Katsenelson Nison was born in Bobruisk, Minsk province in 1862 in the Jewish family of Joseph and Pae-Braine Katsenelson. They were merchants and traded in timber. Nison graduated from the University of Berlin with a degree in experimental physics and obtained a Doctor degree in philosophy, after which he moved over to Liepāja.
At the Third World Zionist Congress in Basel in 1899 he was elected Director of the Jewish Colonial Trust and in 1905 he became the Chairman of the bank’s Board of Directors.
The Trust was created at the end of the 19th century. It was engaged in fundraising for the purchase of land in Palestine to create a Jewish state there.
N. Katzenelson was a friend of Dr. Theodor Herzl (founder of political Zionism, herald of the Jewish state and founder of the World Zionist Organization). In 1903, when T. Herzl arrived in Russia, he accompanied the Zionist leader on trips around the country and participated in all his meetings. During one of his last trips to Russia, Herzl invited Katzenelson to accompany him to a meeting with the Minister of the Interior, Senator Pleve Vyacheslav. Subsequently, Pleve hosted Dr. Katzenelson for the second time.
In the political life of Russian Jewry, N. Katsenelson played an active role in the “Society for Equal Rights for the Jewish People”, which was created at the congress of Jewish leaders, held in Vilna (now Vilnius) in 1905. He also attended a meeting of a similar body in 1909 in Kovno (now Kaunas), where he was elected one of the Presidents of the Conference.
In 1906, Katsenelson was elected Deputy of the 1st State Duma from the Kurland province, worked in the financial commission. The Duma sat in session for less than three months before being dispersed by order of the tsar. The reason is that its composition was too left-wing.
As a protest against this measure by the government, a large section of the deputies met at Vyborg in Finland and issued a proclamation against the closing of the Duma calling for passive resistance against the government. Katzenelson and the other Jewish Deputies signed this proclamation. All the signatories were arrested including him and after his release; he was deprived of the right to be elected again.
After his liberation, Nison Katsenelson focused on local community work and headed the Libau (now Liepāja) emigration committee. The committee provided all kinds of support to Jews sailing through the port of Liepaja, one of the main Baltic ports of Jewish emigration from Russia to the USA or Canada, as well as some European cities.
During the First World War N. Katsenelson moved to Petrograd and helped Jewish refugees.
After the (Kerensky) revolution in the spring of 1917, he was elected a member of the Council for the Preparation of the All-Russian Jewish Conference
In 1918 Nison Katsenelson returned to Liepāja, where he died on November 9, 1923.
The big family of the Katzenelsons in Bobruisk exported their timber through the port of Liepaja, so it became necessary to have a representative office in the city. Around 1900 Nison commissioned a project for a mansion for his family and for the representation of the Katsenelson trading house at 16, Kūrmājas prospekts. The project was developed by P.M.Berchi and in 1901. the building was built. A year later, a building for household needs was added with a coachman on the first floor and rooms for servants on the second. The architect used different styles of architecture, although in the design of the Katzenelson mansion he adhered to the Gothic direction, for example, in the design of balconies, but he also used Art Nouveau in the reliefs of the façade. In the interior design of the mansion, the Gothic is manifested only in the lobby, while the rest of the rooms are decorated in different styles – from the heavyweight German Renaissance in the dining room to Baroque and Rococo in both salons. The mansion had 2 original stained glass windows. One of them, Ernest Tode’s stained glass window, still adorns the window of the former dining room, and the stained glass window in the winter garden was damaged by the bombing of the city during the Second World War.
There is a legend about the house of N. Katzenelson’s mother (below). She bought a a villa somewhere in the Baltic States and ordered to move it to Bobruisk. The mansion with a mezzanine in its original form was assembled in 1912 on the former Prisutsvennaya Street. The owner of the mansion, the 1st guild merchant Pae-Braine Katzenelson, was engaged in timber business like her son. She was very wealthy and did not refuse herself anything. In 1901, the turnover of her company was two million rubles. The name Katsnelson was well known not only in the Russian Empire, but also abroad, in particular, in the English market. Not long before the revolution, Pae-Braine rented her house to the Bobruisk Police Council and moved closer to her son Nison in St. Petersburg.
The former villa of Paie Braine Kacenelson, I-st guild merchant in Bobruisk.