Marie “Mizzi” Fink was born in a small town in the Sudetenland in 1909, where her family had lived for nearly 300 years. She lived with her sister, two years younger, and her parents, who owned a general store in town that had belonged to her grandparents.
The Sudetenland was one of the first targets for Hitler’s expansion of German territory. In an attempt to appease him, the Sudetenland was ceded to the Nazis through the Munich Agreement in 1938. When their armies arrived, Mizzi, her family and her husband, Karl Fink, were forced to abandon their homes and businesses and take up residence in Prague.
However, less than a year later, on March 15, 1939, the Nazi armies marched into the city. Mizzi’s family was devastated. For a short period of time a small number of individuals were able to receive documents from the Gestapo to leave the country, and Mizzi and Karl were each lucky enough to get their own; their family, however, was not so lucky.
Three days later the two were on a train through Nazi Germany, undergoing many stops and searches before arriving in Oldenzaal, Netherlands, where Dutch peoples and Quakers aided them and other refugees. Shortly after, they boarded a boat to England, eventually settling in the town of Reigate, where Karl’s sister lived.
Mizzi and Karl were eventually offered residence with an aristocrat couple in Chiselhampton, Sir Charles and Lady Peers, who wanted to house Czech Jews due to Britain’s involvement in the annexation of Czechoslovakia. Before long, they even offered to house Mizzi’s parents. Unfortunately, they had been stuck in Prague at the time, and only later Mizzi discovered that they had been deported to Theresienstadt in 1942 and then to Auschwitz in 1943, where they were both killed.
After the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939 and Chamberlain declared war, effectively starting WWII, food and resources became rationed in England. During this period, Sir Charles worked to recover art and historical artifacts to be stored at his estate in the country, safe from the German bombing raids. By 1942, with a German invasion seemingly immanent, the seas a total warzone and few countries willing to give visas to Jews, Mizzi and Karl were able to find passage across the Atlantic on a freighter. They were not allowed to know where they were going or when they would leave.
On November 24, 1942 they were notified and boarded the ship – a freighter from West India that would be sailing to Halifax, Canada. They travelled in a convoy of 86 vessels and the trip lasted 17 days, during which they were unable to undress or bathe, constantly wearing life jackets which housed their documents and gasmasks. They arrived in December.
From there they were able to take a train to New York where Mizzi was reunited with her sister and her aunt and uncle. In 1943 the couple moved to Seattle, where they bought a home in Leschi and had their daughter Doris in 1946. As a family they went on many trips together, including an extensive one to Europe and Israel; and the couple was even able to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in 1966. Karl would pass away just one year later. Mizzi’s life lasted much longer, making it to 98 years old before passing in 2008.
Their daughter, Doris, shares her family's story.
Photo: Mizzi with daughter Doris