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Jehiel Ber Wolkowiski

WOLKOWISKI, JEHIEL BER (1819–1903), wealthy merchant and leader of the community of Bialystok. A dynamic personality, Wolkowiski was outstanding for his brilliant economic initiative. He amassed a fortune by trading textiles from factories in Germany and succeeded in marketing them in an efficient manner at the fairs of Lithuania and Ukraine. As a result of his connections with the Russian authorities he acted as the leader of the community for 50 years (1850–1900), in spite of its lack of official status. His control over the administration of several banks also enabled him to exert influence on the municipal leaders and the local police, and he developed many charitable institutions in the community. Their officials acted upon his instructions. He did many favors for individuals, and became well known for saving Jewish youths who had been forced into military service. Although he possessed a limited education, Wolkowiski maintained a religious atmosphere in his home and a special bet midrash, which continued to exist until World War II. An opponent of Ḥibbat Zion and Zionism, he attacked R. Samuel *Mohilewer. In 1894 the authorities granted him a special status according to which he could vote and be elected to office.


A.S. Herschberg, Pinkas Bialystok, 1 (1949), 249–68.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.