Group portrait on the occasion of a visit by Ignacy Mościcki, president of the Polish Republic, to a summer camp for Polish and Jewish children named after banker and philanthropist Hipolit Wawelberg, near the Kampinos Forest, Poland, 1930. (YIVO)

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Wawelberg, Hipolit

(1843–1901), banker and philanthropist. Hipolit Wawelberg was born in Warsaw to a banking family and graduated from the Institute of Agronomy in Marymont. In 1863, he joined the January insurgents, but after his father, Tsevi Hirsh Wawelberg, intervened he was sent to study in Berlin. When Wawelberg returned to Warsaw, he married Ludwika Bersohn (1852–1927), the daughter of industrialist Me’ir and sister of the banker and art patron Mathias Bersohn. Continuing his father’s financial activities, Wawelberg established a bank in Saint Petersburg, becoming one of the wealthiest people in the Kingdom of Poland. His financial institution, known from 1913 as Bank Zachodni, existed until 1939.

As a philanthropist, Wawelberg supported scholarships and programs for the needy, both Christian and Jewish; one recipient of a fund for Jewish students was the historian Yankev Shatzky. Wawelberg also contributed to a nondenominational summer camp for impoverished children (it was there that Janusz Korczak began his pedagogical practice) and created the Foundation for Support of Jewish Historical Research at the University of Lwów. In Vilna he financed kosher kitchens, and when a wave of pogroms broke out in Russia in 1881–1882, Wawelberg allocated a large sum of money to help the victims. Beginning in 1891, he was active in the Jewish Colonization Association (ICA), subsidizing trade schools for Jewish children in Poland.

Wawelberg, as a Polish patriot, also funded cultural and educational projects and assisted the Józef Mianowski Fund in financing scholarships for students and scholars. He helped to found the Museum of Handicrafts and Applied Art as well as the Museum of Industry and Trade. Interested in literary matters, he supported the construction of the monument to Adam Mickiewicz in Warsaw and the first edition of Mickiewicz’s works in that country, and provided monetary assistance to publications such as Henryk Sienkiewicz’s trilogy (Ogniem i Mieczem, Potop, and Pan Wołodyjowski [By Fire and Sword; Deluge; and Mr. Wolodyjowski]) and works by Eliza Orzeszkowa, Bolesław Prus, and Maria Konopnicka. He was also a patron of several liberal periodicals.

Wawelberg was a founder of the Technical School named for himself and Stanisław Rotwand, which ultimately became the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. One of his projects was a housing development of inexpensive apartments for workers and the poor, in the Wola section of Warsaw where Polish Jews and Christians lived together (the buildings exist to this day). Wawelberg died in Wiesbaden, but was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.

Suggested Reading

Jacob Shatzky, “Hipolit Vavelberg, 1843–1901,” in Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vol. 3, pp. 88–94 (New York, 1953).



Translated from Polish by Karen Auerbach