At the beginning of the Second World War the Jewish population of Switzerland numbered about 25,000 people. An additional 30,000 Jews escaping the Nazi prosecution were admitted into the country as part of 300,000 refugees who were interned in Switzerland during the war.
ORT started its work among refugees in Swiss camps and internment houses already during the war. Its activities reached their peak in 1945, when a total of more than 2,000 students were attending 158 ORT vocational training workshops. Since the armistice, the number of refugees in Switzerland decreased from more than 20,000 in 1945 to 6,500 in August 1946 and to 3,200 in May 1949, and in consequence ORT reduced its work accordingly, concentrating on running specialized training for TB patients recovering in Switzerland and on advanced courses for ORT instructors.
The main focus of ORT's work in Switzerland was placed on youth training. The most prominent of all Swiss ORT institutions for young people was a large trade school in Geneva. The school operated between May 1944 and April 1949 and had on average ninety-five trainees, most of whom trained in mechanics and joinery. After graduation the majority of students emigrated to Israel. Electro technical schools running sixteen-month full time courses were established in Les Avants and Anieres. All twenty of the Les Avants school students lived together in a house provided by the Swiss authorities. Machine and welding training workshops were organized at Bex and Engelberg. Two year dressmaking schools for girls were opened in Geneva and Basel.
A special category of ORT establishments were schools created for young former Buchenwald concentration camp inmates who in the second half of 1945 arrived to Switzerland from Germany. These courses were carried out in specially created sections of the Geneva and Basel school. The young Holocaust survivors were trained in a variety of subjects, with metal work and sewing being most popular. As almost all of the young people had gaps in their general education, the courses also included instruction in general subjects and Jewish history. Additionally, children’s workshops in wood and cardboard work were set up by ORT in a number of children’s homes maintained by the Red Cross and the Aide aux Enfants d’Emigres.
The principal centre for vocational training of adults was Zurich. Between 1947 and 1950 various courses there were attended by 605 people. The main training workshop in dressmaking was organised in St. Gall. Additional training workshops and vocational courses were held in Cahmby, Clarens, Territet, Beatenberg, Meiringen, Morcote, Los Avants, Geneva and Lugano. All of the courses came to an end by the first half of 1949.