Avram Zeleznikow was born in Vilna on 25 May 1924 to a father who was both a trade union leader and member of the Vilna Jewish Council and a mother who was a midwife. His family were supporters of the Bund and as a child and teenager Avram enjoyed a Yiddish secular education while also attending Bund social and cultural activities.
When the German army invaded Vilna in 1941, Avram was incarcerated in the Vilna ghetto. He remained there until 1943 when he made his perilous escape through the sewers to the neighbouring forests. He joined the partisans and fought with them until his liberation in 1944. His courage and heroism were recognised by both the Soviet and Polish governments.
Avram briefly returned to Vilna, but then journeyed on to Lodz where he remained for three years. He attended Lodz University where he met his beloved lifelong partner and wife Masha. When the Communist Party took control of Poland in 1948, Avram and Masha decided to leave Poland and journeyed to Paris. They remained there for three years. Both a desire to leave Europe and the offer of a visa to Australia ensured that the Zeleznikows were to become ‘new Australians’. They arrived in Melbourne in 1951. Avram worked as a labourer for seven years before opening the now iconic Scheherazade restaurant in Acland Street St Kilda in 1958.
Avram’s commitment to Yiddishkeit and the ideals of the Bund never left him. He became a committee member of the Kadimah in 1952. He was elected to the Board of the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society in 1969 where he was honorary secretary from 1971-1977, treasurer from 1982-1985, vice president in 1986 and president from 1990-1992. From 1993-1996 he was chairman.
Throughout this period he also served on the executive of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies, was chairman of the Jewish Community Council and a representative of the Jewish community on the Ethnic Communities Council. He was also a member of the Board of Governors at Mt Scopus College. For many years Avram was a leading teacher of Yiddish at the Sholem Aleichem Sunday School. Even in retirement Avram remains an active member of the Raul Wallenberg Chapter of B’nai B’rith and a life member of the Australian Labour Party.
Sources: Rodney Benjamin, A Serious Influx of Jews Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1998; Questionnaire completed by John Zeleznikow (son).