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Alice and John Fink papers

Document | Digitized | Accession Number: 1990.247.13

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    Alice and John Fink papers

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    The Alice and John Fink papers include biographical materials, photographs, printed materials, and subject files documenting Alice and John, their families in Germany, Alice’s nursing education and work in England, John’s survival in concentration camps during the Holocaust, and the couple’s work at the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp after the war.

    Biographical materials include identification, education, employment, displaced persons, and restitution papers documenting John and Alice Fink as well as their ketubah. John Fink materials include his Bar Mitzvah certificate, school report cards, apprentice certificate, identification and work cards, correspondence, restitution claims, and a personal narrative documenting his childhood in Berlin, forced labor in the Siemens factory during the Holocaust, and post-war work for the British Red Cross and United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. Alice Fink materials include a school certificate, British passport, identification card, employment records, and registered nurse and midwife certificates documenting her childhood in Berlin, training as a nurse, prewar and wartime work in England, and postwar work at the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp.

    Photographic materials include two large and two small photo albums and many loose photographs depicting Alice and John Fink, their families in prewar Berlin, and their postwar work at the Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp. This series includes copy prints of liberation photographs of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Color photographs depict the Blankenese children’s home after it became the Elsa Brändström Haus.

    Printed materials include postwar issues of Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für die Nord-Rheinprovinz und Westfalen, Our Voice: Central Jewish Committee, and Jüdisches Gemeindeblatt für die Britische Zone; photocopied clippings about the Holocaust; a 1983 issue of AJR Information; and 1991-1992 issues of ORT-Deutschland Magazin.

    Subject files include clippings, correspondence, notes, printed materials, postcards, and testimony. The files document the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and its liberation, Gyuszi Szabo (a Hungarian Jew living in Rotterdam at the outbreak of World War II), Holocaust commemoration, a Holocaust art exhibition at Indiana University Bloomington, the Landwerk Neuendorf hachshara, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Blankenese children’s home (Elsa Brandstrom Haus).
    inclusive:  circa 1926-2003
    Credit Line
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Alice and John Fink
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Alice Fink
    Collection Creator
    Alice Fink
    John Fink
    Alice Redlich was born August 12, 1920, in Berlin, Germany, to Georg and Ella Messer Redlich. Georg, born on August 8, 1884, was a salesman and World War I veteran from Schlabendorf, Germany. Ella was born on April 9, 1893, in Berlin. Alice's brother Heinz Alfred was born on June 9, 1923. The family considered themselves Germans who were Jewish. They celebrated high holidays, irregularly attended synagogue, and did not keep a kosher house. The children went to public schools. Alice attended Hebrew school three times per week and also belonged to a German Jewish youth group that was more social than religious. In 1932, Georg became formally affiliated with the Jewish Community, reporting official Jewish deaths to the religious and civil authorities. In 1932, Georg became formally affiliated with the Jewish Community, reporting official Jewish deaths to the religious and civil authorities.

    Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor on January 30, 1933, led to increasingly severe restrictions on Jews. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws defined Jews by race and mandated the total separation of Aryans and non-Aryans. Due to the high number of Jewish students in her school, Alice did not immediately feel the increasing anti-Semitism. However, in response to the encroaching restrictions, her father removed her from school in 1935. She celebrated her Bat Mitzvah in 1936. Her only experience of persecution was that by 1937, she was not allowed to attend German cultural events. In 1937, Alice enrolled in a vocational school and trained as an infant nurse in a children’s home. She completed her training in 1938, and with the assistance of a cousin living in England, was accepted into the nursing program at Miller General Hospital, a private hospital in Southeast London. In the months prior to her departure, she learned English and worked for a family taking care of their infant son.

    On November 11, 1938, Alice left Germany from Bremerhaven on a refugee ship and arrived in London on November 14. Unbeknownst to her, Georg was briefly arrested during the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9 and 10. At the outbreak of war on September 1, 1939, Britain considered all Germans over the age of 16 enemy aliens. Alice was called before a special tribunal which recognized her as a refugee and she was allowed to continue her studies. Communication with her family was difficult. A letter with a 25 word maximum, sent through the Red Cross, could take up to three months to reach home. The family had a relative in Sweden; Alice wrote her and she relayed the letters to Germany. The air raids over London began in 1940, and Alice was evacuated to the countryside. She helped care for the German children evacuated during Operation Pied Piper, in which the British government evacuated over 500,000 children from vulnerable target areas to the country. In the summer of 1942, Alice first learned of the atrocities being committed against Jews in Europe. She knew of a small community of Orthodox Jews in London and went to them for assistance in bringing her family to England, but no one could help.

    On November 19, 1942, Alice became a registered state nurse and worked various staff jobs. She volunteered with the Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad and, in September 1946, as part of the Team 110 Jewish Relief Unit, she left for Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp in Germany. Alice cared for the children and young women, teaching skills such as basic hygiene and health. She put an ad in the Jewish Community newsletter to try and find out what happened to her family. With the help of a cousin who saw the ad and her family’s former landlord, Alice learned that her father, mother, and brother were deported to Auschwitz and murdered.

    At the DP camp, Alice met Hans Finke, born in Berlin on August 12, 1920. He was a former inmate at Bergen-Belsen, now working as an electrician for the British Army. In 1947, the couple got engaged. Alice returned to England to become a British national. She returned to Bergen-Belsen and the couple married on June 20, 1948. Hans’s sister, his only surviving family member, was a seamstress. She made the bride’s dress and attended the wedding. Alice became pregnant and the couple did not want to have their child born on German soil. They immigrated by plane to the United States, arriving in Chicago on September 1, 1949; their daughter was born soon after. It was not until this time that she found out the exact details of her family’s deaths from the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany. Georg was deported to Auschwitz on October 26, 1942. In 1941, her maternal grandmother, Emma, was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Her mother Ella was forced into labor at the Siemens electrical and engineering company, arrested at the factory, and deported to Auschwitz on March 8, 1943. Heinz, 20, was studying at the Neuendorf hachshara, a Zionist agricultural school which prepared students to emigrate to Palestine. On April 7, the Germans told the group of 60 youths and 30 older residents to prepare for deportation. The next day they were taken to Berlin and on April 19, 1943, deported to Auschwitz where all were murdered.

    Hans changed his name to John and they changed their surname to Fink. The couple had three more children. John became known in the local Jewish community as a tireless crusader for Holocaust related concerns. Both he and Alice were dedicated to educating future generations and talked and wrote about their own experiences. John, 81, passed away in 2000.
    Hans Finke was born on August 12, 1920, in Berlin, Germany. His father, Julius Finke (1882-1943), was a merchant from Petrzkowitz, Poland (Pietrzkowice, Poland); his mother died when he was an infant. His father married Ella in 1922. Hans’s half-sister, Ursula, was born on June 30, 1923. They were not a strictly observant Jewish family though they attended a liberal synagogue and participated in the Jewish community. Julius owned a dry goods store outside of Berlin, but in 1923 he lost the store due to poor economic conditions. The family moved to Berlin where Julius and Ella worked various jobs and rented out rooms. Hans attended public school and went to Hebrew school once a week.

    On January 30, 1933, Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany. By summer, increasingly anti-Semitic policies severely restricted the civil rights and actions of German Jews. Hans left the German public school and attended a Jewish school. In 1934, he left school and began a four year apprenticeship as an electrician with a Jewish contractor. After the Nuremberg Laws were instituted in 1935, establishing legal persecution of Jews along racial lines, Hans' Jewish boss fled Germany. Hans found a job with a small company, and in 1938, took his journeyman’s exam, but as a Jew, he did not receive his results or his certification. The same year, his family was forcibly removed from their home and relocated to a flat in one of the poorest sections of Berlin. The overcrowded building was under constant Nazi guard. His parents were forced into factory work and his sister worked as a seamstress. Hans began working for the Alfred Skaruppe Co., a private contracting firm owned by non-Nazis, and he worked for the Air Ministry from 1938-1941. Food was scarce and Jews were unable to purchase many goods. On weekends, Hans would remove his Star of David armband, an action punishable by death, and walk to the country. A sympathetic farmer provided him with 100 pound sacks of potatoes, which he would carry home.

    By 1941, Jews could no longer work for privately owned businesses. Hans lost his job and was assigned to work for Siemens, an electrical company. At the end of February 1943, he was admitted to a Jewish hospital with appendicitis. While there, he heard that his parents were arrested during a mass round up on February 29 and transported to Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. The family’s apartment was sealed and Ursula went into hiding with a Jewish Palestinian couple. On March 8, the Gestapo stormed the hospital, and arrested staff and patients, including Hans. Hans was part of the 36 East transport that left Berlin on March 12, 1943. They were marched to the railroad station and loaded into cattle cars, arriving the next day in Buna-Monowitz concentration camp, the largest subcamp of Auschwitz. Hans was beaten, stripped, shaved, and washed in kerosene. The following morning they were given uniforms and tattooed with identification numbers. The camp had little food and no sanitation and Hans, still recovering from surgery, was forced to carry cement and iron bars. After six weeks, tradesmen were ordered to report and Hans was sent to construct a factory for I.G. Farben Co. On September 13, the United States bombed the construction site as Hans and his fellow workers hid in the basement. The next day they discovered that the plant had been destroyed. The Germans ordered them to begin rebuilding.

    In early 1945, Russian forces were approaching the camp and, on January 17, the prisoners were told to take extra blankets and rations and were forced to march to Gleiwitz, Germany (now Gliwice, Poland). Many prisoners were killed and SS guards deserted their posts. The transport group stayed in Gleiwitz for a few days before being marched to the train station and loaded into open freight cars without food or water. When the train would stop, prisoners would jump to the ground and start eating snow to appease their thirst and hunger. During stops at civilian platforms, the sick and dying were tossed out of the cars and shot by the guards. In Czechoslovakia, civilians threw food into the train cars for the prisoners. The transport traveled through many areas looking for a place to unload, but all of the camps were overcrowded. They reached Berlin on January 28, and the inmates were unloaded at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. On February 2, they were transported to Flossenberg concentration camp, and on March 10, they arrived at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Hans was put to work as an electrician. His position allowed him access to the guards’ quarters and he took this opportunity to steal provisions. He even ate the food left out for their dogs. By April, typhus was rampant, there was no food, and order in the camp was breaking down. By April 13, the Germans were gone. The British Army of the Rhine (2nd) liberated Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945. Hans weighed eighty pounds at liberation.

    Hans helped the British restore power to Bergen-Belsen, now a displaced persons camp, and in October he returned to Berlin to find his sister. Ursula lived in hiding throughout the war, but was recognized by a Jew working for the Gestapo while standing on a train platform. To avoid arrest, she jumped in front of a train, shattering her leg. She was arrested and kept shackled to a bed in the Jewish hospital for eight months, until liberation. Hans also was given his journeyman’s electrician exam results and certificate.

    He returned to Bergen-Belsen and worked for the British Army until 1947, and then for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, in the Warburg-Children’s Home. He met Alice Redlich, a German Jewish nurse, who had come from England to work for the Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad. They married in Bergen-Belsen on June 20, 1948. With Alice pregnant with their first child, the couple immigrated to the United States on August 26, 1949. They settled in Chicago where John had relatives. Soon after, the first of their four children was born. Hans changed his name to John. They changed their surname to Fink and became citizens in 1955. John became known in the local Jewish community as a tireless crusader for Holocaust related concerns. He died on December 20, 2000, at the age of 81.

    Physical Details

    2 boxes
    4 oversize folders
    2 oversize boxes
    System of Arrangement
    The Alice and John Fink papers are arranged as five series:

    Series 1: Biographical materials, 1933-2000
    Series 2: Photographs, circa 1926-2000
    Series 3: Printed materials, 1946-1992
    Series 4: Subject files, circa 1985-2003

    Rights & Restrictions

    Conditions on Access
    There are no known restrictions on access to this material.
    Conditions on Use
    Material(s) in this collection may be protected by copyright and/or related rights. You do not require further permission from the Museum to use this material. The user is solely responsible for making a determination as to if and how the material may be used.

    Keywords & Subjects

    Administrative Notes

    Alice and John Fink donated the Alice and John Fink papers to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1990, 2000, 2003, 2005, and 2018. Accessions formerly cataloged as 1990.247, 2000.285, 2000.478.1, 2000.501, 2003.363, 2005.579, and 2018.610 have been incorporated into this collection. Accessions 1990.247, 2000.501, 2003.363, and 2005.579 had been previously united.
    Primary Number
    Record last modified:
    2023-08-25 10:05:36
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