Concentration Camp Essays

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In 2005, a group of political activists who saw reports on American torture as “military bashing,” assembled a book of their own: The Gitmo Cookbook.

Gathering recipes for halal meals including curried eggs, tandoori chicken, and Lyonnaise rice that the Navy had developed to serve those held on the Cuban base, the book’s authors aimed to show just how well detainees in American custody were treated.

Shared recipes preserved from this era of camps found improbable publication with In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy from the Women of Terezin.

This 1996 compilation included a series of recipes that had been collected in the Nazi camp of Theresienstadt.

Buber helped to keep herself and others alive with stolen food.

Sometimes prisoners were buoyed by food from loved ones, as Likhachev had been touched by the present of a cake.One New York Times headline from May 1943 reads, “Wyoming Senator Asserts Japanese Go Unrationed and Have Vast Stores of Food.” While much of the U. was using ration tickets to buy food, Senator Edward Robinson accused detainees of hoarding meat and mayonnaise in the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, claiming they had enough supplies on hand to feed the camp population for “three years, seven months and fourteen days.” The actual historical record on Heart Mountain, not surprisingly, contains references to late food shipments in insufficient quantities.The very idea of food for detainees remains a highly politicized subject—partly because detention is seen as a way to punish a targeted group, even when governments deny that punishment is the goal.When the Soviet Union sent Dmitri Likhachev to an offshore detention camp in February 1928, the Russian scholar was crammed onto a train car with other prisoners and handed a large cake.His five-year sentence without the benefit of a trial was a gift of the government.Through interviews, written memoirs, and even archival “recipes,” the way in which imaginary feasts created community in places that were beyond hope came up again and again, revealing how even in its absence, food defines and shapes the most rudimentary forms of society.Real food, of course, offered more sustenance than reminiscence could provide.At the age of 12, in the women’s camp at Ravensbrück in Germany, Nurit Stern listened to adults commune with each other. I memorized the recipes and wrote them down.” The small notebook she cobbled together out of stolen materials ended up enshrining the women’s recipes—chopped liver, goulash, stuffed cabbage rolls, and cholent with kishke—for posterity in Yad Vashem’s archive.“Hungry people can only dream about food,” she explained in 2016. Stern explained the role the recipes played for people struggling to maintain their humanity.The book was condemned by some who called it “sick,” wondering if cookbooks from Auschwitz or Treblinka would soon follow.The recipes themselves were often missing key ingredients or had completely mismatched measurements that made them useless.


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