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Varshavskii, Avram Moiseevich

(1821–1888), philanthropist, public figure, and businessman. Avram Varshavskii (sometimes spelled Warshawski) was from a wealthy family in Poltava. He had a traditional Jewish education supplemented with secular subjects, and was a supporter of the moderate Haskalah.

Varshavskii’s father-in-law worked in the alcohol trade, and Varshavskii entered this field as well, becoming an otkupshchik (tax farmer) in liquor commerce. After 1848, he was a wealthy property owner, and by the time he moved to Saint Petersburg in the 1860s, he had provided the funds to put up a hospital in Poltava. In Saint Petersburg he worked as a banker, landlord (after Jews obtained the right to own estates), and a railroad builder. With this last enterprise, he was responsible for the MoscowBrest train system that connected central Russia with the West.

Because Saint Petersburg was outside the Pale of Settlement, the rights of Jews were limited. After settling there, Varshavskii joined the Jewish community council and was able to lobby government officials to obtain a building license for a modern synagogue, a goal that interested him because he was a moderate maskil. He was also a founder of the Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia (OPE), and his general philanthropic contributions were directed toward educational projects. As a founder of ORT, he provided scholarships to high school and university students.

When the Pahlen Commission (1883–1887) reviewed legislation on the Jews of Russia, Varshavskii testified and acted behind the scenes to promote Jewish interests. His involvement went beyond this community, as he was also a benefactor of Russian schools and established a school for peasants on his estate. His final years, however, were marked by financial difficulties.

Suggested Reading

David Feinberg, “Zikhronot,” He-‘Avar 4 (1956/56):20–36; Valeri Gessen, K istorii Sankt-Peterburgskoi evreiskoi religioznoi obshchiny: Ot pervykh evreiev do XX veka (Saint Petersburg, 2000); Viktor Kelner, ed., Evrei v Rossii: 19 vek (Moscow, 2000); Alfred Rieber, “The Formation of ‘La Grande Société des Chemins de Fer Russes,’” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 21 (1973): 375–391; Genrikh Sliozberg, Dela minuvshykh dney: Zapiski russkago evreia (Paris, 1933–1934).