I grew up in the post-World-War II era in a Wisconsin town where my paternal grandparents attended Lutheran church services in German. They did not speak German around me, and I had no interest in learning about my heritage. I did learn all I could, however, about the Nazis and their ritual extermination of Jews.
So I was surprised at how much Eva Moreimi’s account of her mother’s imprisonment at Auschwitz seared my serenity — especially now when rancor and rage flood the political landscape. Hidden Recipes: A Holocaust Memoir (SecondGen Press, 2019) tells about her mother and other women prisoners quietly sharing recipes at night in the barracks, after a long, agonizing day of work. Moreimi’s mother, Elena “Ica” Kalina, wrote them down with a stolen pencil on the back of ammunition-inventory forms she found in the trash.
“The recipes Ica wrote and collected had to be hidden from the SS guards and from the kapo,” Moreimi writes, “or she would be shot by the SS. She made a pouch from a piece of fabric…and she hid the recipes in this pouch, which she tied to the inside of her coat.” Ica Kalina had already narrowly escaped death at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where her parents were killed. I was struck by the almost matter-of-fact way it’s described in the book:
“Ica and Babi (her sister), with the rest of the women selected to die that day, stood in front of the gas chambers the remainder of the day and throughout the night. On that day, the Nazis ran out of Zyklon B, the highly poisonous pesticide used for the mass killings. So they were temporarily saved from being gassed.”
Ica was eventually liberated, along with 10 other women, as their SS guard departed aft er hearing news of the advancing Americans. They walked for weeks to the Czechoslovakia border and then Ica and her sister took a short train ride to their hometown. Ica started a small textile business and soon met her husband, Erno Kalina, who was also selling textiles in a nearby town.
After marrying, Ica and Erno lived in Czechoslovakia until 1971, when they left to join their daughter Eva in the U.S. The Soviets had invaded the country and they were not about to lose freedom again. Neither spoke English when they followed Eva to Minnesota but they learned — at the ages of 59 and 62. The entire family flourished in St. Louis Park for 40 years, where Eva still lives with her husband, Jack. They have three children and six grandchildren.
Moreimi wanted those grandchildren, and all who read the book, to understand the horror of the Holocaust and the hatred that led to the extermination of 6 million Jews. She also hoped they would celebrate the courage and conviction of her mother.
“Both my parents would tell me it’s important to remain positive and know that whatever it is will pass,” she said. “They wanted us to be there for one another, to stay strong and to live a family life — as they did — full of love and laughter.”
“My 11-year-old granddaughter, Isabelle, asked me, ‘Grandma, can I have my own copy of the book?’” Moreimi recalls. “She got her own copy and then asked me to talk to her class. They asked great questions and they all sent me thank-you notes. Isabelle and my grandson, Jacob, 10, have helped bake a few of the recipes.” Her favorite is the sour-cherry cake and his are the Linzer cookies.
I find it comforting to think that Eva Moreimi’s grandchildren, her mother’s great-grandchildren, will be passing on their heritage of survival and service — one cake and cookie at a time.
Dave Nimmer had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. He’s even got a new book coming out! Stay tuned.