As a rule, the Sydney Jewish Museum Curators are discerning about books accessioned into the collection.  Most donated texts are redirected to the library, unless they are particularly rare or of interesting provenance. This week however, we accessioned a wonderful object with a history anchored in pre-war Austria; its story sheds a light on the traditions and culinary customs of Viennese cuisine, many of which are cherished and practiced up to this very day.


This is a cookbook from Vienna called ‘Wiener Küche’, which translates simply to ‘Viennese Cuisine’.  This text, which has endured the test of time and is still considered a foundational example of Viennese cookery, was written by Olga and Adolf Hess and printed in 1935.  It belonged to the late Elsa Philipssohn and was donated by her son Peter Philipssohn. Elsa and her sister, Greta Menkes, brought the book with them from Vienna in 1939.

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Within its 800 pages are written recipes for many of Vienna’s most loved traditional dishes. According to the introductory page, Olga and Adolf wrote the text in association with ‘The State Educational Institution for Cooking and Housekeeping, School Teachers and Cooking School of Restauranteurs in Vienna’.  Along with recipes for strudels and schnitzels, the reader is provided with advice on nutrition, cooking for the sick, preparing a menu and thrifty economy tips for running the home. When first printed in 1916, the book was part of a growing trend across Europe and the United States, whereby writers were contending for the market in an effort to consolidate the national palette. Appealing primarily to the urban housewife, these texts provided a manual for home and cookery, but within a national context.


Following the incorporation of Austria into Germany, otherwise referred to as ‘Anschluss’, in March 1938, the national identity of Austria shifted. For Jewish people, many of whom were completely assimilated into Austrian society and culture, the exclusion from everyday life and activities was intolerable and increasingly dangerous. Elsa Philipssohn and her sister Greta Menkes arrived to a new life in Australia in early 1939.  They represented the half of the Jewish population in Austria that had escaped the Nazi’s and emigrated by May, 1939. Among their possessions was a 1935 printed copy of ‘Wiener Küche’; a book which up until this day, attempts to embody the national character of pre-war Vienna.

Author, Rachel Mensforth, Curator Collections.