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Dr. Stefan Carter with mother in August 1939 in the mountain Resort of Zakopane, Poland

Dr. Stefan Carter with sons (Andrew left, and Joel Right)


Jane Enkin

Stefan Carter to Launch book " From Warsaw to Winnipeg " on May 15

by Jane Enkin, posted May 1, 2012

Stefan Carter's memoir, From Warsaw to Winnipeg: A Personal Tale of Two Cities is a personal account of childhood in Europe before and during the Second World War.  As the book details, Carter experienced displacement and the disruption of  his family and survived the Nazi years through a combination of cleverness and trickery with an appealing innocence and openness that attracted the kindness of strangers. He has formed lasting bonds with family and friends during the hardest of times. He has lived  a productive life in Canada, contributing greatly to his profession and many  communities, in Winnipeg and internationally, and his achievements shine throughout his book. Carter's childhood in Europe occupies only a portion of this full account of Carter's life.

Reading this book made me more aware that this is my main experience of survivors in Canada. Several years ago many books were written by or about children of adults who had survived the Holocaust, and they described broken lives, always haunted by the war. Carter, like so many of the seniors I have met in Winnipeg, was a  child and teen in the '30's and '40's. His life were drastically shaped and influenced by the war. Yet he is whole, and has thrived in Canada.


Carter's has some fascinating stories. The audience for this memoir  could be wide, simply because Carter covers so much ground in describing his active life. He begins with his early childhood in Poland, takes us through his immigration and studies as a young man, and describes his career and avocations, ending with his recent educational work.

I must admit I skimmed some paragraphs on Carter's medical research, although for readers in his field, these descriptions  would likely be of interest. At times, as Carter told about medical school, family holidays and fitness activities,  I thought there was much too much detail. He also packs in lots of impersonal historical information.

Carter found it important to write his “recollections of the rich life we led before war erupted in Poland.” Some of  the detail was bland, although Carter does introduce family members and friends who remained important to his life story. At times, the author quickly mentioned personal experiences that left me longing for a fuller storytelling approach. Carter grew up in a wealthy, educated and very assimilated famliy in Warsaw. His accounts of his family's achievements in science and the arts demonstrate how much was lost when their culture was destroyed.

The stories of life in wartime Poland are captivating. His family was trapped in the overcrowded Warsaw ghetto. Carter attended a secret school and joined a group of teens to grow vegetables. “These and other activities were a form of resistance against the oppression.”

With help from relatives, Carter left the ghetto and “passed” as a non-Jew. The teenager spent his time in hiding studying: “ As I am bored,” he wrote to his aunt, “ I intend to write an essay 'English Society in the Light of Modern Literature.'” Even as he lost his parents, his friends and his home, and even as he lived in fear of discovery, he“maintained a relaxed, matter-of-fact air about me that was essential.” There are some terrific stories of Carter's wit in the face of danger.

What questions confront me as I read about Carter's childhood ? Again, I wonder if I would have the courage – to “pass” as non-Jewish, to focus on education as well as survival, to transcend wartime oppression and devastating losses to become a happy, accomplished citizen in a new home.

Carter began to rebuild his life, first with grieving relatives in Krakow, then as a student in the pre-med program at the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration University for displaced persons in Munich. His autobiography continues with the narrative of his immigration to Canada, his significant career in medical practise, research and education, his family life, and his many other interests.

Over the years, Carter nurtured his connections with the righteous gentiles who had helped him to survive, and with friends and family from his childhood. Yet he writes, “During the years that followed the end of the war my memories of its horrors abated or perhaps were suppressed.” In 1988, as interest in Holocaust narrative began to grow, Carter was interviewed by Winnipeg's Second Generation Group.

Eventually he began yet another intensive volunteer career, in Holocaust education. He writes movingly on the importance of memory and understanding. He describes trips to Poland with his sons in 1988 and 2000. “[We] followed our way to the Umschlagplatz where I saw my mother for the last time. I felt a feeling of sadness and a sense of awe.”

Dr. Stefan Carter will launch his book at McNally Robinson, in the Atrium, on Tuesday May 15 at 7 pm.




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