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

In the Ravensbrück concentration camp, Rebecca Teitelbaum risked her life to write down every recipe she could remember.

Rebecca Teitelbaum risked her life to write down every recipe she could remember

Rebecca Teitelbaum's recipe for Gâteau à l'orange. Find the recipe at the bottom of this page. (Pamela Post/CBC)
Listen27:30

This documentary first aired in November 2017.

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 penned surreptitiously by his aunt in a Nazi camp.

Buckman, the president of the Child Survivor Group at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, 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.

Holocaust survivor Alex Buckman speaks to students from Vancouver's Langara College as part of the Writing Lives program. (Pamela Post/CBC)

Buckman and several in his group, now in their late 70s and 80s, are participating in a program called Writing Lives. The year-long course offered to English students at Vancouver's Langara College teaches students Holocaust history and teams them up with a survivor to create a written memoir of their life. The memoirs are then archived at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the Azrieli Foundation.

"I hope they become better mensches," said Rachel Mines, who heads the two-semester Writing Lives program.

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

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/CBC)

But as the students and Holocaust survivors were working together, they were rocked by threats of violence that interrupted their interviews — twice in one week.

During the Jewish holiday of Purim in March, 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," Buckman said. "After it happened to us when we were kids, we thought it would have been over — that we wouldn't experience anything like this again in our lifetime. But we are experiencing it again."

'They would have hanged her'

As a Jewish toddler in Belgium, Buckman's parents were forced to hide him from the Nazis with a revolving door of non-Jewish families. At the age of four, he ended up in an orphanage and stayed there until he was six and a half and the war ended. He lost both parents at Auschwitz.

She wrote this [recipe] in defiance, against all odds, in a concentration camp- Alex Buckman

His aunt, Rebecca "Becky" Teitelbaum, was sent to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women in Germany. 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. She hid the items in her prison dress, and when she got back to her barracks, began cutting out squares of paper. She then wrote down recipes from memory to make a small cookbook.

Langara College students Paulina Bustamante and Frieda Krickan stir batter for the gâteau à l'orange to serve at the Writing Lives closing ceremony. (Pamela Post/CBC)

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

After liberation, Teitelbaum adopted a young Buckman and raised him with her husband and other children, who emigrated to Montreal in 1951.

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/CBC)

In 2017, a number of students gathered to bake recipes from his aunt's cookbook to serve at the closing ceremony of the first Writing Lives program.

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

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
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 was most recently short-listed for the influential Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy Journalism and is on the Journalism faculty at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. She is German-Canadian on her mother's side and Tsimshian First Nation from Kitsumkalum on her father's side. She has covered First Nations issues extensively and hosts a podcast on Indigenous people and places. Twitter: @PamelaJPost

This documentary was edited by Alison Cook.

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