In 1934, Monarch Quality Cakes opened business
at 103 Acland Street,
next door to O’Shea’s milk bar. They were neighbours for 24 years. Acland Street
offers the best eastern European cakes in Melbourne,
impossibly rich and sweet. At no 81 is the Europa
Cake Shop with its luscious window displays, no 93 is Bon Cake Shop and at 95 is
the Acland Street Cake Shop. Arguably, Monarch Quality Cakes in the oldest
surviving retail business in St Kilda.
In 1958, Avram and
acquired O’Shea’s and renamed it Scheherazade, a
café serving comforting eastern European Jewish fare from family recipes.
A haven, where for the price of a coffee, it is not
forbidden to sit for hours. Particularly on Sunday mornings, it was the
gathering place of single men living in St Kilda boarding houses or one-bedroom
flats, who had lost entire families in the Holocaust and who came to Melbourne
as refugees. Yiddish, Polish, Russian and English are spoken. Chicken broth,
cabbage rolls, cholent, vegetable stew, chicken
schnitzel, latkas, Black Forest
cake, almond torte, apple compote, lemon tea and coffee are served. You can
still see the occasional émigré, maybe from
this earlier time, sitting alone or with their children, amongst the latté
these men, amongst others, Scheherazade has offered
a stable anchor to support their damaged lives; a certain source of gossip,
community information, banter and sustenance for spirit as well as body. The
unchanging wallpaper, the secluded back room and the round table in the window
survive as intact as the furniture in any grandparents’ front room.
The best café and bar proprietors
instinctively understand how to offer such an essential service in a civil
society. As a haven for refugees from terror and dire oppression,
has grown and been culturally enriched immeasurably.Arnold
Zable, the masterly Melbourne
story telling novelist, has woven a tapestry of deceptively powerful stories,
fictionalising the horror and hope of those of the
Zeleznikovs and their customers, in his novel Cafe
Scheherazade, part of which is paraphrased in
Masha, and their families have been involved in the
revolutionary action and the profound suffering of political oppression in
for the entire first half of the twentieth century. Avram
is the son of Etta Stock and YankelZeleznikov, both committed and professional
socialist revolutionaries, members of the secret Berdichev
Bund Labour Movement, with many Eastern European Jewish members.
Etta was born in Tul´chin,
in 1881. That year, Czar Alexander II was
assassinated, anti-Semitic mobs rampaged, and refugees fled in tens of
thousands. In 1900, she studied nursing in Odessa,
on the north shore of the Black Sea,
joined a Socialist cell and worked in a revolutionary printing works alongside
the young Josef Stalin. In the year of revolution and bloodshed 1905, Nurse
Stock was called to the famous battleship Potemkin
to tend wounded crew.
joined the Bund in Pinsk,
near the Ukrainian border. She asked the Bund to support her revolutionary
effort in Tul´chin. The Bund sent
Yenkel, already a cadre at 18. By 1910 they had
married. Both were arrested. Etta was released, but
Yankel was exiled near Irkutsk,
In 1917, the Czar
was assassinated. Etta Yankel continued their
revolutionary activism in Kiev,
capital. The Red Army moved to ban the Bund in 1922. Etta and
Yankel fled, to Vilnius
over the border from Minsk,
with its high Jewish population and rich culture; despite the terrible
persecution of Jewish people in Lithuania
in World War I. Here Avram was born in 1924, at
Benedictinski 4, in the old city. But the Secret
Police discovered Yenkel and sent him to labour
camps in Siberia.
He was never seen again. Etta also disappeared.
In 1939, MashaFrydman aged 12, was forced to escape from the
invading Germans in Sosnowiec,
just west of Poland,
to Siedlice, east of Warsaw.
Her parents were also Bundists. But German soldiers
spared them and they were able to return, only to escape again over the frozen
River Bug to Lutsk
in the Ukraine,
then to fall into the hands of Soviet police and
forced eviction in cattle trucks to Siberia.
By 1941, the Nazis overcame the Red Army.
Many Jewish men were shot in the forest near Pomary
village. Avram survived. Russia
was at war with Germany
and the Polish people were allies of Russia.
Released, they settled in the tiny village of Marke,
Kazakhnstan, until 1944, when the Soviet police
forced the family to escape again, this time west to
Dzhambul, Kazakhstan, just north-east of Tashkent.
The Frydman family
returned home to Poland
in 1945. The next year, Avram, now alone after the
loss of his family, first met them at a Bund gathering near Wroclaw
in Southern Poland.
Avram worked for the Bund in
Lódz, to the north-east of Wroclaw,
where Masha had moved, to study medicine. In the
Erich Maria Remarque (author of All Quiet on the Western Front) novel
Arc de Triomphe, Avram
and his friends first read about stateless people and a nightclub in Paris
called Scheherazade, where émigrés could meet.
In 1941, the Nazis overcame the Red Army.
Many Jewish men were shot in the forest near Pomary
village. Avram hid. Other Jewish people were herded
into ghettos and forced into slave labour, or later murdered, and
Vilinius’ richly historic Jewish quarter,
destroyed. Avram escaped.
In 1943, the Vilnius
ghetto was liquidated. Avram briefly found his
mother, then after brave and audacious action to save her, she was finally
taken. Avram and the partisans hid in dugouts in
the Rudnicki swamp. In 1944 the group joined the
Red Army to pursue the retreating enemy, through Vilnius.
Avram enlisted as an intelligence officer. In 1945,
again he was forced to escape into Poland
and to Lódz. Sent by the Bund to investigate a
police pogrom of Jewish people in Kielce,
in 1946 he realised that once in power, the
Bolsheviks would suppress the Bund.
Both Avram and the
Frydmans were at dire risk. Most idealistically
they agreed to leave separately and to meet together in Paris,
at Scheherazade. And so, (eventually, circuitously,
in Spring 1949) they did. Somehow, they made their
way to Melbourne.
It could be said that there have always been European Jewish people in St Kilda.
Moritz Michaelis arrived in Melbourne
in 1853, not as a refugee, but as a free settler. He came to St Kilda in the
Scheherazadecomes from The
Arabian Nights Entertainments a 14th or 15th century
Egyptian text, first translated from Arabic into French 300 years ago. Sir
Richard Burton’s famous unexpurgated version (1885-88) runs to 16 volumes. In
it, Sultan Shahriah had resolved to assuage the
infidelity of his sultana by taking a fresh wife each night, only to strangle
each at daybreak. Scheherazade, the daughter of the
grand Vizier, staved off her execution by spinning him stories for 1,001 nights.
So amused was the sultan that he revoked his cruel decree, calling her the
‘liberator of women’. Her tales still entrance readers.
In 1888, Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov composed a
symphonic suite based on the story and in 1910; Diaghilev’s
Ballet Russe performed a ballet to the music.
Maurice Ravel also composed an overture in 1898 and a song cycle in 1903 all
based on the story of the legendary sultanate.
The third Scheherazade,
in St Kilda, is a place with the qualities of its two predecessors: safe
refuge, openness to all émigrés and an endless repository of amazing stories.