ORT's activities in Germany

The main function of ORT in Germany was  short-term vocational training of Jewish DPs in order to facilitate their chances for emigration and resettlement overseas. No less importantly however it instilled an interest in learning and work into those who survived labour and concentration camps.

In the initial phase of its work in Germany ORT encountered a number of problems, starting with the fact that the majority of camps suffered form overcrowding, lack of food and poor sanitation. ‘One of the basic questions which faced ORT in 1946 and is still facing it today is the problem of feeding the ORT trainees. Hungry men, women and children who are constantly searching for ways and means to supplement their meagre food rations, are not ready either physically or morally to avail themselves of ORT vocational opportunities' - reported ORT in the summer of 1947.[1]

Setting up the schools was also difficult due to lack of appropriate space and materials.  According to Franklin J.Keller, ORT school inspector, ‘To a certain degree, these schools were planned, but only in the most general way. For the most part, they are like any other military improvisations. DP’s were housed wherever military commanders could find rooms, often in old German army barracks, sometimes, as in Stuttgart, in a block of apartment houses, in others, as in Heidenheim, in fairly comfortable (except for the crowding) individual dwellings. Within these densely packed communities, badly needed living room had to be requisitioned for school use, both academic and vocational- all this amid unbelievable destruction.' [2]

One of the major problems that ORT faced was finding suitable teaching personnel. Teachers had not only to be highly qualified craftsman but also capable of teaching a class consisting of people of all age groups, different nationalities and with educational backgrounds ranging from university graduates to completely uneducated. In the beginning, most of the teachers were selected from among the survivors, but later, as they emigrated, local teachers took over the role. Teachers selected from within the DPs were to be paid later in the currency of their choice once they had settled in another country. During their stay in the camp they were to receive higher food rations.

Student body consisted of ‘persons coming from various age groups, different educational and social backgrounds, who all wish to learn a trade. This includes young men and women without adequate elementary schooling since they had spent their childhood in the concentration camp, former craftsmen who had not practised their trade for years and needed a refresher course, business and professional men who realize that only vocational skills can secure them a livelihood in a strange country.' [3] Since there was a constant fluctuation of students in and out of the camp, ORT courses had to be prepared to accept and also to release students at any time. There was no set school year and practically each student attending a particular courses entered it a different date.Despite these problems, during the first three years of its activities in Germany ORT trained almost 20 000 pupils in 570 workshops and courses, in eighty different professions, which included both traditional trades and new ones such as optics, refrigerator assembly, linotyping, orthopedics,  wireless operating and manufacture of medical instruments.

All ORT instruction in Germany was provided five days a week, from eight o’clock in the morning to two o’clock in the afternoon. Three quarters of school time was devoted to practical work. The articles manufactured by the students were firstly added to the school equipment  and later distributed among the neediest students or sold in order to purchase more material for the school. According to ORT report: ‘Courses were necessarily brief. Varying from three months to one year in length. They were intensive, however- as much as four to eight hours a day. Participants have described a sense of pulsating energy within the schools. The school often became the cultural, recreation and discussion centre of the camp.'[4]

After establishment of the state of Israel, as the DP camps started closing, ORT work in Germany came to an end. In 1949 ORT reported –‘In a special workshop the machinery of our schools designed for Israel and other overseas countries was repaired and packed for overseas. Now a good deal of ORT’s German and Austrian equipment has arrived in Israel in order to serve once more for the vocational training of the new immigrants and allowing those who had emigrated before graduation to complete their skills.'[5] In March 1956, Fohrenwald, the last Jewish DP camp in Germany, with seventy-five ORT students was officially closed. The ORT mission in the DP camps officially ended with the closing of the office in Munich in 1957.

[1] World ORT Archive d05a014: Report on the Ort Activities August 1946-July 1947. Submitted to the meeting of the Central Board of the World ORT Union Paris, July 6th- 7th 1947 p. 43

[2] World ORT Archive d05a093: Franklin J.Keller, ‘Miracle of ORT Among the DPs’, ORT Economic Review (June-September 1948) p.5

[3] World Ort Archive d05a032: ORT Union, Semi-Annual Report January-June 1956. Submitted to the Meeting of the Executive Committee of the World ORT Union in Geneva, July 1st -2nd , 1956  p.76

[4] World ORT Archive  d07a007: ORT- A Record of Ten Years- Rebuilding Jewish Economic Life (New York: American ORT Federation, 1956) p.6

[5] World ORT Archive d05a019: Three Years of ORT Activities. Report from the period August 1946- June 1949. Submitted to the Congress of the World ORT Union Paris, July 10th -15th 1949 p.79