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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Lazar Brodsky: the “sugar king’s” charity

7 June, 2011 - 00:00

“I give money not because I feel like giving but because I am aware that I need and should give.” 

(Lazar Brodsky, 19th century)

 “We give money to science not because we’re wealthy; we’re wealthy because we give money to science.” 

(Jimmy Carter, US President, 20th century)

 “He who gives, acquires; he who saves, loses.”

popular Eastern adage, timeless)

 “The giving pledge.” 

(Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, 21st century)

 The second half of the 19th and the early 20th century saw dozens of our fellow countrymen involved in an upsurge of charitable activities. They enjoyed the respect of their contemporaries, and are also remembered by grateful descendants. The life and fate of Lazar Brodsky, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest men, deserve special attention.

Brodsky was born on August 26, 1848, in the town of Zlatopil in Kyiv province, where his father Izrael, who had built the Lebedyn sugar refinery, was living. Izrael Brodsky and his two sons dedicated their energy to the sugar industry. Their business was so successful that soon they amassed a huge fortune. Meanwhile, one of the brothers, Lazar, kept expanding his sphere of interests. After his father’s death he became the head of a number of big enterprises.

Although he only had home schooling, due to his outstanding innate abilities Brodsky was able to embrace other branches of industry. He owned 20 sugar refineries, manufacturing nearly a quarter of all the sugar produced in the tsarist Russia. He was also a proprietor of a number of manors in south-western region, founder of the second steamship society on the Dnipro, member of the Stock Exchange Committee, and stockholder in virtually all industrial enterprises in Kyiv, including the Kyiv streetcar society.

Brodsky’s tireless activities were recognized by his peers: he was invited to take part in a conference at the ministry of finance to debate the problems of settling the coal crisis. He was awarded the title of commercial advisor and received various decorations, both Russian and foreign.

Brodsky did not confine himself to merely donating large sums of money. Conversely, he put all his energy into each project. Thus he participated in the work of the Society for Combating Contagious Diseases and the Society for Combating Tuberculosis, in the organization and construction of the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, and in the work of the Jewish hospital (now the Kyiv oblast hospital). His intelligence helped him differentiate between the essential and the incidental, between a useful cause and a utopian project, and he generously donated his money to the common good.

He gave 125,000 rubles to the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, built a boys’ school in Zlatopil, donated a large sum to equip a public library and reading room at the People’s Home [a community center. – Ed.] in Kyiv (now the Kyiv Operetta Theater), the Home of Industry [an institution resembling a workhouse, providing shelter, basic care, and work for the poor. – Ed.], and the Municipal Museum (which virtually disappeared).

Brodsky was active in the founding of the TB sanatorium in Pushcha-Vodytsia. Besides, he built a maternity department for the gynecological clinic at St. Volodymyr University, and allocated 75,000 rubles to the Institute of Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg, which was built seven years after the construction of the Pasteur Institute in Paris. It should be mentioned that many Ukrainians used to work at that institution, including two scholars of Ukrainian descent who were its directors in their respective time.

Together with his brother, Brodsky built the elementary technical school in Kyiv (since 1934 known as the Ye. Paton Electric Welding Institute). The Brodsky family also donated to build the School of Commerce and the children’s polyclinic (now on Vorovsky Street), a hospital for children with chronic diseases in Park Alley, and the Bacteriology Institute which, according to Mikhail Bulgakov, resembled a villa in an oak grove.

In 1912 Brodsky financed the construction of the Besarabsky covered market almost by himself (500,000 rubles). Curiously, Brodsky insisted on entering a paragraph in the statute of the Society for Combating Contagious Diseases, which required the allocation of six percent of the market’s monthly income to the above-mentioned society, and to support the Bacteriology Institute.

His contemporaries nicknamed Brodsky the “Sugar King.” And this was no exaggeration. The St. Alexander Society of sugar refineries, which he owned, manufactured up to 25 percent of all the sugar produced in tsarist Russia. He equipped his sugar mills with the most up-to-date machinery, followed the latest developments in the sugar industry, and was the first to start experimental fields for advanced sugar-beet cultivation. Brodsky’s mills were renowned for their model housing for workers, who enjoyed free hospitals, tea houses, and reading rooms.

When a miraculous antidiphtheritic serum was discovered by German and French scholars it became a major factor uniting the scholarly and commercial potential of Kyiv in the aim of combating infectious diseases, including diphtheria, rabies, and many others. Aleksandr Pavlovsky, professor at the Medical School of St. Volodymyr University, opened a bacteriological station at the university in November, 1894, where he immunized 14 horses in order to obtain the antidiphtheritic serum.

To support the research of the scholar, a business committee was created, led by Brodsky. Over several months they produced 12,500 bottles of serum. In Kyiv Professor Pavlovsky personally treated the first patients, 50 children sick with diphtheria, thus saving their lives. His serum also saved the life of the future outstanding microbiologist, the President of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences Danylo Zabolotny, who was then working as a doctor in Podillia province and contracted diphtheria from a sick child.

The wonderful progress in treating patients with diphtheria prompted the creation of the Society for Combating Contagious Diseases in late 1895. It was headed by Brodsky. At one of the meetings of the society, also attended by the professors of the Medical School of St. Volodymyr University, they decided to build the Bacteriology Institute on the outskirts of Kyiv, in an oak grove on the slope of Baikova Hill. The decision was supported by Kyiv’s residents; people donated as much as they could, from several dimes to several thousand rubles. Yet the bulk, 132,000 rubles, came from Brodsky.

Brodsky said, “I will dare express a wish that the Institute should mostly pursue practical goals, such as the preparation and testing of medicinal and preventive bacteriological means to meet the needs of the population of my home city, Kyiv, and its vicinities.”

The institute (a two-story Pasteur building, vivarium, and stable) was designed by the university architect K. Ivanov and constructed by the building contractor L. Gindzburg in an exceptionally short time — only 100 working days. The corner stone of the Pasteur building was laid on April 14, 1896. On that special day the building company (which had donated the land) and Brodsky got souvenirs: silver hammers and spades.

Speaking of Brodsky’s awards, after the World Exhibition of 1900 in Paris he, his brother, and their sugar-manufacturing colleague Mykola Tereshchenko were awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor. The title of commercial advisor was conferred on both Brodsky brothers. Lazar Brodsky also received an honorary order — St. Volodymyr’s Cross.

On October 21, 1986 (Old Style), the formal inauguration of the Bacteriology Institute of the Society of Combatting Contagious Diseases took place. The premises were blessed by a priest. By the way, according to the Society’s statute, the institute was supposed to be joined to the St. Volodymyr University 25 years later, i.e., in 1931. Yet for certain reasons this never happened.

The inauguration ceremony was attended by the Prince of Oldenburg, the governor general of Kyiv, the mayor of Kyiv, the rector of the St. Volodymyr University and many other prominent figures. The newly opened institute received many congratulatory telegrams from both domestic and foreign scholars, including the first director of the Pasteur Institute (after Louis Pasteur’s death), and Pasteur’s widow.

The building of the Bacteriology Institute has a facade executed in renaissance style, decorated with bas reliefs and with spacious rooms for work and research inside. The entrance hall was decorated with a bust of Pasteur and two marble plaques carrying the dates of the beginning of construction and of the inauguration.

The rooms on the ground floor were designated for preparing vaccines and for free immunization against rabies. The first floor housed two large rooms — for the library (one of the first academic libraries in Ukraine) and for the meetings of the Society’s council. There was also a classroom where students and general practitioners could listen to academic talks. The department for the manufacturing of the anti-diphtheritic serum, headed by Professor Pavlovsky, was also located on the same floor.

At the inauguration ceremony Professor Pavlovsky delivered a brilliant speech titled “Combating Contagious Diseases.” He said: “I have had the honor and privilege to pronounce the first word of science in this brand-new room. The war on contagious diseases in the modern, highly cultured state should be waged with the use of scientific methods. We should all feel profound moral satisfaction as we are inaugurating the Kyiv Bacteriology Institute. The degree of culture and development of a nation is reflected in its institutions. The creation of establishments like our Bacteriology Institute indicates that the nation prizes academic knowledge and work. History will be our ultimate and fair judge. History will not forget the period when such institutions were created in this country, since such events do not pass unnoticed. The future will appraise our effort and deeds. Everything that is sound, real, and useful will grow and develop.” 

* * *

 58 American billionaires supported Bill Gates’s and Warren Buffett’s initiative and assumed an obligation to direct half of their profits to charity, in order to solve the USA’s most acute social problems (in education, health service, science, and technology). Meanwhile, how did the 60 richest Ukrainians react to the initiative of the American billionaires? Indeed, Ukrainians do not live on football alone, and it doesn’t take a trip to America to get some expertise. One only needs to look one hundred years back, into the history of charity in Ukraine. So, who will be the first?

Yurii VOLOSHCHENKO holds a Ph.D. in medicine. He has been awarded the State Prize of Ukraine in science and technology