The book Alice: The Stolen Best Seller

“This is how you cook in Vienna!” – Karina Urbach has researched the history of her grandmother’s Aryanised cookbook. Is the Reinhardt Verlag finally giving in?

Karina Urbach does research in Princeton and has written an impressive family chronicle Photo: Dan Komoda

Alice Urbach came from a respected and wealthy Viennese family. Born Alice Mayer in 1886, she saw the fall of the Austrian dual monarchy. Before the First World War (1914–18), her father Sigmund Mayer had speech duels with the anti-Semite Karl Lueger, Vienna’s mayor from 1897 to 1910. Mayer also wrote articles on his biography (“A Jewish businessman 1831–1911”) and on social history ( “The Viennese Jews 1700–1900).

A lesson in greed, anti-Semitism – and resistance

His daughter Alice became interested in cooking at an early age, which the education-hungry father disliked. Cooking was considered a low occupation for domestic workers. He married the daughter to the Viennese doctor Maximilian Urbach. A man who, as it turned out, was addicted to drinking and gambling. Urbach brought Alice’s handsome dowry through, died and left his wife as a widow with their two young sons Otto and Karl in 1920.

Karina Urbach: “The book Alice. How the Nazis stole my grandmother’s cookbook ”. Propylaen Verlag, Berlin October 2020. 424 pages, 25 euros

Father Sigmund had also died in the meantime, and the family’s fortunes had melted away. Alice had to go to work.

With the help of her half-sister Sidonie Rosenberg (murdered in 1942 in the Treblinka extermination camp), Alice managed to establish a cooking school in Vienna in the 1920s. Together they published their first cookbook in 1925. It was the time of new beginnings in Vienna, it seemed, of liberation from the paternalistic estates and class regime of the Habsburg monarchy.

Women like Alice visited the coffee houses that were previously reserved for men. Bourgeois ladies pushed for a new salon culture with bridge evenings to which “bridge bites” were served. Salty finger food or sweet petite fours.

Alice as a young woman in traditional costume with her sister in a photo studio with an alpine backdrop

Alice (sitting) with her sister Helene Photo: private property Karina Urbach

These companies were often supplied by Alice Urbach. The communicatively talented woman, who was interested in food, household and fashion reforms, was Vienna’s caterer from the very beginning. She advertised in the New Free Press – “Afternoon courses of the modern cooking courses by Ms. Alice Urbach, IV Goldeggasse 7 (new modern rooms) for starters, pastry shops and special meat dishes”.

And she gave lectures with titles such as “The quick kitchen of the working woman” or “The girl at the stove”.

Modern and feminist

She was a well-known Viennese personality when her cookbook “How to cook in Vienna!” Was published in 1935. 500 pages thick, smooth modern writing on the cover. It sold very well in increments of ten thousand. Three editions of “Alice Urbach: How to cook in Vienna!” Were published by Ernst Reinhardt Verlag from Munich until 1938.

The book was a bestseller, a culinary compendium of the multinational Vienna – committed to modern housekeeping, with a feminist touch.

But what happened to Alice and her cookbook from 1938 onwards is explained by her granddaughter Karina Urbach in the unusual family and crime story “The Book of Alice”. Reading her book offers a lesson in matters of baseness, anti-Semitism, greed and unscrupulousness up to today Time – but it is also a document of resistance and persistent refusal to bow to injustice.

And an incredibly exciting read. Saturated with sources without these in any way complicating the flow of reading.

Well-known historian

Alice’s granddaughter Karina Urbach is a prominent historian who conducts research at Princeton and teaches in London. As a scientist, in the dispute with the Hohenzollerns over their assets, she repeatedly brought to light sources that clearly demonstrate how anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and pro-fascist the German imperial family was after 1918. The fact that she took on her own family history with “The Book of Alice” cost her, as she says, a great deal of effort.

Your courage to face your personal family history has paid off. “The Book of Alice”, with the cover modeled on her grandmother’s cookbook, represents modern historiography in an outstanding way. It interlinks general events of the time with specific biographies and can thus fan out complex history in a concise and exciting way.

Alice's son Otto, sitting in civilian clothes, talking to a US major

Alice’s son Otto in the middle, a major in the US Army on the right, around 1946/47 Photo: private property Karina Urbach

When the Nazis came to power in Austria in March 1938, the Karina Urbachs family in Vienna was directly affected. The Mayers, the Urbachs and the Rosenbergs were Jewish Austrians. Anti-Semitic riots, looting and mistreatment began in the “Ostmark” on March 12, 1938 on a large scale. Alice Urbach was also affected.

Urbach becomes Rösch

Karina Urbach quotes the then publishing director Hermann Jungk from a commemorative publication published by Reinhardt Verlag in 1974: “After Austria’s annexation, I felt compelled to look for a new author for the cookbook, as Alice Urbach was Jewish and otherwise would not have sold the cookbook can be. ”A“ compulsion ”that was not difficult.

“Alice Urbach: This is how you cook in Vienna!” Was cleared of international and feminist-sounding passages. And from then on, a certain Rudolf Rösch, “long-time master chef and employee of the Reichsnährstand”, operated as the alleged author. After 1945 it continued to be sold under the name Rösch.

Who this “Rösch” should be has remained unclear until today. In the past, the publisher stonewalled when asked. Briefs had disappeared in the publisher’s archive, it was said. Rumors were spread.

Karina Urbach also describes how other Jewish authors at the publishing house fared. About Paul Wessel. According to Karina Urbach, he designed “Reinhardt’s natural science compendia” for the publishing house. They were a forerunner of the red UTB university paperback series, which was so popular with students at least until the pre-digital era.

Wessel was “inherited” as editor and author from 1938 by Viola Riederer von Paar. After 1945 the publishing house made fun of the “supplicant” Wessel, who had since died in the meantime, in anecdotes.

Escape to England

With the help of her son Otto, who had already emigrated, Alice Urbach managed to get out of Nazi Austria in November 1938 and to flee to England. On the day after the Reich Progrom Night in November 1938, the SA and Gestapo set a trap in Vienna for their younger son Karl.

He was brutally tortured by the sadists and taken to Dachau concentration camp. But he was young, unknown – and survived. After his release, in 1939, with the help of his brother Otto and American friends, he managed to travel to the USA via Holland. Alice’s three Viennese sisters and other family members were not so lucky.

Alice Urbach initially made her way in England as a domestic servant and cook. Then she ran a home for unaccompanied Jewish refugee children in Newcastle and later in the Lake District together with Paula Sieber. Little did the children know then that almost all of them would be orphans. Interviews with contemporary witnesses with those who are still alive from the “Children of Windermere” also flow into Urbach’s story about her grandmother’s cookbook and contribute to the moving overall picture of the story.

In Vienna alone, hundreds of thousands wanted to benefit from the looting, murders and aryanizations. Karina Urbach puts the number of Aryanized apartments in Vienna in 1938/39 at 45,000.

And “Rösch” continues to cook

When Alice paid a visit to her hometown in 1949, she rediscovered her cookbook in a bookstore. “Rudolf Rösch: This is how you cook in Vienna!” Her attempts to subsequently assert her author’s rights and copyrights at Reinhardt Verlag were unsuccessful.

While on the run, she had lost her author’s contracts. She had no money for a lawyer. And given the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust alone, the loss of her cookbook seemed too insignificant. But even in old age, she spoke on a US television program about how much her stolen cookbook means.

Just a few days after Karina Urbach’s “Das Buch Alice” was published, Reinhardt-Verlag managed to make a statement. Dem Spiegel opposite he describes the “behavior of the publisher at that time as morally unjustifiable today”.

Will regret be followed by action? For example the new edition of “Alice Urbach: This is how you cook in Vienna!”? It would be an overdue token of repentance from those who tacitly profited from the Aryanizations. A visible recognition for a woman who was stripped of everything in Austria and who was selflessly involved in emigration. Their older son Otto fought for liberation from fascism and after 1945 helped with denazification and democratization.

The latter is a chapter from family history that has yet to be written.