Poland

ORT’s mission in the newly independent Polish state started in 1921 in order to train members of the country’s impoverished Jewish community. Despite the political and economic turmoil of the 1930s Polish ORT developed very quickly. In 1939 it ran sixty-six institutions and trained over 4,500 students. The organization was active in all main Polish Jewish communities and ran a whole range of courses including day schools for youths, workshops for adults, workshops for experienced artisans, preparation courses for craftsmen government certificates, training farms and training factories.  

After the 1939 Nazi invasion, Poland became the main site of Nazi extermination of Jews. Out of almost three and a half million Jews who lived in Poland at the outbreak of the war, only about 300,000 survived the Holocaust. The majority of survivors spent the war in deportation in the USSR, the rest survived in hiding or by joining Soviet or Polish partisan units.  Out of these, 100,000-120,000 left Poland immediately after the war.

The first post-war ORT office in Poland was opened in January 1946. Despite problems with acquiring instructors and premises and a constant migration of students, the organization managed to rebuild an extensive network of schools and activities which during the years 1945 to 1950 were instrumental in providing skills to more than 10,000 men, women and young people. The main ORT centres for vocational training were located in  Wroclaw, Krakow, Lodz, Warsaw, Katowice, Walbrzych and Szczecin. Two of the organization’s most significant technological achievements during the period were setting up of the ORT radio school in Dzierzoniow and the ORT textile school at Bielsko. A two-month course in fishery was organized for eleven pupils by ORT committee in Trzebieszow, sponsored by ‘Rybak’ [The fisherman], the first Jewish fishing cooperative in Poland.

Archive photo of ORT students.
WOA p05a067 Mechanics workshop in the ORT school in Wroclaw Poland. In May 1948 ORT trained in Wroclaw 182 students. The courses included: needle trades (dressmaking, underwear making, corsetry), electro technology, leather-work, watch making, carpentry and metal work.

In the immediate post-war years ORT paid special attention to young Holocaust survivors providing them with vocational skills and general education. The organisation set up courses in Jewish boarding schools and children’ homes run by the Central Committee of Polish Jews. Most of the young people there were below the educational level for their age as those who arrived as repatriates from the Soviet Union often had insufficient knowledge of the Polish language, while those who had been in concealment often had no previous schooling and were riddled with emotional problems. To help instructors deal with these problems ORT organized instructors’ conferences which  allowed for the introduction of new teaching methods, exchange of experiences and improvement of the content of courses. 

The fast industrialization of post-war Poland combined with the nationalization of the means of production and trade meant that instead of in traditional vocations, ORT courses had to be conducted in technical trades and services. As a consequence, the number of people training in traditional needle trades has dropped from 47 per cent in February 1947 to 32 per cent in February 1948.  Since most of the adult students had to support their families, the courses had to be as short as possible,  allowing the students to undertake full-time employment in the shortest possible time. Aside from regular trade courses, ORT  also ran advanced  courses and qualifying examinations for older specialists, which were meant to allow them to meet growing demands for formal qualifications. It also ran networking and support  groups for graduates. Many of the schools also provided students with additional courses in Jewish language and history and held Jewish culture-related activities.

A very important  part of ORT's work was  agricultural training. The organisation established two large  Jewish farming centres, located in Dzierzoniow in  Lower Silesia and in  Szczecin.  Most of the Jewish farmers later emigrated to Israel.

The post-war period of ORT’s work in Poland ended in 1950. It resumed again in 1957 with the liberalization of the Communist regime and lasted until the Communist government’s anti-semitic campaign of 1968.