The Altered I: Polish Cuisine

Józef Kempler’s family owned a szynk, or pub in Kraków, Poland. Although Jewish, Józef enjoyed some of the Polish fare offered in the

Polish Pierogi Polish pierogi with meat and ma...


Here’s a short list of Polish cuisine:

Kielbasa (a seasoned pork sausage) served with sauerkraut. Józef didn’t eat this, nor his family since it isn’t considered a Kosher food (pork). But, this was a pub favorite served to the carriage drivers waiting for their next fare.

Pęcak – a thick soup made from peeled barley.

Kasza Manna Na Mleku – (or Grysik na Mleku) this is cereal is made with farina and milk. It was Józef’s favorite hot cereal.

Pierogi – Polish dumplings that can be served sweet or savory. They are boiled then fried in butter and onions, or baked. Traditionally stuffed with either potato, cheese, ground meat, or sauerkraut. To serve sweet they are filled with fruit.

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The Altered I: Jewish Cuisine

Food is an important factor in The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir. Józef Kempler has all the food he could want when the story opens, but as a Holocaust survivor, food is sorely in want by its climax. Józef warns that if one is to survive, thinking about the past is forbidden. But with little to do during the prisoner roll call, Józef can’t help but fantasize about his favorite food.

Let’s take a look at some of the food you would expect to find in a pub in Krakow, Poland, during the late 1930s.


Chopped Herring Salad – Herring are plankton eating fish found in the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

Smoked Herring  – served with rye bread.

Herring in Cream – the fish is served in a cream sauce of sour cream, onions and vinegar.

Hard-boiled Eggs with mustard and horseradish.

Cottage Cheese with Paprika.

Rugelach – a Jewish pastry, made with a sour cream dough rolled around ingredients such as raisins, walnuts, cinnamon.

Galareta  – similar to aspic, a gelatin made from beef marrow. Considered a delicacy.

Pęcak – a think soup make with peeled barley.

Bordellos and Biker Bars: A One-Night Stay in Copperopolis, California, U.S.A

Ever spend the night in a bordello? I did. Paul and I were heading to Copperopolis, California for a bicycle race  and we needed a cheap place to spend the night. I should have known I was in trouble when Paul came into the bedroom and said, “Are you up for an adventure? I found a place to stay but I can tell you right now it’s gonna be kinda funky.”

My curiosity was aroused now, “Yeah, I’m up for it, what did you find?”

“It’s called The Old Corner Saloon. It used to be a brothel in the 1860s.” He had a smirk on his face.

“How in the world did you find”

“It’s not used as a brothel now, but I found it on the internet.”

Where else, I thought, would he find such a place.”Okay. I’m up for an adventure. How much is it.”

“It’s fifty bucks.”

“That sounds pretty good. Why do you ask if I’m up for an adventure, what’s wrong with it?”

“Here’s the weird part. There are only three bedrooms and they all share the same bathroom.”

“What?!” I said starting to protest. I did the the “Europe thing” already and while it was fun, I didn’t want to make a habit of shared bathrooms.

Cutting me off before I could say “Heck No!” he said, “No one else has booked a room. I checked. It would only be us.”

Well, that information made it seem better. We would have it all to ourselves and maybe I could pretend it was a suite, I do have an active imagination. I could feel myself beginning to capitulate. Besides, I didn’t really want to spend a lot of money on a room. We were trying to economize on everything, including the length of our vacations.

This overnight 1800s saloon stay seemed kind of fun in a way. It reminded me of my father who had a secret fantasy of being an old western cowboy. When I was eighteen, my family took a vacation to Rapid City, Wyoming. (My little brother, who was eight at the time kept calling it “rabbit city” and wanted to know where all the rabbits were).

My dad booked us into a mid-1800s era hotel, and, it too, was above an old historic saloon. The walls were yellowing. The ceiling was peeling with brown, water stained rings here and there. The beds, which were two twin size mattresses supported by white wrought iron bed frames, were just plain awful. Real bouncy and sagging in the middle. But, somehow the memory of it was pleasing to me. I’m sure my mother was horrified, which might explain her subsequent disappearances from future “adventure” trips with my father.

But that wasn’t the only time we stayed in a unique hotel. Even before that particular trip, when I was thirteen, I had gone with my father to Idaho. He found the most run-down bare bones hotel in the whole town of Soda Springs. The room had tall ceilings and an adjacent bathroom with only a sink and toilet. To take a shower involved going down into the dark, dingy basement where there were locker room type showers. They were all exposed so that there was no privacy whatsoever. My father had to accompany me down there as a bodyguard and I had to take my shower in my bathing suit. Adding further discomfort was the fact that the showers only had cold running water! Clearly, I was no stranger to “adventurous” type trips.

The Old Corner Saloon

We arrived around 10:30 that night, and indeed it looked just like you would imagine an old-time saloon would look like. The building was two stories high with worn, faded wood siding. Looking up at the gabled windows I saw three individual air conditioners hanging outside each room. Downstairs, a large covered wooden porch with a wooden railing spanned the length of the building. The steps leading up into the bar were worn but seemed sturdy.

As we entered through the doors the first thing I saw were mounted deer heads high up on the walls. Some looked like they actually were alive in 1862, but now have balding and scraggly looking hides, poor things. In the entrance, or barroom, the high ceiling was covered with trucker baseball caps lined up in neat rows. Posters litter the walls with dance announcements from the forties and fifties (I guess we’re a little late for those events). The second room off the bar housed two billiard tables which were occupied by two sets of scruffy-looking players.

The proprietress breathed a sigh of relief when she saw us and said, “You’re here for the rooms?”

We nodded, speechless by all the local flavor surrounding us.

“Thank you!” she said. Now that can mean a few different things. Either she was really happy to see us because she could go home, or have a drink, or do whatever it was she was waiting on us to do. Or she just couldn’t believe we actually showed up for the room. I picked the first option because I didn’t want to think we made a mistake coming to this establishment. Although, I can’t help feeling this place is a little bit rougher of an environment than I’m used to. I noticed black t-shirts and banners pinned to the walls, splashed in bold white letters the slogan: “I’m an a**h*** … I didn’t look further to complete the sentence, but I figured this must be the bar mantra or something because several of the staff were wearing them.

I decided while Paul was arranging payment with the lady bartender I would look around my new home for the night. I spied another room, just behind the pool room, that closely resembled a library. This place was redeemable after all. Two tall bookcases held a myriad of paperbacks. Above one of the bookcases a handwritten sign stating “book exchange”. This room was set up with a clean dining room size table, surrounded by comfortable looking chairs for reading enjoyment. This is the only room in the saloon I remotely liked.

We were handed two keys, one for the outside door leading up to the bedrooms above us and one for the room. As we ascended the carpeted stairs the temperature became noticeably warmer by degrees. The long narrow hallway seemed slanted, as if the building were slightly tipped sideways. We both kind of laughed at that. The hallway reminded me of that dream dance scene in the musical Oklahoma, and I said so to Paul. He nodded his head in agreement, but I could tell he didn’t know what I was talking about. He just let me talk. We located our room, the last one on the left, next to the bathroom. Upon entering we encountered a strange musty smell, like old carpet that had gotten wet. I regretted not bringing my aromatherapy candle. I marched directly  to the air conditioner and turned the dial to high speed. We plopped our few belongings down, then Paul ran downstairs to bring up his bicycle from the car. I decided to be brave and investigate the bathroom.

Surprisingly it appeared neat, clean, and cute. I noticed the absence of  any kind of fusty smell like in the bedroom. It was a good size room with a big enclosed shower. All things considered, it looked fairly new. The red wallpapered walls, white chair rail, and white fluted trim around the one tiny curtained window, lent an air of old-country charm. And like all old, crooked buildings, there was a certain trick to getting the door to latch closed in the door jamb properly. It took a few tries but soon I figured out the secret trick to locking the door.

Once settled we went down to the bar for a drink. We each ordered a beer, which was served in 16 ounce red plastic Solo cups, and had a bag of chips and pretzels. It looked like the bar was closing soon, and the people playing billiards finished their games. One guy tried try to interact with us and when that went nowhere he flirted with the the female bartender. He was getting a little too frisky with her, so she said in a warning tone, “I’m fifty years old, so…”

“I thought you were thirty. You’re hot!”  he replied.

She laughed but I could tell she wanted him to get lost. He definitely had too much to drink. He tried to get us to play billiards but when we declined he tried another tactic and bragged about being a marine and his illustrious military career. Exit stage left. We said goodnight, took our drinks and headed upstairs to our smelly room.

With the air conditioner on the smell wasn’t obvious. I relaxed and checked out the room. Next to the window was a fake corner fireplace with a new t.v. mounted on the mantle. The lady proprietor gave us this room because as she said, “it has the biggest t.v.” it even included satellite channels. On the opposite wall was a large rectangular folding table and perched on top a stainless steel portable refrigerator. I opened it up and discovered somebody had left us a beer and a half empty bottle of Clamato juice.

We settled down for the night and once I replaced the large, hard  marshmallow pillow with the down filled one inside the pillow sham, I fell instantly asleep. Although, I have to confess, my dreams were plagued by a lonesome cowboy creeping up the stairs in search of his soiled dove.

The Biker Bar

The night was quiet, not even a car drove by, but my sleep was interrupted by Paul, who woke up  at the “butt crack of dawn” (to quote Bethenny Frankel)  in order to get ready for his race. Soon he disappeared allowing me to go back to sleep in peace. A short time later, my sleep was again interrupted by a small tremor in the building, followed by the racket of someone fumbling at the door trying to get the key to turn. That someone turned out to be Paul. Apparently he had gone out in search of breakfast but nothing was open so he came back empty handed.

My sleep was further disturbed by his getting ready for the race. He applied spray-on sunscreen and it filled the room with a sweet beach scent with notes of alcohol. Although slightly annoying, it acted as more of a room freshener, masking that old sour air in the room. Above all I wish he would quit jiggling the bed, but then I realized he was merely walking around the room and it was this which had caused the bed to wiggle. Finally he left, locking the door behind him. The whole building, apparently, was sensitive to movement. I guess that’s how the bandits back in the day knew the Law was coming for them. They felt the vibration and were out the window before the sheriff even reached the room. Well, that was how I imagined it at 5:45 a.m.

Paul returned to the room one more time, again preceded by that gentle shaking of the building. It was this shaking that actually woke me, alerting me that Paul would soon be fumbling at the keyhole in the doorknob. I wished he would just go to his bike race!

After awhile it was peaceful, no movement, no jiggly bed, or shaking building, and I fell asleep. That is until the distant sound of rumbling motorcycles disturbed my dreams. At first it was one, then two. The riders pulled up, shut off their motors and begin talking and laughing loudly. The conversation was bent towards their trip and how it went, and so forth. Soon, a few more motorbikes joined the group and before long the motorcycles kept growing in number and loudness. What the heck was going on down there? I peeked out the window to the street below. To my astonishment there were at least a hundred motorcycles parked in front of the saloon, their chrome sparkling in the sun. Motorcycles lined up to my car and overflowed around it. This was a biker hangout!

I got ready as soon as I could and went downstairs to my car. I gently opened the downstairs door to the porch and was met by the curious stares of some of the bikers drinking a “cold one”. My main concern was to get my car out onto the street without knocking over a member of the Hell’s Angels precious hog. I eased out of my parking spot, thankfully without incident, and headed to the Copperopolis town square.

I waited around at the race site wondering how I would tell Paul what was waiting for us back at the saloon.


After we got back to the saloon, we passed the bikers on the porch on our way to the side door entrance to the upstairs rooms. Paul and his bike got some minor attention. After Paul showered we gathered our belongings and left The Old Corner Saloon.

At lunch, Paul was so thirsty the server had to make repeated trips to keep his ice tea glass full. “I’m sorry,” Paul said, “I drink so much! Too bad you don’t have bigger glasses.”

The server pointed at the owner of the restaurant and said, “You can blame him, he picked these glasses.”

Curious, the owner came over to our table, “What am I blamed for?” he asked.

“He’s a camel, and your glasses are too small for him,” I said.

“On your way out of town I know a watering hole right down the way I can recommend!” the restaurant owner said.

“I know it, we stayed there last night,” Paul said.

The owner, the server and a local customer who overheard our conversation, looked at us in amazement. The customer beamed and said, “I never knew anyone who stayed there! How was it?”

“It was great!” We said in unison.

The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir: The Tarnów Ghetto

Like the Kraków Ghetto, the Tarnów was a place where Jews were living together in filthy, cramped apartments, sickness was rampant,


and the people lived in poverty. The Jews here were used as slave labor for the Nazi regime. Jósef Kempler’s sister and brother-in-law, Jack and Dziunka Laub lived in the Tarnów Ghetto. Also, living here for a short time was Jósef’s childhood friend Anita Laub, her mother and her aunt and uncle.

In September 1942, there was a round-up.  Many Jews were subjected to a selection. Those deemed unfit for work were sent by the thousands to Belzec extermination camp. Random deportation to extermination camps continued until 1943, when Tarnów was declared free of Jews.

See Cast of Characters from, The Altered I, a Holocaust Memoir.

To read sample chapters from the Altered I: Altered I Sample-April Kempler

To Pre-order The Altered I


Map of Poland