Karina Urbach tells a remarkable story in Alice’s Book: How the Nazis Stole My Grandmother’s Cookbook. You can gather from its title one theme of the book: the Aryanization of books, not burning them but appropriating them by stealing their intellectual property, including the titles, striking anything remotely Jewish or international in them, and attributing the content to another (Aryan) author. That happened to Karina Urbach’s grandmother, Alice Urbach, who wrote the preeminent cookbook on Viennese cooking, So kocht man in Wien! (Cooking the Viennese Way!), which was enormously popular. After the Anschluss, Austrian publishers forced Jewish authors to transfer rights, and when these accomplished Jewish men and women wouldn’t or couldn’t do that, just appropriated their books. This is the story of one such theft that continued long after the war was over (as did others), where the publisher’s greed was abetted by his lies, and that was only rectified after Alice died and this book was published in its original German. Alice finished her amazing life after becoming a popular TV cooking personality in San Francisco in her nineties.
But far more then the story of Alice’s book, Dr. Urbach’s book tells a truly remarkable story of the Jewish diaspora caused by the Nazi persecution. Alice’s older son Otto, Karina Urbach’s father, emigrated from Austria to become a student at Reed College in Portland OR, whose president was Jewish. The Governor of Oregon was also a Jew, and only they knew of Otto’s religion. After his visa ran out, he discovered that the out-and-in technique for extending stay in the US by going temporarily to Mexico or Canada was closed off. So, he went to China where he was caught up in the Japanese bombing of Shanghai, and was awarded a medal for his volunteer work on behalf of the Chinese. He ultimately returned to the US and became an intelligence officer in the OSS. Alice, meanwhile, finally was able to get out of Austria and went to England where she ran a hostel in the countryside for 24 young girls who arrived through the Kindertransport.
While the book has been translated into English, by Jamie Bulloch, it has not yet been published in this country. You can obtain it, and I recommend it, having read it in its entirety. The amount of research Dr. Urbach has done is quite astonishing, as you can imagine, from inter-war Austria to the Japanese atrocities against the civilian population of China to publishers who stole from Jewish authors to intelligence work during and after WWII to silent movies. The author is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of London. She received her doctorate from the University of Cambridge. Here is her website:
And a discussion on the Leo Baeck Institute site:
You can, if you wish, watch a discussion she had with Lord Daniel Finkelstein in London on the occasion of the launch of the English language edition of her book. And here is a review of the book in the Financial Times:
Here is an excellent video interview through the Leo Baeck Institute:
Unfortunately, Alice’s cookbook has yet to be translated into English, a monumental task given its 500-page length, so all of you non-German-speaking cooks will just have to wait. But it is back in circulation in Austria with its true and rightful author on the cover, right where she belongs.
Dr. Urbach generously responded to a “cold email,” and without any relationship to anyone in the Class, and she has agreed to speak with us from England, in a Casual Conversation sponsored by he Dartmouth College Class of 1969 and its the Jewish Culture Group (chaired by Bruce Alpert), at 3 pm Eastern time (US) on Sunday, September 11. The usual rules apply: email me at email@example.com by close of business on Friday, September 9, and I will send a Zoom link on Friday or Saturday.
Please join us to spend time with Alice and her family.