The Karters: A Family Divided, Pt 1
Posted On: 09/08/2017 - 12:21pm, Posted By: Sarah Staples, Helen Steiner Rice Archivist
The folder was labelled “Miscellaneous Correspondence”. As I sorted through the papers I started skimming through a letter: Local Jewish Refugee Committee…Mr. Karter…Anna Karter…two daughters…Soviet concentration camp. It only took a moment to comprehend that the story being told through this letters was anything but miscellaneous. I found two more letters detailing the Karter family’s struggles.
This is the story of a Jewish family who suffered at the hands of the Soviets during World War II. Gustav Karter was born in Poland on August 28, 1901 to Samuel Karter and Rose Better Karter. He was raised on a farm, but was given the opportunity to attend school all the way through business school. Gustav married his first cousin, Anna Better, on December 8, 1928. Anna was born on December 7, 1904 to Yetti Better, a sister of Rose Better Karter. Gustav and Anna had two daughters, Ruth, born on January 25, 1930 in Sakoczow, Poland, and Janine, born on April 10, 1932 in Bielsko, Poland. (View their family tree by clicking here).
Gustav and his brother, Henry, started and ran a successful chain of electronic stores in southwest Poland. This provided a comfortable living for each brother and they were each able to keep a governess for their children, domestic help, and a chauffeur. The two very close families lived in one large multi-family house.
Ruth and Janine Karter with their governess, ca. 1935. From the Collection of The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education.
In May 1939 Gustav Karter travelled from Poland to the United States on business. Through his business connections Gustav was chosen to represent the Philip’s Electric Company in the 1939 New York World’s Fair. He also planned to travel to Cincinnati to buy electronics from Crosley Radio Corporation and visit two maternal uncles, Jacob and Solomon Better, who immigrated to America in 1907. Gustav was scheduled to return to Poland in September 1939. His plans were irreparably changed when the Germany invaded western Poland on September 1, 1939. Gustav’s voyage was cancelled and he was stuck in the United States while his family was stuck in the middle of a war zone.
Initially the extended family stayed together: Henry with his family and Anna with her family avoided the advancing German army by fleeing west to Bochnia. However they quickly learned Bochnia was not out of harm’s way, when the Soviets invaded eastern Poland on September 17, 1939. Henry and his family would eventually flee to Krakow, territory under German control. Anna, her two daughters, and her half-brother would continue travelling east. They ended up in territory under Soviet control. Anna and her family were transported to a Soviet concentration camp in the Ural Mountains, near Sverdlovsk, when they refused to swear allegiance to the Soviet Union.
Gustav Karter’s attempts to communicate with his family through the International Red Cross, January 1940. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 1099. American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter Records: box 10, folder 10.
Meanwhile in the United States, Gustav was unable to contact his family for almost a year and his status was precarious. He had little money and no stable home government to help him in his pursuit of recovering his family; he decided to go to Canada and re-enter the United States as a regular immigrant. Initially he worked for his uncle’s furniture company, but he eventually opened Carter’s, a five and dime store, in Norwood.
Cincinnati proved to be a valuable place for Gustav to live and work. The close knit Jewish community had international ties. Philip, Alex, Morris, and Herbert Frieder owned a cigar business which was Cincinnati based for distribution and Manila based for manufacturing. The Frieder brothers worked with Manuel Quezon, the first Philippine president, and Paul McNutt, the U.S. High Commissioner of the Philippines, to open the Philippines to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. They saved 1,200 Jewish refugees from the late 1930s until the early 1940s. Gustav arranged for his family to be among the Jewish refugees immigrating to the Philippines, but they needed to get visas from the Soviets. Gustav sent $3,900 to the Jewish Refugee Committee of the Philippines, the program set up by the Frieder brothers, in preparation for Anna and the girls' journey and arrival.
Letter writtten by Mable Culter, Executive Secretary of Cincinnati Chapter of the American Red Cross, on behalf of Gustav Karter, May 12, 1941. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 1099. American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter Records: box 10, folder 10.
Find out the rest of the Karters' story in our next post!
*This blog post would not have been possible without the cooperation and generosity of The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education. With their incredibly important collections I was able to discover what happened to the Karter family in the latter years of the war and after.