“Food and aroma instantly bring back memories. Sometimes memory is all that remains of people we loved dearly,” says Ronald S. Lauder. Son and heir to cosmetics industry scion Estée Lauder has published a collection of recipes from Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors and compiled them into a cookbook titled Honey Cake and Latkes. “This book has memory. It also has amazing recipes from special people close to my heart,” says Lauder.
Lauder, who is the president of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation, began compiling and editing this book of 110 recipes during the pandemic.
“When I visited Poland for the 75th commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz, I had the extraordinary opportunity to speak with many of the 120 elderly survivors who made the return trip,” Lauder says of the story. genesis of the book. “In our conversations, something interesting came out. Of all things, we started talking about the recipes they remembered from their childhood and the recipes they brought to the United States”
While connecting virtually with these survivors throughout the pandemic, Lauder continued conversations about family recipes passed down during lockdown, a time when more people were cooking at home than ever.
“The lockdown has made us think more about food, learn more about cooking and explore recipes we didn’t know before. I asked survivors to share their favorite gefilte fish recipes. In response, our Foundation was inundated with so many recipes that the idea of a cookbook seemed like the natural next step,” recalls Lauder.
The dishes featured in Honey Cake and Latkes–which include favorites such as blintzes, matzo ball soup, goulash and rugelach as well as a special chapter dedicated to Jewish holiday dishes such as latkes and challah – have been tested and retested for easy replication for the home cook.
Although sharing and preserving these recipes drove Lauder to create this book, his real purpose was to Honey Cake and Latkes stand as a compilation of pre-war and post-liberation Holocaust survivors and memories told through the lens of cuisine and food, resulting in an all-encompassing sensory experience.
There is also a sense of global gravity in this cookbook that goes beyond the concept itself – a sense of significance has been cultivated by the people who have come together to bring Honey Cake and Latkes live. Notable contributors include Marion Weisel, widow of the late Nobel laureate, professor and activist Elie Weisel, who shared her husband’s personal latke recipe that opens the final chapter of the book. A recipe that has never been shared before, says Weisel, her late husband’s latkes were a favorite with family and friends.
“Latkes are one of the most famous Jewish foods and a specialty of Hanukkah, but they can be eaten on any holiday and on any occasion. When Ronald S. Lauder, our dear family friend, told me that his Foundation was working on a cookbook with recipes from Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors, I agreed to include the recipe for latkes from Elijah. It’s simple, easy and delicious,” Weisel told Forbes. “Of course, Elie wasn’t a cook, but he loved directing the production of latkes and certainly loved eating them. Her particular recipe had a twist – we never added onions or garlic to the potato pancakes.
For Lauder, however, Honey Cake and Latkes is as much about healing as anything else.
“Survivors shared their recipes for a variety of reasons. It was a way of remembering a murdered mother or grandmother. It was a way of clinging to the past and passing it on to our future. Finally, it was a way to share previously unknown parts of their testimonies of pre-war life in Eastern Europe,” he says. “As a result, this unique volume is a story of hope and triumph for the human spirit.”