November 17, 2018

Nazi Chocolate: Oy

The recent resurgence of public Nazi presence reminds me of some Nazi chocolate history. I discuss this more fully in my book.

European Jewish businesses, including a number of Jewish chocolate enterprises, were forced to shut down during World War II. Stephen Klein fled Vienna the day after the 1938 Nazi march into Austria known as the Anschluss.

In Vienna, Klein had owned one of the city’s largest commercial suppliers of chocolate. A Nazi competitor marched into Klein’s offices and seized ownership of Klein’s company the day after the Anschluss. To escape likely arrest, Klein hurriedly left his two children and pregnant wife behind, spending five months in Belgium before arriving in the United States. In New York, he started selling European chocolate from pushcarts, eventually developing what became the very popular Barton’s Bonbonniere.
Barton’s in turn assisted other World War II refugees seeking to immigrate to America. Memorabilia from the company will be displayed at the Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum from October 20, 2017–February 25, 2018 at Temple Emanu-El, NYC the first ever exhibit about Jews and chocolate.

Nestle’s chocolate subsidiary, Maggi, employed thousands of war prisoners and Jewish slave laborers in its factory in Germany near the Swiss border. As recently as 1997, it refused to open its Nazi-era records. Nazis also used chocolate bars to lure Jews onto cattle car trains to concentration camps. They used chocolate to poison Allied officers. German saboteurs designed a chocolate-covered, sleek, steel bomb intended to explode seven seconds after breaking off a piece of the bar.

Perhaps it is not surprising then that a hideaway of former Nazis, Bariloche, Argentina, is known as the chocolate center of Argentina. One of the main streets is Mitre Avenue is known as the Avenue of Chocolate Dreams. Visitors learn more at Havanna Museo del Chocolate. Bariloche’s annual chocolate festival features an 8 meter high Easter egg. Germans settled there at the end of the 19th century. By the 1930s it already had the look of of an alpine town and came to be called “Little Switzerland.” By the 1990s attention centered on hidden Nazis, including SS Hauptsturmfürer Erich Priebke.

If these stories leave a bad taste in your mouth, as they do mine, I suggest that in addition to supporting organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, reach for some quality chocolate.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz speaks about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, (2nd Edition, Jewish Lights, 2017) makes a great gift, especially bundled with chocolate. She is co-curator of the exhibit, “On Jews and Chocolate,” October 20, 2017 – February 24, 2018 for Congregation Emanu-El of New York’s Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum, NYC. (Free admission and group tours)