Breslauer, Rutman, and Anderson Fellow Julie Fitzpatrick presents on German Jewish Women’s Emigration Foodscapes

On November 16, 2023, Julie Fitzpatrick, PhD candidate in History at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the 2023-2024 Breslauer, Rutman, and Anderson Research Fellow delivered her lecture entitled “Food and Class: Emigration Experiences of German Jewish Women.” In her dissertation research, Fitzpatrick is investigating how German Jews ate – and what they ate – before, during, and after the Holocaust and how German Jewish women interacted with food, cooking, and domestic work, including during periods of intense food insecurity, persecution, and mass migration. During her monthlong residency at the USC Dornsife Center for Advanced Genocide Research, Fitzpatrick focused on German Jewish women’s relationships and interactions with food in the context of prewar emigration, conducting research with testimonies from the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive, as well as the Special Collections and Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at the USC Libraries.

Fitzpatrick began her lecture discussing how she defined middle class and bourgeois German Jews. When studying middle-class German Jewish women, the binary between German and Jewish is not as simple as kosher and non-Kosher. Due to their middle-class status, many Jewish women integrated into mainstream German society in pre-war Germany. Fitzpatrick studies the influence of class in German Jewish women’s daily realities before, during, and after the Holocaust through their foodscapes.

Fitzpatrick asserted that food was one avenue that allowed women to signal their class and Jewish identities. This becomes particularly apparent in their emigration experiences. In her lecture, Fitzpatrick examined what her research with sources at USC revealed about the emigration experiences of German Jewish women in four countries: the United Kingdom, United States, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic. Foodscapes offer multiple ways to reveal middle-class German Jewish women’s new daily realities in their host countries, especially when examining women’s experience of domestic service and housewifery, their navigation of food novelties, and the influence of food in rebuilding social networks. How German Jewish women interacted in and created new foodscapes makes visible their middle-class identities.

In the United Kingdom, many middle-class German Jewish women migrated on domestic work visas. Around 20,000 domestic work visas were distributed in the 1930s to German Jewish women. As they crossed the North Sea, German Jewish women’s socioeconomic statuses shifted from middle class to working class. How they experienced this shift becomes evident in their interactions with the kitchen and food in the United Kingdom. These women were now doing the work they previously hired house staff to do and were cooking unfamiliar food for strangers. Fitzpatrick offered many examples from testimonies of women describing these experiences.

In the Dominican Republic and Cuba, German Jewish women were faced with new food, such as tropical fruit. Among many illustrative examples, Fitzpatrick quoted from one testimony by Lore Gilbert about how she and her family in the Dominican Republic could not believe how big the bananas were. They’d never seen such big bananas. They ate them, and they tasted strange, she described. They were plantains, which the family were eating raw. She describes how they grew to love plantains, cooked or baked. These interactions with new foodscapes become part of German Jewish women’s experiences in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

Many middle-class German Jewish women landed in the United States. Among the experiences Fitzpatrick analyzed during her research at USC were those of German Jewish emigrees Marta and Lion Feuchtwanger. In their archival collections in the Special Collections at USC Libraries, Fitzpatrick was interested to see what she might find related to food. She discovered dinner party invitations for parties in LA, including New Years at Charlie Chaplin’s house, receipts for orders of food and wine, and she found Marta’s Apfel Strudel (Apple Strudel) recipe. She also discovered clippings from a New York periodical related to food, which was a bit strange because the Feuchtwangers lived in Los Angeles. In the clipping was an advertisement for the A. Berger candy shop, an extraordinary find, as Fitzpatrick had earlier watched a testimony by Bianca Berger about her family’s candy shop in New York, the same one in the advertisement. The emigratory experience of multiple middle-class German Jewish women are intertwined in surprising ways, and Fitzpatrick discovered in this extraordinary connection.

In the lively and lengthy Q&A that followed her lecture, Fitzpatrick touched on the tensions with the existing Jewish community in Cuba and the pre-travel vocational training UK-bound German Jews received. She touched on the ways in the ships that carried German Jews across the Atlantic can also be studied as distinct emigratory foodscapes. While many Jews settled in larger cities, Fitzpatrick described that some Jews eventually chose to leave New York and settled in smaller communities throughout the US, which could be studied in their own right. In further research on the topic, Fitzpatrick proposed how differences in national groups and levels of religious observance could broaden, deepen, and diversify research on emigration foodscapes.

Learn more about Julie Fitzpatrick here.

Read an interview with Julie Fitzpatrick here.