Reno, Nevada Staycation and Two Great Local Eateries

Reno Skyline

Recently my husband and I took a staycation, that is a vacation at home. Except not exactly. We stayed at the Grand Sierra Resort here in our beautiful town of Reno, NV. At the hotel we had some fun options: bowling, a cheap-y movie theater (all shows are $3!), or the aquatic driving range. There were also multiple dining options: Charlie Palmer, a steakhouse, Briscola for Italian cuisine, or Rim, a Pan-Asian style  restaurant. And who could resist an old-fashioned casino buffet?  There are casual dining offerings as well, like Johnny Rockets.

Besides all the fantastic choices in the hotel, we thought it would be fun to check out some of the local businesses we haven’t had a chance to explore yet. Here are two of our discoveries:

breakfast burrito

Dish Cafe was a big surprise. Casual, rustic atmosphere. You order at the cashier, then they bring your meal to the table. I had the breakfast burrito wrapped in a spinach tortilla, fresh organic eggs, and bacon. Paul had the breakfast sandwich. This was similar to the burrito, however, he had it on Ciabatta bread. Their goal is to serve local, and/or organic food. They support local farm producers. A brief word about the coffee: delicious. The coffee was robust and aromatic. Since it is wood-fired it had that woodsy scent, like sitting around a campfire, but without the bitter, burned after-taste ( and in no way resembled cowboy coffee, that is, coffee so strong you could stand a horseshoe upright in it).

Pecorino Sardo Cheese

Wedge cheese and charcuterie shop. This was a wonderful surprise. We love cheese, and we will be visiting this shop more often. We had a nice Bordeaux style wine waiting for us back at our lovely hotel room. Wanting to take advantage of the view of downtown Reno, we decided a cheese plate would do nicely to bring back to our room to enjoy with the wine. This was a mighty good decision. We were given multiple cheese samples, plus some meat recommendations. Any three cheese (or meat combination) is $15 and five selections is $20. We settled on three cheeses: a creamy blue cheese, an herb goat, and a Pecorino hard cheese. Added to our plate were two meat selections: a Calabrese salami (spicy) and a provincial pate with mushrooms.

Also offered at the shop are classes to help you learn about the different cheeses (there are many!) and how to pair them with wine like an expert.

I would say our little two-day staycation yielded great results. We met local business owners who have a passion for the food they prepare and sell, and we were tourists in our own amazing, historical, fun town.

That’s all I have to say. Have you ever been a tourist in your own town? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments section of this blog!


Fiction: Recommended Reading List for Books on the Holocaust

Books burned by Nazis (display at Yad Vashem).

While I did not use these books in my research for The Altered I: a Holocaust Memoir, I did enjoy reading them. Historical fiction is probably my favorite genre. In a previous post I gave my personal recommendations for nonfiction, this is my recommendation for fiction:

  • The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Synopsis: Liesel is a young girl living in Germany with a foster family. She has a love affair with books and words. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, just about wherever books are found. Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement and Liesel’s world is expanded and contracted. A compelling read with an unusual structure and narrator: Death! I recommend.

  • Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, Judy Blume

Synopsis: It is 1947 and Sally has moved to Miami Beach for her brother’s health. She has her eye on a cute boy, dreams of being the next Esther Williams, and is convinced that Mr. Zavodsky is Hitler in disguise.

OK, I’ll admit, this is a children’s book, but this was an important book for me as a kid. It really shaped my ideas and interests in the Holocaust. This book is recommend for grades 4-7.

  • Jacob’s Courage, Charles Weinblatt

Synopsis: a love story set against the backdrop of the Holocaust. Because Jacob and Rachael are Jews their families lose everything.  Growing up in the Holocaust, so to speak, they face horrible acts of violence. The story follows them through the Theresienstadt Ghetto, Auschwitz and ultimately as fighters in the underground against Nazi enemies. Based on the author’s own family history this is a tale not for the weak of stomach.

Bear in mind this is fiction and the author took some liberties with facts and time period. A little long in parts, sometimes meandering off topic, a little repetitive, and more telling than showing, it is still a remarkable story and admirable work for a first novel. It is available in e-book.

  • The Pawnbroker, Edward Lewis Wallant

Synopsis: Sol Nazurman survived the Holocaust. His wife and children did not. He lives now in Harlem, NY, U.S.A., as a pawnbroker. He is emotionally dead and indifferent to the human problems around him. This is an incredible story of survival after survival. I highly recommend this book.

  • Sarah’s Key, Tatiana de Rosnay

Synopsis: the dual story of Julia Jarmond, a journalist in present day Paris, and Sarah, a little Jewish girl living in Paris during WWII . Julia is covering the story of the Vel d’hiv (Winter Velodrome) roundup. Sarah is a little girl who experiences it first hand. The story alternates between Sarah’s point of view and Julia’s. I like this technique, and the story of the Vel d’Hiv roundup is a little known part of history.

  • Sophie’s Choice, William Styron

Synopsis:  Sophie is a beautiful Polish woman living in New York when a young southern writer first encounters her. Sophie is hiding much of her past, but as the story unfolds we learn that she was a survivor of Auschwitz and hides a terrible secret. This is a strange and compelling story of three lives: the young writer, Stingo, Nathan, Sophie’s Jewish lover, and Sophie herself, who is trying to escape her past and the horrifying choice she was forced to make.

I have read a lot of books, but these stand out in my mind as the better told ones, and are ones I feel comfortable recommending.

These are on my to-be-read list:

The Good German, Joseph Kanon

Fatherland, Robert Harris

Spandau Phoenix, Greg Iles

Churchills’ Secret Agent, Max and Linda Ciampoli


Nonfiction: Recommended Reading List for Books on the Holocaust

A box with about 150 jewish books which were h...

Since undertaking the huge task of writing a Holocaust memoir, (see my book The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir)I thought I should at least acquaint myself with some of the better written books on the subject. In my search I found some amazing stories, and most of them nonfiction. A few fictional accounts were astounding as well, and to be fair, I will include them in a separate blog.

If you are interested in reading about the Holocaust here are my recommendations:


  • Witness Voices from the Holocaust, Edited by Joshua M. Greene and Shiva Kumar

Synopsis: first person accounts of twenty-seven witnesses, including camp survivors, American military personnel, a member of the Hitler Youth, a Jesuit priest, and resistance fighters.

  • Night, Elie Wiesel

Synopsis: this is the first person account of Elie Wiesel’s time in Auschwitz, the loss of his family and the difficult life choices he made in order to survive.

  • Survival in Auschwitz, Primo Levi

Synopsis: This is Primo Levi’s account of what happened to him in Auschwitz, a German death camp.

  • Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl

Synopsis: Viktor Frankl’s description of life in Nazi death camps, plus the psychological aspects of surviving such horrendous treatment. Dr. Frankl explores how we cope with suffering and how to move forward with renewed purpose. Dr. Frankl argues that it is the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful to be our primary drive in life, not the pursuit of pleasure as Freud claimed. One of the best books on the subject of the Holocaust, and Joseph Kempler’s favorite author.

  •  Holocaust Testimonies the Ruins of Memory, Lawrence L. Langer

Synopsis: an analysis of the unique ways in which oral testimony of survivors contributes to our understanding of the Holocaust. This book also sheds light on the forms and functions of memory as victims relive devasting experiences of pain, humiliation, and loss.

This was an important book for me because of the way I wrote Joe’s story, using oral testimony through personal interviews.

  •  Schindler’s List A Novel, Thomas Keneally

Note: typically a novel is considered fiction, they are one and the same, however, this book is based on the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist, and how he came to save nearly 1,200 Jews from the gas chambers. The author uses actual testimony of the Schindler Jews to weave his story together. It really reads like nonfiction. Also, this is an area in Poland and the concentration camp of Płaszów that my father-in-law Joseph Kempler, came from. He absolutely loves this book and the movie Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg.

Synopsis: Schindler’s List is the true story of how Oskar Schindler saved more Jews from the gas chambers than anyone else. It begins in the heyday of the German military’s victories over eastern European countries. Money could be made during this time and Oskar Schindler took advantage of his times. As the war progresses Schindler becomes more aware of the atrocities the Nazis are perpetrating on innocent Jews. At great sacrifice to himself he begins to save as many Jews from the concentration camps as he can. I highly recommend this book.

  • The Nazi Officer’s Wife, Edith Hahn Beer

Synopsis: this is a well-written account of how one Jewish woman survived World War II under Nazi regime. After her time in a labor camp, Edith is released, but when she returns home she realizes she will always be a hunted woman. With the aid of a Christian woman, Edith goes underground. She meets Werner Vetter, a member of the Nazi Party, and falls in love.  Werner marries her and hides her identity from the Gestapo. This is an interesting account of survival at all costs.

  • In My Hands, Irene Gut Opdyke

Synopsis: this is an interesting tale of a non-Jew who helps feed Jews in a ghetto, transport work camp prisoners to a forest enclave, and hide a dozen Jews in the home of the Nazi major for whom she was housekeeper. Irene Opdyke’s personal value system superseded the pandemic view of racial superiority that was displayed by so many around her.

  • Leap Into Darkness, Leo Bretholz, Michael Olesker

Synopsis: Leo Bretholz escaped the Holocaust by staying on the run and remaining one step ahead of the Nazis who hunted him. This is his true story of how he remained seven years on the run in wartime Europe.

  • Unbroken Will The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man, Bernhard Rammerstofer

Synopsis: this is the true story of Nazi concentration camp survivor Leopold Engleitner, who is now 107 years old. This is my personal favorite life story.  Leopold was an ordinary farmhand who grew up in Upper Austria ( the same area as Adolf Hitler). He was imprisoned in the concentration camps because he refused to back down from his personal convictions. He refused to “Heil Hitler!” and to join Hitler’s army. Leopold devoted his life to peace and didn’t buckle in the face of death. For this he was imprisoned numerous times. He could easily have gained his freedom by signing a piece of paper renouncing his religious beliefs as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but he was steadfast in his refusal. Engleitner is now the oldest known male concentration camp survivor in the world, a model of tolerance and peace. His story should not be missed.

  • The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir as told to April Voytko Kempler by Joseph Kempler (not yet released!)

Synopsis: Josef Kempler is fourteen years old when he enters his first forced labor camp. He manages, through cunning, to survive five more concentration camps throughout Poland and Austria. Some of these are death camps from which very few survivors have lived to tell the tale. Along the way, Josef experiences spiritual shipwreck. Raised Jewish he begins to develop a hatred for his heavenly father and ignores his existence. Some spiritual flame still flickers within him as he is introduced to a mysterious group of Aryan Christians who are imprisoned alongside him in one of the concentration camps. Many years after the war Josef, the former God-hater, converts to a Christian faith. The Altered I chronicles what would lead to such a life altering decision.

Available as a preorder from LeRue Press Publishers.

Read sample chapters: Altered I Sample-April Kempler.

A List of Favorite Holocaust Movies

Yad Vashem Hall of Names

While this is not a cheerful subject, I couldn’t resist making a list of some pretty great Holocaust themed movies. While I was doing my research for the The Altered I, I watched a lot of movies based on the Holocaust. Some were factual, while a few were fictional accounts. But here is a list of my  all time favorite-not-to-be-missed Holocaust movies.

1. The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

2. The Pawnbroker (1964)

3 . Holocaust (1978)

4. Sophie’s Choice (1982)

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

6. Life is Beautiful (1997, Italian)

7. The Pianist (2002)

8. The Counterfeiters (2007, German)

This list reminded me that there a few books of honorable mention, but I’ll save that for later.

That’s what I have to say. What Holocaust movies do you recommend?

December 4, 1939: Nazi Raid on the Jewish Quarter in Kraków, Poland

In Joseph Kempler’s Holocaust memoir, The Altered I, Joseph Kempler describes the first raid (razzia) on the Jewish quarter (the Kazimierz). On  December 4, 1939, soldiers from the Wehrmacht surrounded the Kazimierz.  Jews were warned to stay in their apartments,and stay away from the windows, or else they would be shot. This was a harrowing time for Joseph and his family, but as an  eleven-year-old boy, whose head was full of adventure stories, this was also an exciting time.

Soldiers tromped up and down the stairs and corridors of the neighboring apartments banging on doors. They were hunting for valuables belonging to Jews: jewelry, money, fur coats, anything that would bring a high price. When they arrived at the Kempler family apartment they were disappointed to find very little in the way of valuables. Joseph’s parents were hard-working, simple people. They just didn’t have much in the way of material goods. After a brief search, pulling out drawers and rummaging through closets, the soldiers left with only a handful of the family’s belongings.

This would be the first of many persecutions the family would endure at the hands of the Nazis.

In December 1939, it became mandatory for all Jews, twelve years old and up, to wear a Star of David armband. This was a blue, six-pointed star symbolizing Judaism. The armband was worn on the left arm, just above the elbow.

Auschwitz II-Birkenau - Death Camp - Processin...

Auschwitz II-Birkenau – Death Camp – Processing Center – Family Photo of Jewish Couple with Star of David Armbands – Oswiecim, Poland (Photo credit: Adam Jones, Ph.D. – Global Photo Archive)

If you are interested in ordering The Altered I, please click on the link here:

Please read some excerpts from the book: Altered I Sample-April Kempler