“Food and aroma instantly bring back memories. Sometimes, memory is all that is left of the people we loved dearly,” says Ronald S. Lauder. The son and heir of cosmetics industry scion Estée Lauder has released 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 incredible recipes from some special people close to my heart,” Lauder says.
Lauder, who is the Chairman 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 talk with many of the 120 elderly survivors who made the trip back,” Lauder says when recounting the book’s genesis. “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 U.S.”
While connecting virtually with these survivors throughout the pandemic, Lauder continued the conversations about passed-down family recipes during the lockdown, a time when more people were cooking at home than ever.
“The lockdown inspired us to think more about food, learn more about cooking, and explore recipes we never knew before. I asked the survivors to share their favorite gefilte fisch recipes. As a response, our Foundation became inundated with so many recipes that the idea of a cookbook seemed like a natural next step,” recalls Lauder.
The dishes presented in Honey Cake and Latkes–which include favorites such as blintzes, matzo ball soup, goulash, and rugelach plus a special chapter devoted to Jewish holiday food such as latkes and challah–have been tested and retested for ease of replication for the home cook.
While sharing and preserving these recipes were what drove Lauder to create this book, his true goal was for Honey Cake and Latkes to stand as a compilation of Holocaust survivors’ pre-war and post-liberation and memories told through the lenses of cooking and food, resulting in an overall sensory experience.
There is also a feeling of global gravitas in this cookbook which goes beyond the concept itself—a sense of importance has been cultivated through the people who have come together to bring Honey Cake and Latkes to life. Among the noteworthy contributors is Marion Weisel, widow of the late Nobel Laureate, professor, and activist, Elie Weisel, who shared her husband’s personal latke recipe which opens the last chapter of the book. A recipe that is never-before-shared, Weisel says her late husband’s latkes were a favorite amongst his family and friends.
“Latkes are one of the most famous Jewish foods and a specialty of Hanukkah, but they may be eaten on any holiday and for any occasion. When Ronald S. Lauder, our dear family friend, told me his Foundation was working on a cookbook with Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors’ recipes, I agreed to include Elie’s latkes recipe. It’s simple, easy, and delicious,” Weisel tells Forbes. “Of course, Elie was not a cook but he liked to direct the latkes production and certainly loved to eat them. His particular recipe had a twist–we never added onions or garlic to the potato pancakes.”
For Lauder, though, Honey Cake and Latkes is as much about healing than anything else.
“Survivors shared their recipes for various reasons. It was a way of remembering a murdered mother or grandmother. It was a way to hold on to the past and pass it down 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 of the human spirit.”