Alice’s Book by Karina Urbach – the recipes stolen by the Nazis

Alice's Book by Karina Urbach - the recipes stolen by the Nazis

In the summer of 1949, Alice Urbach, an Austrian-Jewish cooking teacher and writer, was walking through the streets of her native Vienna when she saw a copy of her own cookbook in a bookshop. This surprised her in more ways than one. First, because after the turmoil of the war, Alice had no idea that her once best-selling book was still in print. Second, because the cover of the book stated that it was not written by Alice, but by a man named Rudolf Rösch, a non-Jewish name.

When published in 1935, Alice Urbach’s book – So merchant in Vienna!Cooking the Viennese way!) – had been a huge critical and commercial success. It was a 500-page encyclopedic collection of Austrian recipes that covered everything from traditional savory dishes like dumplings and apple strudel to newer trends like raw vegetables and vegetarian dishes. It was based on Alice’s experiences teaching cooking classes to wealthy ladies, a career she had adopted to support herself and her two boys after the untimely death of her alcoholic husband Max in 1920. But by 1938 Alice had fled to England. and during the war she ran a home for refugee children.

The Vienna she returned to in 1949 was full of loss. The synagogues Alice remembered from her childhood had been burned down. Her three sisters had died in the Holocaust. And now she found that her cookbook had also been taken from her. “You can imagine it breaks my heart,” she wrote to Ernst Reinhardt Verlag – the same publishing house that originally published the book as her work.

Alice’s bookWritten by Alice’s granddaughter, the historian Karina Urbach, is a gripping piece of 20th-century family history, but also something far more original: a rare insight into the “Aryanization” of books written by Jews during the Nazi regime. Urbach painstakingly curated everything she could find about how and why Alice’s publishers were able to deny her authorship for over 80 years.

Alice Urbach’s three sisters were killed in the Holocaust. She is pictured here, sitting, with her sister Helene Eissler © Private Archives/Karina Urbach

Much has been written about the Nazi theft of Jewish art collections. Much less is known about the intellectual appropriation of books written by Jews. Alice’s book – first published in Germany in 2020 – offers a surprising perspective on what historian Ralph Giordano called the “second debt” of post-war Austria and Germany: the way respectable corporations and individuals continued to benefit from the persecution of the Jews long after the Holocaust had ended.

Alice's Book: How the Nazis Stole My Grandmother's Cookbook

Under the Nazis, books that were considered “un-German” were burned. But Alice’s cookbook fell into a different category: a beloved and useful book whose content was apolitical but whose author was awkwardly Jewish. Her publisher Hermann Jungck (who worked for Ernst Reinhardt Verlag) therefore set to work.

Jungck defended himself in the 1970s, claiming that the reason he asked Rudolf Rösch (a shadowy figure whose identity remains unclear) to revise Alice’s lyrics was because her “extremely rich dishes” were “up to date.” had to be brought. This claim was incorrect. Alice’s original 1935 issue already featured numerous light vegetarian dishes and “healthy eating tips”. The real changes made to her text in 1938 were not to lighten the dishes, but to remove references to Jewish and international cuisine. “Recipes with Jewish names, such as ‘Rothschild sponge’, ‘Rothschild omelette’ or ‘Jaffa torte’ were removed, and foreign recipe names were Germanized.” The book continued to sell thousands of copies in this new format and ran into many editions.

For Urbach, Jungck’s decision to Aryanize books was an understandable choice for a Viennese publishing house in 1938. His ‘real debt’, according to Urbach, only begins after 1945. Alice, who spent the decades after the war earning a widow’s pension in the US, Jungck and his colleagues repeatedly pleaded for her to be reinstated as the rightful author of her own book — to face backlash and evasion. It was not until 2020, nearly 40 years after her death, that the rights were finally returned to the Urbach family as a result of publicity following the German publication of Alice’s book

Alice and Otto, Karina Urbach's father, in 1948 or 1949

Alice fled the war with her two sons to England. She is seen here with Otto, her son’s father and author Karina Urbach, c1948

But despite the bitter injustice her authorship was stolen, Alice Urbach seems to have kept her delight in Viennese cuisine to the very end. It is impossible to read this moving book with clear eyes without admiring Alice’s fiercely optimistic spirit. The book is both about the lasting comfort of food and about Nazi crimes against Jewish authors. Urbach reports that her remarkable grandmother was still teaching cooking in San Francisco well into her 90s, when she appeared on PBS as the oldest cooking teacher in America.

Alice’s book: How the Nazis stole my grandmother’s cookbook by Karina Urbach, translated by Jamie Bulloch, MacLehose Press £20,368 pages

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