During my sophomore year of college, I took a semester-long course that changed my life. It was a writing class, geared to help us improve our expository writing skills while exploring a social issue in depth. We had dozens of topics to choose from – Environment and Ethics, Diversity and Racial Conflict, Immigrant America, etc. We had to choose our topic carefully, since this would be a subject that we’d be writing no less than 20 term papers about.
I chose a course called The Holocaust. Why? I can’t really explain; it was a gut feeling. I needed to learn more about this tragedy of unimaginable proportions. The class had a profound impact on me. I left the course with one resounding message written on my heart – never forget. Even today, there is unimaginable suffering and genocide happening in our world. It is our responsibility as humans to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, to ensure that we do not allow it to happen again.
When we talk about the Holocaust, the last thing that comes to mind is cooking—in fact, it seems strange to associate cookbook recipes with such a tremendous tragedy. And yet, there are several incredible cookbooks and compilations of recipes written by Holocaust survivors. Recipes are a way of keeping family history alive—they’re a tangible reminder of family, home, comfort, and security. Entire families were lost in the concentration camps, leaving survivors to push forward alone in the world, clinging to only memories of their loved ones. One way to keep those memories alive is to recreate their recipes, to share them and in that way remember their spirit.
The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook strives to keep those memories alive. It’s a compilation of heartbreaking survivor stories that put faces and names to the victims of the Holocaust. It also includes several authentic recipes from survivors and their families. I discovered this book last year, and I treasure it.
In full disclosure—because this is, after all, a cooking blog—the Holocaust Survivor Cookbook isn’t the most reliable source for foolproof recipes. Because the book features personal family recipes, some are not written very clearly. Several of the recipes list ingredients that are missing in the instructions, leaving you to guess where and when you should add them. That said, I still recommend that you buy this book–not only for the food, but for the history. It is filled with true, personal stories of survival during one of the darkest periods in human history. In addition, there are some wonderful recipes that are worth the price of the book itself.
This recipe comes from the family of survivor Rena Gani Carasso. Here is an excerpt from her story:
Rena was born in Prevesa Greece in 1915. Prevesa was a small Jewish community a few hours from Athens. Her father Solomon was a prosperous textile merchant and her mother Simcha stayed home and raised their five children.
In 1943 the Germans invaded their town and arrested all of the Jews. The entire Gani family was sent to the Birkenau/Auschwitz concentration camp where the parents were immediately sent to the gas chambers.
Rena and her sister Ellie were sent to the women’s camp, while her three brothers went to the men’s camp. The three young men fought valiantly in an uprising at the men’s camp but were killed… Rena and Ellie survived the women’s camp, and were liberated by the Americans in 1945. They returned to Greece where nothing remained of their once happy family.
…Soon Rena moved to Athens where she met and married tall handsome Daniel Carasso, known to his friends as Nico. Since both Rena and Nico had lost most of their friends and relatives in the Holocaust their wedding was small, but still filled with the hope and promise of the future.
In 1951 Rena, Daniel, and their little daughter Jeanette came to America. Their family is honored on the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island. They later had another daughter Eileen and five beautiful grandchildren.
“Because Our Parents Survived” – Jeanette Kasten and Eileen Metzger and their families
This recipe for Rena Carasso’s Greek Butter Cookies, known as Kourabiedes, was submitted to the cookbook by her daughters Jeannette Katzen and Eileen Metzger. They are a delicious tribute to Rena and her family.
I have made one small modification to this recipe. The cookie dough did not have enough sweetness for me (and I’m not a big fan of sweet), so I went ahead and increased the powdered sugar in the dough to 1 cup. The original recipe calls for ½ cup of sugar in the dough (separate from the 2 cups of dusting sugar). You can add even more sugar to the dough for sweetness if you want, it will not change the dough’s texture.
To purchase your own copy of the Holocaust Survivor Cookbook, click here. Proceeds benefit the Carmei Ha’ir Soup Kitchen, which serves over 500 meals every day to the poor and hungry of Israel.
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Rena Carasso's Kourabiedes - Greek Butter Cookies
- 1 pound unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 1 pound chopped almonds
- 2 large egg yolks
- 3 cups confectioner’s (powdered) sugar, separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3-5 cups flour
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the butter slowly for 15 minutes. I used an electric mixer for this on a medium low speed setting.
- Slowly add the two egg yolks, 1 cup confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, and a little of the flour.
- Continue to beat, slowly adding the chopped almonds and more flour, until a soft dough forms. Scrape the sides of the bowl periodically to make sure all ingredients are well mixed.
- You want the dough to be pliable and easy to form without being too greasy/buttery.
- Roll the dough into crescent or round shapes. I used a little less than 2 tbsp of dough per cookie.Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 15-25 minutes in a 350 degree oven till lightly golden. Remove cookies from the oven.
- Allow to cool, .then dust with the remaining 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar.According to Rena’s recipe, they need to be generously coated in the sugar, not just a little sprinkle. So don’t be shy with it—powder away!