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An Anti-Climax at the End of the World

June 10, 2010 – 10:54 pmNo Comment

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By John Zeleznikow

For those holocaust survivors who were interred in concentration camps in occupied Nazi Europe between 1939 and 1945, life in post-war Melbourne was blissfully pleasant.  They had successfully escaped to what they perceived as the end of their world. For countless years, they tried to forget their experiences.  Many rarely discussed their tragedies with their family.

But for a small number of survivors, life after the Holocaust was anti-climatic. Those partisans, who had heroically fought the Nazis, now had to integrate into post-war society. Their reasons for resistance were no longer relevant.  And whilst some Jews were involved in armed conflict, fighting for a Jewish homeland in British Mandate Palestine, this was not the case in Australia.

I would like to introduce you to the experiences of Avram Zeleznikow, a survivor of the Vilno (Vilnius) Ghetto who was a member of the Jewish partisan group of Abba Kovner. Before the war, in Vilno, he had been a Bund activist and Yiddish teacher.

In the ghetto he was faced with many ethical dilemmas, including whether to cooperate or resist with the authorities; how to treat the Kapos (Jewish Police); and whether to give up their commander, Yitzhak Wittenberg.

When he escaped to the forest of Rudniki, there were daily dilemmas on whether to treat local residents like innocent bystanders or Nazi collaborators. These issues resonate today, when we deliberate how to classify individuals as resistance fighters or terrorists, and what is appropriate action.

In post-holocaust Melbourne, Abram Zeleznikow was initially a labourer who eventually ran a renowned restaurant, Café Scheherazade, and became a communal activist.

Professor John Zeleznikow is in the School of Management and Information Systems at Victoria University where he specialises in decision support for enhancing negotiation.  His negotiation support software won its heat of the ABC New Inventors program. His latest book, Information Technology for Enhanced Dispute Resolution was published by Cambridge University Press on June 1 2010.

Professor Zeleznikow will be speaking on “Life at the end of the world was an anti-climax – memories of sixty years of life of a Jewish partisan in Melbourne” at Limmud Oz on Monday June 14 at 5pm.

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