This Apple Cake Recipe from an Auschwitz Survivor Inspires Comfort and Resilience
Welcome to Recipes to Remember, a collection of passed-down recipes that remind us to gather around the table, share a meal prepared with our own hands—or, perhaps even better, the hands of our loved ones—and simply enjoy each other’s company. As the holiday season arrives, let’s try new-to-us recipes and make lasting memories along the way.The concept of an Auschwitz-inspired cookbook might sound jarring at first. Ronald S. Lauder, chairman of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation (ABMF), even acknowledges in the foreword that the idea “may appear, on the surface, to be a terrible joke or at least something in very bad taste.”
But one look through Honey Cake & Latkes proves quite the opposite. Within the first couple of pages, it is clear that it is more than a cookbook—it is a symbol of resilience, community, and love.
Honey Cake & Latkes all started to come together during lockdown, when Lauder and AMBF executive director Dr. Maria Zalewska asked a group of Auschwitz survivors if they had any Passover recipes they would be willing to share. What started as a simple question evolved into an accumulation of deeply cherished memories.
“We were basically flooded with recipes. Some were very long and detailed, and others were informally scribbled and incomplete,” says Zalewska, the editor of the book and the executive director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation that, under the leadership of Lauder, organized a trip to Auschwitz with the survivors and their loved ones right before the pandemic. “We knew right away that we had something very special.”
And the cookbook reflects just how special it is—its pages are brimming with pre-World War II family portraits, as well as scans of survivors’ original recipes in all their scribbled glory. While the first section of the cookbook is dedicated to each survivor’s unique and harrowing story, they are ultimately united by the universal feelings of love and warmth emitted from cooking and baking.“We created a unique tapestry of memories and flavors that are uplifting, but also stories of loss and trauma,” Zalewska says. “It’s a story of hope and triumph of the human spirit, as well as new beginnings and healing.”
At its core, the objective of the cookbook is to bring people together. Historian and director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński explains the importance of the dinner table, food, and tradition, all vital things that were taken from the survivors when they were forced into Auschwitz.
To encourage all readers, Jewish and non-Jewish, to make them for their loved ones in the convenience of their own homes, many of the recipes are simple, have relatively short ingredient lists, and utilize store-bought cake and pudding mixes. The book is a way of preserving a special, ineradicable culture that will continue to live on.
“Flavors, scents, and images, which are connected to childhood memories and cooking, really remain vivid. They fill our hearts with love and appreciation of traditions,” Zalewska says. “It’s something that we don’t forget.”
The collection of recipes tells an array of stories—some are the last meals survivors shared with their families before entering the camps, while others were learned out of necessity once they were liberated. Each survivor has their own blurb explaining why they included the recipe, from Eugune Ginter discussing how his mother fed him chocolate sandwiches to help him recover from emaciation after the war to Lois Flamholz serving her apple cake at Hadassah board meetings.
Her famous apple cake was passed down to her by her mother, who also taught her how to bake. Zalewska says the cake “represents the generosity of her spirit.”
The cake itself is as comforting and warm as Flamholz’s bright smile, featuring hints of cinnamon and lemon, which coalesce perfectly with the apple and apricot jam filling. The delicate, nostalgic flavors are so tempting that people have been known to fight over the last slice. “It fills the kitchen and the house with the aroma of fall and feelings of comfort and warmth,” Zalewska says. “It really doesn’t get better than that.”
Apple Cake Recipe
Yield: Serves 12
For the dough:
• ¾ cup (1½ sticks) margarine, plus more for greasing the pan
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 4 eggs
• 1 cup sugar
For the filling:
• Apricot jam
• At least 4 apples, preferably Cortland or Granny Smith
• Ground cinnamon, to taste
• ½ cup sugar
• Juice of ½ lemon
• 1 egg, beaten (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8×14-inch baking pan with margarine.
2. Make the dough: Mix the flour, baking powder, ¾ cup margarine, eggs, and sugar to form a dough. Divide in half and roll out half the dough onto the greased pan.
3. Make the filling: Spread apricot jam on the dough.
4. Peel the apples, cut into quarters and then cut the quarters into slices. Spread the apples very thickly over the dough. Sprinkle cinnamon and a little sugar on the apples and squeeze the juice of the half lemon over the apples.
5. Thinly roll out the other half of the dough and use it to top the apples
6. If you like, brush the egg on top to create a shiny glaze.
7. Bake the cake for about 1 hour, but check earlier to see if it starts to brown on top.
Note: Lois prefers to make her own dough, but store-bought is also fine in a pinch!Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.
Kelsey Allen is an editorial assistant at Thrillist. Her love for food was influenced by her mother and her Tata.