Leo Fink (1901-1972)

Leo Fink
Leo Fink

A tireless worker for Jewish Welfare, successful businessman Leo Fink was born in Bialystok on 31 October 1901 to a middle class family.  He was educated at the Zeligman Gymnasium, worked in a pioneer corps in Palestine for two years and studied engineering in Berlin and Altenburg Germany between 1922 and 1926.  After an unsuccessful family business venture in Romania, Leo and his two brothers immigrated to Australia in 1928.

The brothers moved to Melbourne after working for a year on a farm in Berwick established to assist Jewish settlement.  They founded their own business which began when  another brother, who had arrived from Europe, brought in a knitting machine.  This ultimately led to the creation of United Woollen Mills Pty Ltd and United Carpet Mills Pty Ltd.  On a visit to Bialystok in 1932, Leo met and married Mina (Miriam) Waks.  They returned to live in Melbourne.

By 1938 Leo was an active committee member of the Kadimah and in 1943 became its president.  From 1943 – 1947 he led the United Jewish Overseas Relief Fund, established to assist survivors of the Holocaust.  Under his stewardship it quickly became the largest Jewish organisation in Australia  and  Leo became a leading advocate for the unrestricted immigration of Holocaust survivors to Australia.  He established close ties with Arthur Calwell, Minister for Immigration in the Chifley Government.

When the United Jewish Fund merged with the Australian Jewish Welfare Society in 1947 to form the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society, Leo was elected its inaugural president.  He retained this position until 1960.  Throughout this period he held positions on the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.  Leo was a prodigious fund raiser for Jewish Welfare immigration schemes and he travelled extensively, raising money and representing Australia at international Jewish conferences.  He was also a supporter of Israel and in 1963 opened a factory in Ashdod to process Australian wool.

Leo was awarded the Coronation Medal in 1954 and an Award of Honour from the US based Hebrew Immigration Assistance Service (HIAS) in 1959 for his unstinting devotion to the Jewish community and in particular his care and concern for new immigrants.

He died in Melbourne on 20 September 1972.

Sources:  Rodney Benjamin, “Leo Fink”, The Australian Dictionary of Biography Online Edition; Rodney Benjamin, A Serious Influx of Jews, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1998.