Saturday December 16, 2017

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

  • 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

Displaced Villagers Return to Old Mosul Only to Find Destruction, Danger and Dead Bodies; Returnees Claim ‘Even Soldiers Stay Indoors After Dark’

The wreckage from a few of the destroyed homes has been cleared away as a handful villagers visit their homes in Old Mosul, which has been completely destroyed following a battle against the ISIS

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Old Mosul
Abd Elaam is one of the only people living in the Old Mosul in Iraq, where the destruction has been compared to World War II Dresden, Aug. 27, 2017.
  • Old Mosul has been completely shattered in the battle to recapture the city from Islamic State militants
  • About 900,000 people have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and many neighborhoods have been completely destroyed by war
  • Areas around the village are slowly being re-populated, but many places are entirely without services like trash collection, electricity, and running water

Mosul, September 5, 2017 : “All you can hear at night is the sound of broken doors flapping in the wind,” says Abd Elaam, a 50-year-old furniture maker. “Even soldiers stay indoors after dark.”

Elaam is currently one of the very few civilians living in Old Mosul, an ancient neighborhood shattered by the battle to recapture the city from Islamic State militants. Like many families that survived IS rule, he says, his resources are completely exhausted by the war and he has nowhere else to go.

Other families trickle in by day, looking to repair their broken homes or recover the bodies of their dead loved ones. But even during daylight hours, the neighborhood is dangerous, riddled with bombs and an unknown number of militants hiding out in the vast network of tunnels under the tightly-packed buildings and piles of rubble. The level of destruction has been compared to World War II Dresden.

 

Old Mosul
About 900,000 people have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and many neighborhoods like Mosul’s Old City have been completely destroyed by the war, July 9, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

“A IS militant came out of one those houses two weeks ago,” Elaam says, gesturing towards another dusty, broken street. “He blew himself up near two families. They were all injured and the bomber was cut in half.”

The militant’s body, like other fallen IS fighters in Old Mosul, was shoved under the rubble to reduce the smell of rot in the 45 degree-plus weather. When Iraq declared victory over IS in early July, the bodies of dead militants lay scattered in buildings and on the streets of nearly every block. Authorities searched through giant piles of concrete, once homes, for the remains of civilian families. But, they said, the only government department responsible for the IS bodies was garbage collection.

 

Old Mosul
Bodies of IS fighters lie in the rubble of Old Mosul on nearly every block, while the bodies of families killed in airstrikes have to be dug out from under the demolished buildings in Mosul, Iraq, July 9, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Old Mosul is far from re-establishing city services like trash pickup. There is no running water, electricity or businesses open. Yet other families are following Elaam’s lead, and plan to return to their homes as soon as possible.

“In a few days I will move back and bring my family,” says Ghanem Younis, 72, resting on a beige plastic chair in a sliver of shade. “If they provide electricity and water, everyone would come back.”

Younger men and children squat around Ghanem, recalling the isolation of the final months of the battle that began late last year. “We couldn’t go more than 50 meters from our front doors,” says Sufian, a 27-year-old unemployed construction worker. “We spent our time sitting right here with Uncle Ghanem.”

 

Old Mosul
Residents of Old Mosul say homes left standing after months of heavy fighting are often ransacked as soldiers search for bombs and IS fighters hiding in tunnels under the city. (VOA)

But it is not sentiment driving some families home despite the dangers, adds Elaam, as more neighbors join the conversation.

“People cannot stay with friends and relatives forever,” he says. Camps for those displaced are also crowded. “No one has anywhere else to go,” he adds.

Airstrike Damage

A few blocks away, outside the checkpoints that cut off the Old City, the Zanjelli neighborhood is slowly being repopulated.

Old Mosul
Areas around Old Mosul are slowly being re-populated, but many places are entirely without electricity, running water and other city services, like trash collection. (VOA)

 

Construction workers build a market to replace one destroyed in airstrikes, while the owners of what was once a shoe store paint the shelves, hoping to re-open in the coming weeks. The wreckage from a few of the destroyed homes has been cleared away, and the bodies of many of the dead are now buried in graveyards.

In less than five minutes of conversation, at least three people tell us about family members, including toddlers, killed in airstrikes in the last months of battle.

“There was an IS sniper firing from next to my house and the airstrike hit us,” says Youseff Hussain, 35. “Fifteen members of my family were killed.”

 

Old Mosul
Iraqi search parties looking for survivors and the remains of dead civilians in Old Mosul. (VOA)

Rebuilding the neighborhood, adds Hussain, is made doubly frustrating by the fact that it was Iraq’s allies, including the United States, who destroyed many of their homes as they battled IS from the air.

Many locals say the sacrifice of property and lives may have been necessary to prevent the city, then under siege, from total starvation. But after bearing the brunt of the war with IS, largely considered a global threat, residents say they thought the international community or the government would help them rebuild.

The only aid families here get right now, Zanjelli residents say, is Iraqi military rations, as soldiers share their food.

“There is nothing they can do to pay us back for what we have lost,” says Hussain. “But shouldn’t we at least get refunded for our property?” (VOA)

Next Story

A Massive Live Bomb Diffused In Germany’s Biggest Evacuation Since World War II

The massive bomb is believed to have been dropped by Britain's Royal Air Force during the 1939-45 war.

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World war II bomb
A German couple during an evacuation of more than 60 000 people in Frankfurt, Germany on Sept. 3, 2017. VOA
  • Large number of live bombs and munitions continue to be found in Germany even 70 years after the end of World War II
  • Bomb experts successfully defused a 1.4 ton British bomb in Germany
  • Largest evacuation carried out in Germany since the end of World War II

Frankfurt, September 4, 2017 : German bomb experts successfully defused a massive World War II bomb in the financial capital of Frankfurt on Sunday after nearly 65,000 people were evacuated to safety.

The 1.4 ton British bomb was found at a construction site last week.

Police on Sunday cordoned off a 1.5 kilometer radius around the bomb, leading to the largest evacuation in Germany since the end of World War II.

Helicopters with heat seeking devices scoured the area before the bomb experts began their work.

Among the evacuees were more than 100 patients from two hospitals, including people in intensive-care.

Experts had warned that if the bomb exploded, it would be powerful enough to flatten a whole street.

More than 2,000 tons of live bombs and munitions are discovered each year in Germany, more than 70 years after the end of the war. British and American warplanes pummeled the country with 1.5 million tons of bombs that killed 600,000 people.

German officials estimate that 15 percent of the bombs failed to explode. (VOA)

Next Story

Nazi Protests in American Soil and Obsession with Jews: “Unite the Right” Rally in Charlottesville (US) suffuses with Anti-Semitism and Anti-Black Racism Logic

This Saturday, However, was not like the usual Saturdays. In the world outside, Swastikas were being displayed and slogans were being shouted

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Anti Semitism and white supremacy
A man holding up a sign reading "Deplorables and Alt-Right Unite". Wikimedia
  • “Unite the Right” rally on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia was about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee
  • The rally soon suffused with anti-black racism and anti-Semitism
  • President Trump blamed both the sides for the violence 

New Delhi, August 23, 2017: The “Unite the Right” rally On Saturday, August 12, in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was seemingly about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee, spreading the message of white supremacy, was soon suffused with anti-black racism and anti-Semitism.

Saturday evening in a Jewish home is a sight to watch. Some look forward to restart their work, others pleased to use their cell phones again. Whatever it be, the end of Sabbath is an auspicious time when the holiness leaves, giving way to the regular week again. One makes the best of this time, to be able to deliver the approaching week happily, the reason why people at this time wish each other a “Shauva Tov,” or a good week.

This Saturday, However, was not like the usual Saturdays. In the world outside, Swastikas were being displayed and slogans were being shouted.

“I was in Israel and as I breathed the spices our sages teach us to comfort our soul while we lose our Shabbat spirits, this ritual barely prepared me for the news that was waiting on the other side. I turned my phone on, only to learn that a rally of White Supremacists and neo-Nazis took place in Charlottesville, Virginia and that those in attendance were shouting that ‘Jews will not replace us’ I realized immediately that it was not, in fact, going to be a shavua tov,” Said Jessica Spengler in a report published in Manhattan Jewish Experience website.

President Trump, two days later, blamed both the sides for the violence in Charlottesville. “I think there is blame on both sides. You had a group on one side that was bad. You had a group on the other side that was also very violent. Nobody wants to say that. I’ll say it right now,” He said, according to The New York Times report.

In a reaction to which, “Our president not only held counter-protesters to the same moral deficiency as the Nazis themselves but also claimed that not all people at the Unite The Right rally were antisemites. That might technically be true but not the kind of unequivocal condemnation of racism and bigotry we need to hear from the top,” Jessica mentioned.

ALSO READ: Jewish cemetery becomes the fresh hunt of rising Antisemitism in US

“I rarely speak of Israel as a safe haven also since America has been a safe option for Jews for as long as I’ve been alive. The 1800’s saw large waves of immigration to the land of Israel due to the pogroms occurring in Eastern Europe. The rising anti-Semitism reinforced in Europe by 20th century Fascism brought, even more, refugees to what would eventually become the Jewish State. But here’s the kicker: as a Jewish American, I never had to put myself in their shoes. After all, we live in America! But the images of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching with swastikas in America in 2017 jolted me and got me thinking…maybe Israel is still needed as a safe haven even for us?” Jessica who’s herself a Jew living in America added.

Jessica believes it’s our responsibility to confront racism and all forms of bigotry, particularly anti-Semitism. She finds it important to speak against the bigotry in America but holds, that to continue to strengthen Israel is equally essential.

– prepared by Samiksha Goel of NewsGram. Twitter @goel_samiksha