While forced to work in a munitions plant in Germany during World War II, the mother of St. Louis Park resident Eva Moreimi secretly recorded family recipes from other women at the factory.
Using slips of paper used to label bombs, grenade launchers and other lethal weapons, Moreimi’s mother, Elena “Ica” Kalina, used a small pencil she found to mark down the remembered delicacies during a time when she and other prisoners at the plant had to rely on small rations of unsavory bread.
Moreimi learned about the recipes while growing up in what is now Slovakia. As an adult, she videotaped her parents as they recalled the atrocities of the Holocaust. She knew she wanted to write a book, which she originally intended for her family’s personal use.
“Recently, with the rise of anti-Semitism and a lot of hatred and also the denial that the Holocaust ever happened, I decided to go public with the story and tell the story of my parents,” Moreimi said.
The result is her book, “Hidden Recipes: A Holocaust Memoir.” Although self-published, the book has gained favorable attention from notable sources. Michael Berenbaum, director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and professor of Jewish studies at American Jewish University, wrote, “Read the book and be moved by the story of courage and determination, loss and dehumanization but also the struggle to resist both physical and spiritual annihilation. Bake from these Hidden Recipes but only if you make two commitments: Serve these cakes on a joyous occasion – these women suffered enough.... Above all, tell their story for they must be remembered.”
Jodi Elowitz, director of education for the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center said of Kalina, “Because of her act of resistance these women will live on through their recipes.”
From Auschwitz to a labor camp
The book begins by discussing Kalina’s happy childhood before her family met with troubled times and then imprisonment.
Kalina, her younger sister and her parents had been taken to the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp from their home in southeastern Czechoslovakia, which by then had been ceded to Hungary.
“My grandparents were immediately sent to the gas chamber in Auschwitz,” Moreimi said of her mother’s parents. “They perished the same day as they arrived, to ashes.”
Kalina, then 31, represented herself as younger while her sister, then 16, represented herself as older to put them closer to the age range the Nazis preferred for forced labor rather than immediate death.
“That’s how they passed the notorious (Josef) Mengele, who was a physician there,” Moreimi said. “They were temporarily saved. I mean, they didn’t know from one day to the next when their turn is going to come to go to the gas chambers.”
After seven weeks at Auschwitz, Moreimi’s mother and aunt were sent to Hessisch Lichtenau in Germany.
As JewishGen, an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, describes, “In late 1944 and early 1945, the labor shortage inside Germany had become so acute that tens of thousands of prisoners, males and females, Jews and non-Jews, were sent westward from camps such as Auschwitz to work in German factories. One of these transports, with 1,000 Hungarian women, was sent in September 1944 from Auschwitz to Hessisch Lichtenau, a small town in eastern Hesse, southeast of Kassel in Germany, where they worked in a munitions factory, a sub-camp of Buchenwald.”
Moreimi explained, “When they arrived there, the commandant came out and he said, ‘Who are these? These are skeletons you brought. I asked for workers, not for skeletons,’ and he almost sent them back. But they were in such a need of forced labor of manual work that he accepted them.”
Moreimi said her aunt often wanted to give up amid the suffering, starvation and work with heavy ammunition. Moreimi said of her mother, “She felt very responsible for her little sister, and she kept supporting her and encouraging her to just not to give up and often physically supporting her.”
When the Nazis discovered that Moreimi’s mother could speak Germany fluently, they made her a translator. They would wake her up in the middle of the night to deliver messages on foot. When they did not require her for translation work, they directed her to clean up the factory area.
“Because of that, she had more freedom to walk around the premises than other women did,” Moreimi said.
While cleaning, she pilfered and hid paper from a wastebasket and a small pencil from the factory floor, Moreimi said. She began collecting recipes during the 90-minute nightly march between the factory and the barracks.
“They would huddle together, the Hungarian women, and talk about food because they were so hungry, and my mother started to write down everything,” Moreimi said. “I don’t know how she managed it, but she wrote hundreds of them.”
Moreimi pointed to one recipe written on a slip for a Riegel mine 43, a German steel-cased anti-tank bar mine. On the other side of the paper, Kalina wrote a recipe in Hungarian for a vanilla crème for Napoleon pastry. Another recipe ended up on a slip for an SD 50 bomb, a fragmentation bomb that weighed more than 500 pounds that was used by the Nazi air force. Kalina wrote a yeast dough recipe on the slip from a Hungarian woman who had been at Auschwitz with her. A recipe for an almond pudding appears on a slip for a grenade launcher.
More than 200 women at the factory were sent back to Auschwitz in late 1944 because they became ill and unable to work, according to Moreimi and JewishGen. Exposure to toxic chemicals prompted much of the illness.
“My mother’s friend died by inhaling the fumes,” Moreimi said.
Although the woman who provided the pudding recipe had been relatively healthy, she still had been sent back to Auschwitz with her sister who had become ill, and they perished at the death camp, Moreimi said.
Throughout her imprisonment, Kalina hid the recipes she obtained using a pouch she had torn from the seams of her coat. She kept the pouch tied to the inside of her coat to avoid detection.
“She had lost a lot of weight due to starvation, and the coat was large on her small body,” Moreimi said. “She was able to hide the pouch without it being noticed.”
When the Allies began approaching Hessisch Lichtenau, the Nazis transported the prisoners initially by train and then on foot.
At Leipzig, guards told the women to stay overnight in a Hitler Youth building. When the Allies began bombing the building, many of the prisoners managed to run out. When Kalina realized she had left the recipes in the burning building, she returned for them.
“Her sister and her friends and everybody were so upset,” Moreimi said. “They kept on asking her, ‘Don’t go back. Don’t go back. What are you doing?’ She says, ‘I have to get my recipes.’”
The Allies stopped bombing when they realized women had been in the building. The guards then continued to lead them on the march.
Moreimi said that her mother recalled stopping at a farm in Germany at which a farmer agreed to boil potatoes. The woman who had provided the yeast dough recipe could not wait to grab a potato due to her state of starvation, but a Nazi guard shot her. The woman died days before she would have been liberated, Moreimi said.
The guards forced the women to walk during the day and rest in the fields at night.
However, Moreimi said, “Little by little, the Nazi guards were escaping. They knew that they will not make it. And one day the women found themselves all alone – there were no Germans.”
As they began walking on their own, an American Jeep stopped to rescue them. At a central gathering place, the newly freed prisoners received medical care from American doctors, accepted new clothes and ate food, slowly at first as their health gradually improved.
Sharing the story
Years later, Moreimi’s mother wrote down parts of her story in Hungarian and later related it on video along with Moreimi’s father, who also survived imprisonment during the Holocaust.
Later, Moreimi’s family received an important heirloom – a Torah from the synagogue Moreimi’s grandparents had attended. A Christian woman had found sections of the Torah scroll on the street and saved them after the ransacking of the place of worship.
“To me, it’s very precious because this is a connection to my grandparents, who I never met,” Moreimi said.
After Moreimi’s parents died, the family framed six fragments of the scroll for various family members.
The slips of paper with recipes also survive. After writing her book, Moreimi hand-delivered them to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
“They had never, ever seen the likes of artifacts like this,” said Wendy Khabie, a St. Louis Park resident who has worked to publicize the book.
Khabie marveled at the juxtaposition of a recipe for a cake on a piece of paper meant to label a bomb large enough to wipe out a small town. She also credited Kalina for sharing her story before her death in 2011.
“One thing that is fascinating is the clarity with which Eva’s mom was able to recount some of these details amidst horrible circumstances,” Khabie said.
Of the recipes, Khabie said, “They represented women who were otherwise treated in such inhumane and barbaric ways. But their lives before the war were about entertaining and hosting parties and serving delicacies. And the fact that they could keep that front of mind while they were watching the atrocities, that was their resistance and how they managed to just keep going.”
Moreimi agreed, “It gave them hope.”
She will appear at a book-signing event 1-3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22, at Barnes & Noble at the Calhoun Village Shopping Center, 3216 W. Lake St., Minneapolis.
Besides Barnes & Noble, the book is also available on Amazon. For more information, visit evamoreimi.com.