This cookbook was written by Eva Oswalt between 1943 and 1945, while she was imprisoned at Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women. Eva was born in Cologne, Germany, in 1902 to Emil Lippmann and Else Ballin Lippmann. After living with her daughter Heidemarie in Merano, Italy, Eva and her daughter returned to Germany after her passport expired in 1938. While Heidemarie remained in Dresden with her father, Eva returned to Cologne. Eva and her mother, Else, were arrested in 1943. Else was sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered. Eva was sent to forced labor at the Ravensbrück. At the end of the war, she was evacuated from the camp on a death march. After the war, in August of 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 serve 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.
The collecting and sharing of recipes is a somewhat familiar story across different contexts of the Holocaust.1 This activity is often discussed as a response (and for some scholars, even a resistance) to dehumanization.2 This argument posits that cultural activity, community, and indeed, any form of "normal" human interaction created a barrier against the cruelty of life under Nazi rule. Other creative responses, such as sketching and drawing, or writing poems and plays were pursued by men and women alike in a variety of contexts and in a host of seemingly impossible situations.3
Unlike other other cultural activities that are not viewed as gender specific, the sharing of recipes is seen as unique to women. Indeed, this specific act is often viewed as evidence of women's "resourcefulness" and tendency to "bond" with one another. These types of descriptors, however, can imply a specific "women's culture" shaped by established gender norms.4 In examining Oswalt's cookbook, one might ask whether normative expectations about women's role in society and the home inform and reinforce our beliefs about what this practice might mean.5 In the context of gender norms at the time of the Holocaust, what could the creation of a cookbook have meant to the individual women involved? What types of assumptions do we make when we regard this activity as a specifically female resistance? Finally, what makes a cultural response to persecution inherently "male" or "female" in our eyes, and what does that tell us about our own expectations of gendered behavior during this time?