Thursday November 14, 2019

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

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:

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







  • 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

Ebola Vaccine Approved in Europe in Landmark Moment

The next step, prequalification by the World Health Organization, is expected within days

Ebola, Vaccine, Europe
FILE - Congolese Health Ministry officials carry the first batch of experimental Ebola vaccines in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, May 16, 2018. VOA

This week the European Commission gave approval to a Ebola vaccine — an act that the World Health Organization calls landmark moment for global health and a likely game-changer in the battle against this deadly disease.

This is the first time an Ebola vaccine has been licensed anywhere in the world.  The next step, prequalification by the World Health Organization, is expected within days.

Prequalification means WHO is satisfied with the vaccine’s quality, safety and effectiveness.

WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier tells VOA this is an important step and a great achievement for public health.

Ebola, Vaccine, Europe
This is the first time an Ebola vaccine has been licensed anywhere in the world. Wikimedia Commons

“This will speed up any further process of getting a vaccine into a country for licensing, for manufacturing, for having more quantity of the vaccine whenever we need it or ahead of a presumed outbreak in order to vaccinate health care workers and first-line responders to have them ready for the battle against Ebola,” said Lindmeier.

The vaccine, in its experimental stage, has been and continues to be used in the ongoing Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  It has been used to protect more than 250,000 people in the DRC’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces.

Lindmeier says WHO has developed a roadmap aimed at accelerating prequalification and licensing of the vaccine.  This will enable the agency to quickly roll out the vaccine in high risk countries in Africa.

“What does this mean right now for the Democratic Republic of Congo?  Right now, nothing will change because the vaccines as they are available will be used… But it is absolutely great news to see that this has now been approved and will be prequalified,” said Lindmeier.

Also Read- Indians Are Cooking Western Food In Their Kitchens: Survey

Lindmeier says there likely will be a higher demand for Ebola vaccine in coming years.  He says WHO is working with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the United Nations Children’s Fund and other partners to develop a Global Ebola Vaccines Security Plan to fulfill growing needs and to ensure vaccine security. (VOA)