United Kingdom

British ORT’s work with Holocaust survivors started already in August 1939, when on the eve of the outbreak of the war over a hundred pupils and eight instructors of the ORT Berlin Engineer School were transferred to England. The boys left Berlin on the 28th August 1939 and Hans Futter, one of the students from the school remembers their arrival in London:

‘I still remember how the following morning the news had got out that the boys from Berlin had arrived. Jewish women from the East End were outside crying as they knew we were the boys that had  had  to leave their parents and did not know anybody here. They gave us chocolate, sweets and sandwiches. They were relatively poor people who did not have much. They were very sweet to us and we were very taken aback by that.'[1]

As the final destination of the boys, the ORT school in Leeds, was still being built, until its completion the boys were to stay in the Kitchener reception camp for refugees at Sandwich, Kent.

‘We stayed in the camp until December 1939. By then hostel accommodation had been found in Leeds and a site for the new school had been located. I remember that each time we went to the school we carried two bricks to help us with the building work.'[2] 

Once the school in Leeds was established it carried on the work and training that had begun in Berlin. It was divided into the same six categories: locksmiths, blacksmiths, plumbers , electricians, mechanics and welders. The school was run on strict schedule and almost military discipline. The Leeds authorities were concerned that the local authorities would forget the ‘Jewishness’ of the refugees and see them only as German and thus as the enemy. To combat this, a stringent  set of rules were imposed upon the boys. They were for example not allowed to speak German in the streets of the city. The school operated for two years, training both boys from the Berlin school as well as refugees from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and Poland. A large portion of the school maintenance was paid by the American Joint Distribution Committee. After America entered the war in 1942, the school in Leeds lost its funding and was closed. Those of the boys, who were already trained, found jobs. Over 18 of them were interned and sent to Australia.

A year after the end of the war, in June 1946, training workshops for boys in mechanics and electro technology was set up in the Old Brompton Road in Kensington, London. Later in the same building, dress making and designing courses were opened for girls and women. The first students of the school were refugees brought to England and from the sites of former concentration camps in Germany. In the same year, ORT started training young men for careers as merchant navy officers and navigators. In agreement with the Jewish Marine League British ORT took over an anti-submarine vessel used by the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

From in October 1946 agricultural training was provided by a training farm run by ORT in Bedfordshire. The Goldington ORT centre was established in association with Hechalutz B’Anglia and provided practical training in general farming, poultry keeping and market gardening. Within the farm was also an ORT workshop where students learned to do their own repairs. On the completion of their two-year training, the students were meant to immigrate to Israel, so they also obtained general education with emphasis on Hebrew and Jewish History.  Describing the school ORT Bulletin wrote ‘They were a completely self-sustaining group. Through gardening, dairying and chicken-raising, these 18-20 year-olds, all from Poland, speaking a hodge-podge of tongues picked up in transit across five of six different countries, are learning to cope with the future.'[3]

[1] World ORT Archive: Hans Futter interview with Sarah Kavanaugh, 12 March 2007

[2] World ORT Archive: David Cohn, British ORT Report, ed. 4 (London, British ORT, 2001) p.9

[3] World ORT Archive: ORT Bulletin, vol. II no.2 (October 1948) p.8