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.