Tuesday July 23, 2019

The tale of a family who escaped Nazis and a tea cannister that bears proof to all

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In the Bronx home of Guta and Mayer Rak, this tin canister used to hold Swee Touch Nee tea. Image source: Sabina Rak Neugebauer
  • A canister from the time of holocaust was retained by Rak couple.
  • It contained gold that the couple hid for financial crisis
  • Their grand daughter came up with the idea of getting her engagement ring made from the gold in canister

Discovery at Auschwitz led to a mug that concealed a ring and necklace that was painstakingly hidden from the Nazis for 70 long years but the sad part is that the museum couldn’t identify the owner.

Following the story, a reader, Sabina mailed soon and wrote that she wanted to share a story of similar object. “But in this case, I know a lot about the people the object belonged to” she said. Very soon, a story of Sabina’s grandparents and their tea canister popped up, according to the NPR report.

The canister was rusty, having size similar to a coffee can. It contained bags of Swee Touch Nee tea that had differentiated, sweet and floral smell. The tea was hallmarked in the home of Guta and Mayer. Sabina’s mother, Eda Rak commemorates her parents drinking the tea in large glass cups and held a sugar cube between their teeth.

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Before World War II, Mayer Rak worked as a writer, but years later, he worked in the garment industry in the Bronx. And switching between these two professions, he and his wife spent years escaping the Nazis and Soviets. All their lives, they used the canister without elucidating its story until one day, they disclosed the story to their daughter.

Guta and Mayer Rak with their daughter, Eda, in 1947. Eda was born in Lodz, Poland, when the Raks briefly returned to their home country after the end of World War II. Image source: Courtesy Sabina Rak Neugebauer
Guta and Mayer Rak with their daughter, Eda, in 1947. Eda was born in Lodz, Poland, when the Raks briefly returned to their home country after the end of World War II. Image source: Courtesy Sabina Rak Neugebauer

The story dated back to 1939 in Warsaw, capital of Poland where the Raks lived. That very September, Nazis invaded Poland. So the Jewish couple-the Arks were frightened about the holocaust. “Aware of what was to come, they took whatever small pieces of jewelry they had” said Eda. “They went to a local tinsmith and asked him to hide the metals in the lip of the container by melting them.”

The smith forged the jewelry and gave it back to the Raks. The tin travelled east with them and later to Soviet Union, where the Raks were arrested in the view of being spies.

They carried it to labor camps in Siberia, where they were forced to cut timber there as told by Sabina. After they were released from the refuge camp in 1942, they took a road to south and reached Tashkent that lies in modern Uzbekistan. The canister followed them there too. “At the end of the war, they fled Russia just ahead of the secret police, and went west back to Poland hoping to be reunited with their family, the canister still with them,” Sabina wrote. The Arks returned to Warsaw to learn that their whole family was wiped out and all their relatives were dead. The Raks had to travel to Sweden and then to New York as they had nothing left in Poland.

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Although the canister covered fathoms with them, they never felt a need to open up the canister. They never inquired if the gold was actually melted and put in by the tinsmith. There could have been a possibility that the smith might have pocketed the jewelry. “They were immensely proud,” Eda says, “that through all these peregrinations they never needed to find out if they had been cheated or not.”

“At their death, that was my inheritance,” 70-year-old Eda says. And she said she was never interested in knowing what was inside the canister. The thing inside canister remained a mystery until an idea popped up in Sabina’s head. She and her fiance, Marcio Siwi, are abot to get married later this month. She expressed a desire to her mother if she and her fiancé could get their wedding rings made out of the gold inside the canister.

The can contained enough gold to be made into two rings for Sabina and her fiancé
The can contained enough gold to be made into two rings for Sabina and her fiancé. Image Courtesy: npr.org

The matter wasn’t about gold or lead present; it was about the history that the metal has lived, said Sabina. The object allegories a great amount of pain and resilience, that had to be incurred to the next generation so as to let the emotions survive. Eda wasn’t sure at first. “What was in the tea canister … wasn’t what was valuable,” she says. “It was the fact that it was their companion through all their travels. How is that possible, that you can be locked up in a slave labor camp and still hold onto this little piece of tin?”

But after being convinced by Sabina’s thought, Eda finally agreed to the idea and took the can to a local jeweler, Harmeet Singh. The jeweler readily agreed and took the challenge. As an experienced jeweler, he could feel the metal being tucked away under the lip but couldn’t identify it well.

In order to retain the shape of can, he made a special bent tool to reach inside the container and he hen heated the container slowly.

“Things started to loosen up,” Singh says. Afterwards, he was able to pull out three curves of metal that had distinctive luster of gold. “It was an amazing moment,” Sabina says. “It was so powerful, because it meant even in this incredible moment of vulnerability, the jeweler in Poland, the tinsmith, really stuck to his word.”The gold was held in place with lead solder and Singh expressed astonishment as bonding gold, tin and lead like that is not an easy task.

Singh melted down the metal and came to know that it was 18-karat rose gold ,a kind that was very much prevalent in most of Eastern Europe.

The amount of gold it had were enough to make rings for Sabina and her fiance, Albeit, more of gold left over can be used by Sabina’s younger sister if she wants it.

But Eda prefers to keep the tin forever. It’s still a symbol of her parents’ resilience and their resistance to pain.

“It was just so thrilling that there was goodness in the world,” Eda says.

-by Shruti Pandey, an intern at Newsgram.Twitter: Shruti Pandey

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  • devika todi

    such tales of survival fill me with so much of inspiration!

  • AJ Krish

    The hope despite all the odds.The gold that they never needed.Now,he history behind the ring is a tale to be told.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    Survival tales have always fascinated me. The one where Mr Sugihara saved 40,000 lives is another inspirational story

Next Story

Reported Cases of Sexually Transmitted Disease Up by 70% in Europe Since 2010

Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem

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sexually transmitted disease
A nurse takes blood from a man for a free HIV test on a bus in Tehran, Dec. 16, 2015. VOA

Syphilis cases have soared in Europe over the last decade and become, for the first time since the early 2000s, more common in some countries than new cases of HIV, health experts said Friday.

Reported cases of the sexually transmitted disease are up by 70% since 2010, a report from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) showed, with the rise driven by more unprotected sex and riskier sexual behavior among gay men.

“The increases in syphilis infections that we see across Europe … are a result of several factors, such as people having sex without condoms and multiple sexual partners, combined with a reduced fear of acquiring HIV,” said Andrew Amato-Gauci, an ECDC expert on sexually transmitted infections.

The European report comes after the World Health Organization said last month that around a million people each day worldwide catch a sexually transmitted infection.

sexually transmitted disease
FILE – A billboard above a gas station, April 1, 2016, promotes testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The number of cases of STDs – chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis – in California reached a record high in 2017. VOA

Left untreated, syphilis can have severe complications in men and women, including causing stillbirths and newborn deaths and increasing the risk of HIV. Syphilis was one of the leading causes of baby loss globally in 2016.

The Stockholm-based ECDC, which monitors health and disease in Europe, said that overall, more than 260,000 syphilis cases were reported from 30 countries from 2007 to 2017.

In 2017, syphilis rates reached an all-time high with more than 33,000 reported cases, the ECDC said. This meant that for the first time since the early 2000s, the region reported more cases of syphilis than new cases of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.

But the problem varied significantly by country, with rates more than doubling in five countries — Britain, Germany, Ireland, Iceland and Malta — but dropping by 50% or more in Estonia and Romania.

sexually transmitted disease
Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem. Pixabay

Close to two-thirds of the cases reported between 2007 and 2017 where sexual orientation was known were in men who have sex with men, the ECDC report said, while heterosexual men contributed 23% of cases and women 15%.

ALSO READ: Goa May Make HIV Tests Mandatory Before Registration of Marriages

The proportion of cases diagnosed among men who have sex with men ranged from less than 20% in Latvia, Lithuania and Romania to more than 80% in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain.

Amato-Gauci said complacency among men who have gay sex and seem unconcerned about HIV risks appeared to be fuelling the problem. “To reverse this trend, we need to encourage people to use condoms consistently with new and casual partners,” he said. (VOA)