ORT began its activities in Bulgaria in 1926. In cooperation with the Jewish community, it set up small-scale courses in the Jewish primary school of Sofia, which included woodwork, bookbinding and tailoring for younger students as well as a textiles course for adults. The establishment of pre-war courses in Bulgaria marked the beginning of ORT work among the Sepharidic community as until then all its activities were directed towards Ashkenezi Jews.
At the outset of the war, the Jewish population of Bulgaria numbered about 50,000 people. Even though, at the outbreak of the war, the kingdom of Bulgaria assumed a position of neutrality, it was forced to joined the Axis powers in March 1941. At that point, the country’s government introduced severe anti-Jewish legislation and drafted its Jewish population to work in forced-labour camps. Subsequently, all ORT courses in Bulgaria were closed. In 1943, 11,000 Jews were deported from Bulgaria’s newly annexed provinces of Greece and Yugoslavia to German-occupied parts of Europe. Almost all of them were later killed in extermination camps. As a result of public pressure, native Bulgarian Jews were exempted from deportation and in consequence over three quarters of the community survived the war.
After the end of the war, Bulgaria came under the influence of Soviet Russia. In September 1946 it took on the name of the ‘People’s Republic of Bulgaria’ and the new government started a policy of collectivisation of agriculture, confiscation of private industry and suppression of free speech. Like other Communist countries, Bulgaria also refused aid from the Marshall plan. In 1947 it ratified a communist constitution based on the 1936 constitution of the Soviet Union.
The work of ORT in Bulgaria resumed immediately after the end of the war. Since there were no displaced persons in the country, ORT courses were aimed at the Jewish Bulgarian community as the vast majority of Bulgarian Jews had been left severely impoverished by the war and was in immediate need of vocational training. The first ORT courses in Bulgaria were conducted in traditional trades - agriculture, tailoring, shoemaking, dressmaking, shirt making, furriers training and cabinet making. There was also a large workshop for manufacture of killims, which provided students with one year courses in carpet decorations, carpet dyeing and carpet weaving. In 1947, in order to update its offer to the needs of post-war industry, ORT opened a large trade school in Sofia, with courses in various aspects of mechanics and electro technology. In the school year of 1947/48, the school in Sofia trained 800 pupils and served as the central office of Bulgarian ORT. The Sofia school provided both day-time education for the youth as well as evening advanced classes for adults already working in the industry.
In cooperation with the Sofia Jewish school, Bulgarian ORT organized pre-vocational courses for children. Over 400 pupils were following five-hour-a-week courses in woodwork, sewing and embroidery, cardboard work , locksmiths training and radio technology. The top students were given scholarships enabling them attend the trade school in Sofia. Training of adults and a workshop for children aged ten to thirteen was also held in Plovdiv, an industrial centre and the second largest city in Bulgaria. ORT Plovdiv organized courses in woodwork, dressmaking and embroidery, which in 1947/1948 was attended by 210 students.
ORT’s work in Bulgaria decreased significantly after 1948, when a vast majority of students emigrated to Israel. At the end of 1949, similarly as in other Soviet-bloc countries, the ORT programme was liquidated by the government.