Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Fink, Miriam (Mina) (1913–1990)

by Andrew Markus

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Miriam (Mina) Fink (1913-1990), Jewish community leader, was born on 5 December 1913 at Bialystok, Poland, second of three children of Nathan Waks, merchant, and his wife Freda, née Kaplan. Mina, aged 8, and her brothers, Leo and Jack, were orphaned when their father died in a typhus epidemic and their mother committed suicide. Raised by her maternal grandparents in difficult financial circumstances, she attended the Druskin Gymnazium to matriculation. In 1932 she met Leo Fink, a locally born manufacturer who had migrated to Melbourne in 1928 and returned on a visit to Bialystok. They married there on 20 September that year and travelled to Melbourne. She gave birth to a daughter and a son, gradually acquired English, and assisted the immigration of her brothers and other relatives.

In 1938 the Finks visited Poland and were shocked by the deterioration in the fortunes of the Jewish community. The subsequent Holocaust fundamentally changed Mina’s life: she continued to be haunted by the fate of her Polish family and friends. In 1943 she became a director of the United Jewish Overseas Relief Fund and then president (1945-47) of its Ladies’ Group, co-ordinating fund-raising and the despatch overseas of money, clothing, medicines and foodstuffs. The fund also established seven hostels in Melbourne to provide initial settlement for postwar immigrants. Mina’s responsibilities included meeting ships at Port Melbourne, the day-to-day running of hostels, and regular visits to the Bialystoker Centre, St Kilda.

Unlike some members of Anglo-Australian Jewry, Mina and Leo had a fiercely personal concern for the refugees, reflecting their direct Polish links. She `adopted’ a group of young war-orphans—many of them concentration camp survivors—who came to be known as the `Buchenwald boys’, meeting them on arrival (`with a big smile on her face’, as one of them, Max Zilberman, recalled); finding them accommodation, employment and opportunities for further training; and offering them Sunday outings, and visits to her family’s Frankston holiday home. An enduring friendship developed with many of them.

From 1947 to 1976 Fink was a board member of the UJORF’s successor, the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society. As professional social workers came to fill the roles she had performed so ably, she devoted herself to the National Council of Jewish Women. She was the first European-born woman to head (1957-60) the council’s Victorian section. Increasingly, she saw the work of women’s groups not merely as adjuncts to the tasks of men, but as a demonstration of women’s independence. As national president (1967-73) she developed ambitious fund-raising programs to help both the Jewish and wider community, and to undertake projects in Israel. She attended (1954, 1963, 1966, 1969) conventions of the International Council of Jewish Women, and chaired the one held in Melbourne in 1975. She had been appointed MBE in 1974. In 1987 she was elected an honorary member of the ICJW executive. Both Mina and Leo were lifelong supporters of the Jewish homeland, their many visits including prolonged stays between 1960 and 1964.

Mina Fink assisted in the establishment of the Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre, opened in Melbourne in 1984, and—at her request, and in recognition of her financial support—the museum building was named in honour of Leo, who had died in 1972. She insisted that the museum function as an educational institution, and worked to provide training for survivors who served as guides to visiting school groups; she also advocated seminars for teachers and encouraged the involvement of academics.

It was said of Fink that she read the current of the times before most others. Through force of personality she was able to recruit and inspire volunteers, persuade people to work together, foster talent, and place protégés in positions of leadership. Always forthright—overbearing in the view of some—she did not seek popularity but recognition and respect. It pleased Fink to be invited to grand occasions of state and to meet people of power and influence. Meticulous in grooming, dress, house-keeping and record-keeping, she was not too proud to scrub floors in hostels. Friends recalled her boundless energy, her passion for order, her zest for life and her warmth. Mrs Fink died on 2 May 1990 at Prahran and was buried in the Chevra Kadisha cemetery, Springvale. She was survived by her children. An NCJW leadership development fund was established in her memory.

Select Bibliography

  • M. L. Newton, Making a Difference (2000)
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 15 May 1969, p 37
  • Mina Fink (typescript, Talking History Project, Australian Centre for the Study of Jewish Civilisation, Monash University)
  • Leo and Mina Fink papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • private information.

Citation details

Andrew Markus, 'Fink, Miriam (Mina) (1913–1990)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fink-miriam-mina-12493/text22475, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Waks, Mina
Birth

5 December 1913
Bialystok, Poland

Death

2 May 1990
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation