The Karters: A Family Divided, Pt. 2
Posted On: 09/11/2017 - 12:29pm, Posted By: Sarah Staples, Helen Steiner Rice Archivist
In the letters below, Gustav seeks help from the Red Cross. He cannot get permission for his family to leave the concentration camp and he cannot make arrangements for their journey to Moscow. Gustav hopes that the Red Cross can help with those two crucial steps in his family’s rescue. The responses Gustav received from the Red Cross show the complexity of the situation and also the limitations faced by the Red Cross.
Letters from the National Headquarters of the American Red Cross, 1941. Cincinnati Museum Center. Mss 1099. American Red Cross, Cincinnati Chapter Records: box 10, folder 10.
In December 1941, the exiled Polish government and the Soviets reached an agreement, Polish citizens were released from concentration camps. Anna and her daughters were able to make it to Samarkand, Uzbekistan to live and work on a government owned collective farm. While the family is in Samarkand, they send cables to Gustav. He tried sending money, but it was never received. On July 21, 1942, after consistently giving her ration of food to her daughters so they had enough to eat, Anna Karter died. The daughters, Ruth and Janine, were placed in an orphanage for Polish children.
Desperate to save his daughters Gustav travelled to Washington, D.C. in July 1943 to personally meet with the U.S. State Department’s Visa Division and go to the Russian and Polish embassies. Gustav spent the rest of 1943 and all of 1944 continually writing to anyone who could help: the American Ambassador to the Soviet Union, the Australian Ambassador to the Soviet Union, the U.S. State Department, the Polish Ambassador in Washington, D.C., the London Consulate, and the Swiss Consulate. The girls’ case took a turn for the better when it got transferred to Tehran, Iran. In June 1944, Gustav sent the orphanage 3,000 Rubles to cover the girls’ expenses. Finally in the fall of 1944 the Soviet government issued exit visas to the girls.
Starting in December 1944, the girls began their long journey out of Soviet held territory. Not only is the distance long, but the girls were still under the control of the Soviets. They had to pass strenuous questioning before they were allowed to continue on to Tehran. The girls arrived in Tehran on New Year’s Day 1945. They spent the next two months in Tehran before being moved to Khorramshahr, Iran. The girls sailed out of Iran on the United States Army Transport named the Santa Paula. They were accompanied by the wife of a United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNNRA) official, her two small boys, 12 war brides, and 2,400 army troops.
Ruth, 15, and Janine, almost 13, arrived in New York on April 2, 1945. Their father was there to meet them. All three journeyed to Cincinnati to start a new life. Neither of the girls knew English and neither of the girls had been to school in over 6 years. Ruth was at the fourth grade level and Janine was at the kindergarten level. The girls studied all summer and by September 1946 they were able to start school, Ruth as an eighth grader and Janine as a seventh grader, at Bond Hill School.
Ruth and Janine Carter after their immigration to America, ca. 1946. From the Collection of The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education.
Gustav was naturalized on June 24, 1946. He choose to Americanize his last name by changing it to Carter (as did all the Karters when they immigrated). The girls gained their American citizenship in 1947. Both girls went on to graduate from the University of Cincinnati.
In 1947, Gustav was finally able to travel to Europe to visit the small portion of his extended family who survived the Holocaust. Most of Gustav’s extended family ended up in the German controlled side of Poland and were sent to Nazi death camps. His brother, Henry, and a cousin’s wife, Edith Knoepflmacher Karter, were the only ones who survived the war. After Henry lost his first wife and two children during the Holocaust, he remarried and created a second family. Gustav made arrangements immediately for Henry and his family to immigrate to the United States. It took Gustav months to convince Edith to marry him and come to America. Edith arrived on March 30, 1948. She received her citizenship on December 1, 1950. Gustav also made arrangements for Anna’s step-brother, Edward, to immigrate to Cincinnati. Edward survived serving in the Polish Army during the war. Edward would change his last name to Carter when he arrived in the United States. Henry and Edward Carter gained their US citizenship in 1954.
*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.