The taste of trauma: reflections of ageing Shoah survivors on food and how they (re)inscribe it with meaning

  • Ben Kasstan Durham University
Keywords: Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945), Genocide, , Food -- Religious aspects -- Judaism, Eating and meals, Diet, Jewish cooking, Food habits, Nutrition, Psychic trauma


Drawing on ethnographic research in the UK’s only support facility for ageing Jewish Shoah survivors, this paper charts the ‘foodways’ in a Centre where satiety is experienced as an emotional as well as a physical need. How the experience of genocidal violence and displacement give rise to particular tastes of trauma is explored, firstly through the symbolism of bread which is metaphorically leavened with meanings and memories of survival – both in Judaism and for the survivors interviewed. Bread is positioned as a true reflection of lived experience for survivors of both ghettoes and concentration camps, who construct a specific and salient relationship with food. This illustrates the perceived difference between them and members of the Centre who escaped the Nazi regime as refugees or by the Kindertransport. Foods associated with the concentration or extermination camps are (re)inscribed with new meanings, as a steaming bowl of Polish barley soup ultimately embodies the ingredients of memory but also the recipe of survival. It can also stew the nostalgia of pre-war lives for Eastern European Jews and their recollections of the heym (Yiddish, home). Food is a conscious strategy of care in the Centre that mediates the embodied trauma of participants, and this paper draws on comparative examples to argue that refugee and survivor communities more generally may possess culturally-significant relationships with food that remain poorly understood.
Apr 13, 2015
How to Cite
Kasstan, B. (2015). The taste of trauma: reflections of ageing Shoah survivors on food and how they (re)inscribe it with meaning. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 26, 349-65.