Paulette Weill Oppert Fink
1911 – 2005
Born in Mulhouse, a city in Alsace, Paulette was the daughter of Blanche Salomon who was born in Paris on December 15, 1887 and died in Paris in October, 1965 and Jean Weill who was born in Mulhouse on January 17, 1876 and died in Paris in May, 1965. In 1929 Jean Weill built a factory for the manufacture of BATA shoes in the village of Moussey in the Moselle department of France. Paulette Weill and her first husband, Yves Oppert (1909–26.6.1944) were married in January 1934 and had two daughters, Nadine Oppert Bicher (b. 1935) and Francelyne Oppert Lurie (b. 1939). They were living in Paris when Germany invaded France. Yves served as a lieutenant in the French Army, was taken prisoner, but managed to escape. Paulette Oppert also served on the front line as a Red Cross nurse. Paulette’s parents escaped from France at the end of 1941 via Spain and Portugal and sailed to the United States, living in New York for the duration of the war. They returned to Paris in June 1946.
When France fell to the Germans Yves and Paulette escaped to the village of Izieux, seventy km east of Lyons, in the unoccupied zone of France under the new Vichy regime. They joined the Resistance to sabotage the German “war machine” and collaborated with a network of Catholic and Protestant volunteers to hide, and save Jewish children left behind by Polish, Hungarian, Romanian and French Jews when they were deported to the concentration camps. It was in Izieux, on April 6, 1944, that the Gestapo, under the command of Klaus Barbie (1913–1991), arrested forty-four Jewish children in hiding and had them transported to Auschwitz.
With the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Charles de Gaulle urged the French Resistance to work in the open; Paulette Oppert and her husband did so. Yves was caught by the French militia, imprisoned, and tortured to death. Paulette continued in the Resistance, traveling by bicycle throughout the country while her two daughters were being cared for by Pastor André Trocmé in Le Chambon-Sur-Lignon, a town in southern France. She also worked with the Jewish Brigade. After the war ended, she helped smuggle refugees into Palestine and worked with the Joint Distribution Committee to organize eleven orphan homes, providing housing for one thousand five hundred child survivors of the Holocaust; her first orphanage was in Malmaison, a château about eleven km west of Paris. Because she could speak English, Oppert also traveled to the United States in 1945 to help the Joint Distribution Committee raise money for her orphanages and for Palestine. After two years, she returned to Paris and then in 1948 traveled to the U.S., where she spoke at breakfast meetings, luncheons and dinners, and on radio and television, in forty-two states, to raise money for the new state of Israel. She brought her ten-year-old daughter Nadine with her when she made her first fund-raising trip in 1945, and brought Francelyne to the United States three years later. In 1951 she enrolled both girls in the Lycee Francais in New York City, “so they could lead a normal life, at last.” On September 14, 1954, she married Israel “Iz” Fink (1902–1991), a Minneapolis businessman she had been introduced to on one of her speaking tours. She had wanted to make aliyah to Israel, but since her new husband was CEO of a large and very successful business, she and her daughters became permanent residents of Minneapolis, MN. Inspired by a visit to Israel with Paulette, he served as campaign chairman and president of the Jewish Federation in Minneapolis, and served on the national campaign board of the United Jewish Appeal for several years. He also chaired several committees, while Paulette Fink became national chair of the UJA Women’s Division for three years. Paulette Fink’s sister, Jacqueline Weill Bienveniste, lives in France, and her brother, Pierre, resided in New York City until he died in 2001.
Paulette Fink died on April 2, 2005.