On January 28, local caterer Susan Rothstein and the Jewish Food Experience hosted an afternoon of tea and delicious baked goods (mandelbrot and apple cake!) made by Florence Golden, a superior baker and survivor of Auschwitz, who shared her story in addition to her sweets.
Golden and Rothstein first bonded over their shared love of food. Describing their relationship, Rothstein says, “If only I had met her sooner…we would be business partners now.” As it is, the two families have spent numerous holidays together, though Rothstein refuses to say who makes the best latkes, Golden or her husband.
Food is tied to memories. The preparation of a family recipe can, for example, remind us of the time our sister dropped the blueberry pie on Thanksgiving Day. Not all food memories are good; I ate a lemon drop every day while visiting my dying father in the hospital. The taste, for me, is now one of grief.
This complicated, wonderful and heartbreaking relationship to food is something we all can relate to, but it is especially significant in the Holocaust survivor’s experience. Memories of food bind survivors to their life before the Holocaust, so that not everything is lost. During the war, memories of sharing food and family gatherings could remind victims of their humanity. And the physical, bodily changes from a lack of food are as much a symbol of the Holocaust as are barbed wire fences.
Golden spent the final months of the war in Auschwitz. She witnessed the last transfer of people into the camp. She knew what was going to happen to them, but she could do nothing. Through the fence she recalls them yelling to her, “You are alive, and you look okay! The war is about to end!”
In the panic of those last weeks of war, Golden was put on a cattle car to be transported. The station, however, had been blown up so the transportation was delayed. They sat in the car for two or three days.
When the doors finally opened, she was so hungry. A line formed waiting for the food, but Golden fell, spilling her share as soon as she got it. She knew better than to return to the line. Her sister shared what she had; food, shared with family, is remembered, despite that darkness, through all these years.
The proceeds from this event went to benefit the Holocaust Survivors’ Community Fund and will be used to benefit the Jewish Social Service Agency’s (JSSA) Holocaust Survivor Program. 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.
Top photo: The dessert spread at Tea & Tales included Florence Golden’s apple cake and mandelbrot.