Tuesday November 21, 2017

Gâteau à l'orange: The story of a recipe that survived the Holocaust

Rebecca Teitelbaum's recipe for Gâteau à l'orange. For an enlargement of the recipe, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Rebecca Teitelbaum's recipe for Gâteau à l'orange. For an enlargement of the recipe, scroll to the bottom of this article. (Pamela Post)

Listen 27:30

By Pamela Post

In a world where the daily headlines are increasingly filled with acts of violence and targeted hate, Alex Buckman is fighting back... with an heirloom recipe.

The 78-year-old is president of the Vancouver Child Survivors of the Holocaust. Most members are now in their late 70s and 80s.

Buckman and several in his group are participating in a program called Writing Lives, a year-long course offered to English students at Vancouver's Langara College. 

Earlier this year, a number of those students gathered to bake recipes from his aunt's cookbook, penned surreptitiously in a Nazi camp, to serve at the closing ceremony of the first Writing Lives program.

Paulina and Frieda

Langara College students Paulina Bustamante and Frieda Krickan stirring batter for the Gâteau à l'orange they will serve at the Writing Lives closing ceremony. (Pamela Post)

Buckman spoke to that first class, and was later teamed with students to create a memoir of his life, which started with tragedy.

As a Jewish toddler in Belgium, Alex's parents were forced to hide him from the Nazis with a revolving door of non-Jewish families, finally ending in an orphanage from the age of four until he was six and a half, when the war ended.

Both his parents died at Auschwitz.

Alex Buckman and class

Child Holocaust survivor Alex Buckman speaks to students from Vancouver's Langara College, as part of the Writing Lives Memoir Project. (Pamela Post)

His aunt Rebecca 'Becky' Teitelbaum was sent to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women in Germany. While there, she risked her life one night while working a slave labour shift at the camp factory. She stole a large swath of brown paper, a pencil and a pair of scissors, hid the items in her prison dress, and when she got back to her barracks, began cutting out squares of paper. She wrote down recipes from memory and made a small cookbook.

"If caught with all these stolen goods, no questions asked, they would have hanged her in front of all the prisoners for stealing."  - Alex Buckman

After Liberation, Becky adopted young Alex and raised him with her husband and other children, who emigrated to Montreal in 1951.

Alex Buckman with Katelyn and Paulina

Alex Buckman tells his story to Langara College students Katelyn Ralph and Paulina Bustamante at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, the scene of two separate bomb threats during the memoir project. (Pamela Post)

Dr. Rachel Mines heads the two-semester Writing Lives program at Langara. It teaches students the history and literature of the Holocaust and teams them up with a survivor to create a written memoir of their life. The memoirs are archived at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the Azrieli Foundation.

When asked what she hoped her students will take away from the experience, Mines said, "I hope they become better mensches!" 

During the Jewish holiday of Purim in March, students at Langara and the elderly survivors they were working with were rocked by threats of violence that interrupted their interviews. Twice in one week, the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre, where the interviews were taking place, had to be evacuated due to anti-Semitic bomb threats. "People are disturbed about it because because we all felt that, after it happened to us when we were kids, it would have been over, that we wouldn't experience anything like this again in our lifetime," Buckman recalls, "But we are experiencing it again."

"We all felt that after it happened to us when we were kids, it would have been over... but we are experiencing it again." - Alex Buckman

Buckman has spoken to thousands of students about his family's story and always hands out the recipe for Gâteau à​ l'orange from his aunt's cookbook. His aunt made the cake for him every Sunday, as a symbol of the power of love over hate.

"She wrote this [recipe] in defiance, against all odds, in a concentration camp," says Buckman. "And on top of that - the cake's good!"

Alex Buckman with Paulina and Katelyn

Alex Buckman, about to serve the Gâteau à​ l'orange made by students Frieda Krickan and Paulina Bustamante at the Writing Lives closing ceremony. (Pamela Post)

The documentary "Gâteau à​ l'orange: Recipe for love from a Nazi death camp" recounts Alex Buckman and Rebecca Teitelbaum's stories of resilience and survival. To hear it, click Listen above. 

Thanks to Global News British Columbia for the news clip used in the documentary.

About the Producer

Pamela Post

Journalist and broadcaster Pamela Post

Pamela Post is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster based in Vancouver. She's had a long career with CBC News, as a network reporter in Toronto and  Vancouver, in both radio and television. Radio docs are her passion. Whether it's investigating organ transplant or sexual harassment scandals, covering the Dalai Lama, inviting listeners along to 10 weeks in ukulele school or a divorce ritual, Pamela loves to spin audio yarns into gold. She has won national and international journalism awards and fellowships. She teaches journalism part-time at Langara College where she is also the Read-Mercer Journalism Fellowship Mentor. She is German-Canadian on her mother's side and Tsimshian First Nation on her father's side. She has covered First Nations issues extensively and hosts a podcast on Indigenous people and places. Twitter: @PamelaJPost

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