An author novelizes her mother’s experiences during the Holocaust in this biographical debut.
Kozuch’s mother, Cipora, was born into a Jewish family in Ruscova, Romania, in the early 1930s. Narrating in the voice of Cipora, the author tells how the girl was raised helping her own mother collect and prepare food for the family table: gathering fruit, pickling vegetables, milking cows, baking matzo for Passover. Her father worked with food as well, as a kosher supervisor for a wealthy local family. After increasingly severe anti-Semitic laws curtailed the rights of Jews in Romania, the Nazis came to power and began their program of extermination. Cipora and her family were forced to relocate to the Falchovitcho ghetto and then, soon after, to Auschwitz-Birkenau: “One hundred and fifty thousand Jews from Maramures, Romania entered the camp. One hundred and forty six thousand Jews from this county were murdered, among them my immediate family: Papa, Mama, my sister Haya, and my brother Mendele.” Interspersed with Cipora’s account are recipes from her later life as the chef at a Cleveland synagogue: traditional Jewish and Romanian recipes like hamantashen cookies, caizee latkes, and hyneer paprikash. While splicing recipes into a very upsetting Holocaust story might at first seem incongruous, the importance of food to the family and culture of Cipora and her relatives is omnipresent, especially when their access to staples becomes limited: “Mama tried to invent different dishes from the peels of rotten vegetables she found in one of the garbage cans located not far from the house. We were still able to indulge in two slices of black bread a day.” The work is short, just over 100 pages (and that includes some two dozen recipes), but that is enough to capture the harrowing memories of Cipora, who told them to the author only after many decades of silence. The resultant book is a unique work of horror and history, food and heritage. Perhaps more, it’s a reminder of the things that get passed down from mother to daughter, the items that get withheld, and the ways that daughters attempt to pay their mothers back.
An idiosyncratic but effective book that delivers hard memories and traditional recipes from a lost Europe.