In early January, Susan Taube will celebrate her 90th birthday. Born in Vacha, Germany, she was just 16 years old when she and her family were deported to the Riga ghetto in occupied Latvia in January 1942. She remained in the ghetto until October 1943 when it was liquidated.
She was then sent to Kaiserwald concentration camp, Stutthof concentration camp and finally Sophienwalde concentration camp, where she remained until January 1945 when the camp was evacuated by death march to Lauenberg in Eastern Germany. She was liberated by the Russian army on March 10, 1945.
The woman sitting before me looks nothing like someone who experienced countless years of persecution, trauma and suffering as a little girl. She looks exactly like any other elderly woman I might see in the supermarket or pass on the streets. Her smile, polite mannerisms and positive attitude reveal nothing of her horrible past.
Before the Nazis came to power and her world fell apart, Taube describes her life as a typical childhood. She explains, “It was a normal life…parents, a sister and grandparents.”
When I ask about food she ate growing up, the theme of normal comes up again. She says, “We didn’t have fancy food. We ate soup, bread, and on Shabbat we ate chicken.” She does remember that her mother used to cook roasted goose for the family’s Chanukah celebration.
Among all the talk of normal, I am again reminded that her life was far from that after I ask if she has made her mother’s roasted goose since. She replies, “I tried to cook it once. It wasn’t the same.” Taube’s mother, Bertha, was one of the many family members who perished in the Holocaust. Her famous roasted goose recipe was lost along with her life.
When I ask if thinking about the food her mother used to cook still brings her sadness, Taube says, “At my age I don’t think about that very much anymore. You have other things on your mind now, not what happened 80 years ago.”
That statement embodies Taube’s whole attitude about her traumatic past. Instead of letting her past experiences cripple her, she found the strength to start a new life. Her story is one of renewal and revival despite the horror of the Holocaust. After the war she met her husband, gave birth to a son, immigrated to the United States and started over. As a young woman coming to America without a mother or grandmother to learn from, she taught herself how to cook using cookbooks.
A few of her specialties are brisket, chicken soup and caponata, a Sicilian eggplant appetizer. One recipe that stands out in her mind is her baked French toast with cranberry maple sauce. She makes it every time her children come to visit her, and especially for their break-fast meal on Yom Kippur. Her eyes light up, and she shares excitedly, “My children love it…they come and they just love it.”
Despite experiencing tremendous pain, Taube has succeeded at moving forward by creating a new life for herself and providing for her family, including, of course, lots and lots of baked French toast.
The Jewish Social Service Agency’s (JSSA) Holocaust Survivor Program provides care and safety net services to frail, poor and ill Holocaust survivors living independently in our community. At JSSA we are privileged to provide dignity and comfort to those who have seen the worst in humanity. Three-fourths of the Holocaust survivor clients JSSA serves in our area live below the federal poverty level. The majority has come from the Former Soviet Union. JSSA’s work, supported by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and The Holocaust Survivors’ Community Fund, strives to keep these survivors living in their homes and with dignity.