The rights to a cookbook that once stood on bookshelves in half the households of Vienna have been returned to its owners, more than 80 years after it was stolen by the Nazis.
Written in 1935 by Alice Urbach, a Jewish resident of Vienna, the best-selling So Kocht man in Wien! (How to Cook in Vienna!), containing 500 pages of recipes including boiled beef, Wiener schnitzel, apricot dumplings and pastries, was swiped following the Nazis’ 1938 annexation of Austria. As Urbach fled to Britain, her publishers, Ernst Reinhardt of Munich, bowed to the orders of the Nazis, who claimed the cookbook and two others she had written for themselves by “Aryanizing” and republishing it under the name of Rudolf Rösch, whose existence has never been proven.
The theft was outlined in Alice’s Book: How the Nazis Stole My Grandmother’s Cookbook, written by Alice’s granddaughter, Karina Urbach, and published in Germany in October. However, the cookbook’s publishers acknowledged the theft only after Dr Urbach was interviewed by Der Spiegel.
The best-selling cookbook, containing 500 pages of recipes, was swiped following the Nazis’ 1938 annexation of Austria.
“I had contacted the publishers while I was writing the book to ask for the rights back but they did not help,” said Dr Urbach. “They claimed that they had lost their archive during the Second World War. The Jewish community in Vienna tried to contact them too but got the same reply.”
After the publication of her interview, Ernst Reinhardt told The Times of London that it considered the decisions of the company’s past leadership to be morally unjustifiable and thus had reverted all rights to the heirs of Alice Urbach. “We hope that this will keep the memory of Alice Urbach and her life’s work alive and help highlight a long-neglected aspect of the horrors of the Nazi regime,” the company said.
The cookbook’s publishers acknowledged the theft only after Dr Urbach was interviewed by Der Spiegel.
Recently, more archival material has been found by Ernst Reinhardt. “There were about 18 quite heartbreaking letters from my grandmother to the publisher from 1950 to 1954, each one asking for her rights back,” said Dr Urbach. “She was so polite. She said she was sure it was not their fault and that she simply wanted the rights so she could publish the cookbook in America, her home at the time.”
Dr Urbach also found a contract forcibly signed by her grandmother in 1938 transferring the cookbook rights to the publisher. Contracts in which Jews signed away material goods under duress are common. The theft of intellectual property, however, is a new field.
Alice Urbach died in California in 1983 at the age of 97. An English translation of her book, containing the history of its theft by the Nazis, is to be released next year.
Sara Tor is a freelance columnist. She contributes to “The Notebook” for The Times of London