Tea Canister That Held a Family Secret

Posted on June 5th, 2016 by:

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Tea Canister That Held a Family Secret

In 1939, as the Nazis invaded Poland, Guta and Mayer Rak fled their home in Warsaw. The young Jewish couple packed up whatever belongings they could and fled east. With them went a small canister of Swee Touch Nee tea.

The canister was with the Raks, when they were arrested by the Soviets “as foreigners and potential spies,” and with them in Siberia where they were forced to cut timber at a Soviet forced labor camp. In 1942, after the Rak’s release by the Soviets, the young couple carried the canister with them to Uzbekistan.



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The tea canister that was carried with the Rak’s through Eastern Europe (Photo Sabina Rak Neugebauer)

After WWII, the Raks returned to Poland only to find that their entire family had been murdered by the Nazis. With no ties left for them, the couple traveled to Sweden and then to New York. Along with the few possessions they carried with them to America was the canister of tea.

The couple settled in the Bronx where Mayer got a job in the garment industry. They had a daughter, Eda and began a new life in America.

Growing up, Eda remembered tea being a family tradition. Her parents would drink tea out of tall glasses while holding a sugar cube between their teeth, which to Eda, was quite embarrassing.

One day, the couple revealed to their daughter that the ordinary looking canister may hold more than just tea.

In 1939, her parents “Aware of what was to come, they took whatever small pieces of jewelry they had,” said Eda. “They went to the local tinsmith and asked him to melt it down and conceal it “in the lip of a very ordinary tin tea canister.”

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Guta and Mayer Rak with Eda, in 1947. Eda was born in Lodz, Poland, when the Raks returned after WWII (Photo via Sabina Rak Neugebauer)

Not wanting to damage the appearance of the canister, the Raks never checked to see if the gold was actually placed there by the tinsmith, who easily could have replaced the gold with something else.

“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,” says the 70-year-old Eda. “And as to what might be inside?” I never wanted to know.”

The contents of the canister remained a mystery until Eda’s daughter Sabina, who will be married later this month, asked her mother if she could melt down the contents of the canister for wedding rings.

“It didn’t matter to me if it was gold or it was lead. It was the idea that it was a piece of our history,” said the 35-year-old Sabina. “To take this object that represents a sort of very difficult historical moment, one of pain and also resilience, and to really transform it into this gift for the next generation — what better way to say they survived, and they lived, and they loved?”



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Three curves of gold were held inside the lip of the canister. (Photo via Courtesy of Harmeet Singh)

After some thought, Eda agreed and the tin was taken to local jeweler Harmeet Singh.

Singh carefully extracted the hidden metal out of the tin and melted it down. Determining it was 18 karat rose gold, the type commonly used in Eastern Europe.

According to Eda, the tin had enough gold inside to make rings for Sabina and her fiancé, Marcio Siwi, and even for Sabina’s younger sister if she ever wants it.

As for Eda, “I’ll always have the tin,” she says.

It’s still a symbol of her parents’ resilience — but now it means something more.

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

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The new wedding rings of Sabina Rak Neugebauer and fiancé Marcio Siwi’s (Photo Sabina Rak Neugebauer)



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One thought on “Tea Canister That Held a Family Secret

  • Bill Getz says:

    Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of the horror of the holocaust, a beautiful story of love survives time and travails.

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