Pächter Torte

By Simon Newman

Mina Pächter’s recipe book. Credit: Stern and Pächter family papers, Collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

15 dkg Zucker (15 decagrams sugar)

Many of the recipes we use are filled with memories. I use pastry recipes that go back to my grandmother, probably even further. As I make them I remember her and my mother, I remember them making pies and tarts, and I remember our family eating them together. Many of my family memories, I realize, are centred around food.

15 dkg butter (15 decagrams butter

Mina Pächter scribbled this recipe down sometime in 1943 or 1944. It had been years since she had made this recipe, years since she had shared it with her family. And Mina knew that she would never again make chocolate hazelnut torte.

15 dkg ger. Haselnüsse (15 decagrams ground hazelnuts)

It is remarkable that this recipe survives. Mina wrote it down and included it with several dozen others that she and some other women wrote while incarcerated in Terezín. Also known as Theresienstadt, Terezín was in Bohemia and Moravia, a German-speaking region of Czechoslovakia. During its early years, the Nazis described it as a ‘model’ camp for European Jews they deemed worthy of special treatment. It was part ghetto, part concentration camp and, despite the Nazi propaganda, conditions were dire and few survived. 144,000 people were sent to Terezín: 33,000 died there, 88,000 were sent on to Auschwitz and only 19,000 survived.

10 dkg erweichte Schokolade (10 decagrams softened chocolate)

For as long as they could, the residents of Terezín tried hard to maintain some kind of life for themselves, teaching children, composing and performing music, painting, and writing poetry. But every day, people died and everyone was malnourished. Hunger was constant. Why would anyone who was surviving on watery vegetable soup and little else remember recipes for rich and wonderful food, let alone write them down?

Oder 2 Eßl. Cakau (or 2 tablespoons cocoa)

Mina and women in this and other camps did remember, and when they could procure paper and pencils or pens, they secretly recorded recipes. Survivors of the camps remember women talking amongst themselves, recalling and comparing recipes, sometimes even arguing about the best ways to create certain dishes.

Zitronenschale (lemon rind)

One survivor of Terezín and Auschwitz remembered that camp residents referred to these kinds of discussions as “cooking with the mouth.”(1) Remembering recipes and foodways was comforting, a reminder of family and culture.

3 Eßl. Starken schwarzen Kaffee (3 tablespoons strong black coffee)

Before she died, Mina entrusted the cookbook to a friend and made him promise that if he survived, he would pass it on to Mina’s daughter Anny, who was in Palestine. The manuscript changed hands several times, but almost a quarter-century after Mina’s death, it came to Anny, by then living in the United States.

2 ganze Eier (2 whole eggs)

For Mina, talking about and writing down her recipe for Pächter Torte was not just an exercise in memory, but a longing for the food of yesterday and the life and family it embodied. It was also preserving that memory for family in the future, an act of faith and hope enshrined in handwritten recipes.

2 Dotter (2 egg yolks)

Written on cheap paper in a faded pencil script, the recipe represented family, culture, and heritage. It allowed Anny to connect to her mother and to remember the foodways that had bound them together during her youth.

Warden ¼ Stunde lang fest gerührt (are stirred vigorously for 15 minutes)

Mina Pächter’s recipes are preserved in the collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

Dann den Schnee von den 2 Eiweiß (then [add] the snow from the two [stiffly beaten] egg whites

These recipes are evidence of gentle yet powerful resistance to the horrors of genocide. If the Nazi’s Final Solution was intended to erase a people and their culture, then recording, preserving and handing down recipes defied that destructive intent.

20 dkg Mehl (20 decagrams flour)

I believe there is no better way to honor these women than to make their recipes. Weighing out the ingredients and guessing the techniques that were so familiar to Mina that she did not even bother to record them, it is impossible not to think about the suffering of those in the camps. How painful and yet how life-affirming it must have been to remember favorite recipes and the joyful memories of food shared with family and friends. And we can only marvel at these women’s desperation to ensure that at least some of their recipes would survive.

Mehl, geben 1/2 der Masse…

Mehl, geben 1/2 der Masse in eine ausgesch[?mierte] u[nd] ausgestreute Form geben darauf eine feste Marmelade, geben die andere Hälfte der Masse darauf, belegen es mit ein [?] der Hälfte geschnittene Mandeln und backen es 1 Stunde lang. Hält sich 4 Wochen.

Flour, put half of the mixture in a greased and strewn tin [i.e. dusted with sugar] add some firm jam on top, add the other half of the mixture[.] on top, cover it with one [?] of the half cut [i.e. split] almonds and bake it for 1 hour. Keeps for 4 weeks.

Credit: Simon Newman.

References

  1. Susan E. Cernyak-Spatz, quoted in Cara de Silva, ed., In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy From the Women on Terezín (1996), (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006), xxix.

About

Simon P. Newman is Sir Denis Brogan Professor of History (Emeritus) at the University of Glasgow, and Honorary Fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is completing a book on enslaved people in early modern London but hopes to spend more time cooking, thinking and perhaps writing about historical recipes.

He is grateful to Meg Munck for help translating the recipe instructions. The original recipe can be seen as Image 4 of Cookbooks, Stern and Pächter family papers, Collections of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.