the omelette) cow's brains. All of these foods would certainly have been scarce during wartime. In the context of the concentration camp, they would have served as reminders of a very different life. We can only speculate if such memories were cruel or comforting to the women who recorded recipes like these.

Why would Oswalt bother to record these recipes while she was imprisoned at Ravensbrück? Was she reminding herself of these dishes, sharing the recipes, or preserving them for her daughter? Simply asserting one’s humanity and maintaining one’s identity could be forms of self-preservation and resistance against the cruelty of life under Nazi rule.4 Other creative responses, such as drawing or writing poems and plays were pursued by men and women alike in a variety of seemingly impossible situations.5

Unlike other cultural activities that are viewed as less gender specific, the sharing of recipes is often seen as unique to women. Indeed, this specific act is often viewed as evidence of women's "resourcefulness" and supposed tendency to bond with one another, which reflects the stereotypes and expectations of established gender norms.In examining Oswalt's cookbook, one might ask what types of assumptions we make when we regard this activity as a specifically female response. Do these assumptions reflect our own expectations of gendered behavior or those of the time?

Another well-known example is the cookbook from Theresienstadt. Michael Berenbaum, In Memory's Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).

For more about conditions at Ravensbrück, see the Experiencing History item, USHMM Oral Testimony with Ester Grun.

To learn more about women’s experiences at Ravensbrück, see Rochelle G. Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbrück Concentration Camp (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006).

To learn more, see Myrna Goldenberg, "Food Talk: Gendered Responses to Hunger in Concentration Camps" in Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg, eds., Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust (Detriot, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2003), 161–179.

For more sources on this topic, see the Experiencing History collection, Artistic Responses to Persecution.

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Apricot dumplings: (Vienna)

300g potatoes, 80g semolina, 150g potato
flour, pinch salt, pinch sugar, 1 egg.

Knead everything together, form a wrapper,
fill with apricots and a piece of sugar and
cook in boiling saltwater. Add butter and
breadcrumbs on top.

[...]

Hungarian omelette:

Cut green and red pepper thinly and stew
with parsley, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms
and optionally some brain. Add beaten
eggs and bake it as an omlette.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Gift of Eva Guttsmann Ostwalt
Accession Number 2008.86.1
Date Created
1943 to 1945
Page(s) 13, 16
Author / Creator
Eva Oswalt
Language(s)
German
Location
Ravensbrück, Germany (historical)
Document Type Manuscript
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