ORT and Rehabilitation

In the end of the Second World War ORT and other relief organizations were faced with an immense set of challenges. The Jewish community in Europe was all but destroyed. Those who survived- whether waiting for immigration in the DP camps or returning to the former countries, had to be provided with immediate help.

ORT in DP Camps

In November 1945, Dr. David Lvovitch,the chairman of World ORT Union, made an agreement between World ORT Union and UNRRA for vocational schools to be set up wherever possible to aid the DPs.  The first school, in the large camp of Landsberg was opened already three months after the end of the war, in August 1945.

Once ORT became the recognized vocational agency for the camps machines and equipment were brought in and hundreds of instructors were recruited from among surviving ORT personnel, and DP engineers, educators and craftsmen. Classes and workshops sprouted wherever there were groups of survivors. By the end of 1945, there were 1,895 persons enrolled in ORT in Germany. Two years later, the number had swelled to 10,624.

In late 1946, programs similar to those activated in Germany were opened in Austria. Centers of two types were opened: within the camps, as in Germany, and central schools in ViennaSalzburg and Linz, for residents in nearby camps and DPs living outside the camps.  A few months later, the program was extended to Italy. Here were concentrated those planning to get to Palestine quickly. The type of services instituted was geared to preparation for such emigration. Fields were chosen with an eye to what would be useful in Palestine, for example, an agricultural training program near Turin and a center for construction workers in Milan

By the end of 1947, ORT had become a network of over 700 courses located in the DP camps of Europe. The phenomenal number of 22,620 persons was enrolled that year, almost one-tenth of the DP population of the time. 934 teachers taught more than fifty trades, including metal machining, shoemaking and carpentry -- traditional Jewish trades -- but also automobile motor repairing, dental mechanics, millinery designing, typesetting, goldsmithing, watch repairing and such relatively complex fields as optics and surveying.

The vocational schools were not only equipping students with new skills but also with confidence to imagine a future in which they could use it. On completion of any ORT course the students received a certificate which would prove to be a valuable document for those seeing to emigrate. Discussing the role played by the vocational courses in the life of the DP community,  Samuel Gringauz, President of the Congress of Liberated Jews in the U.S. Zone, explained : ‘The importance of these schools is not explained by the fact that they supplied valuable vocational training to thousands of uprooted people. The importance of the school centers in the fact that they gave a valuable ideology to thousands of young people; that they helped thousands of young people in a heroic self-assertion; that they created the spirit admired by the whole world at the attitude at the DP’s on the Exodus; that they inspired an ideology which will become the foundation of the national rebirth of the Jewish people.' [1]

[1]  Samuel Gringauz, ' The only bright rays in the gloomy existence of the D.P.’s' ORT Bulletin no.2 (March, 1948) p.3

ORT Eastern and Central Europe

By 1947, there was hardly an aggregation of Jews of any size in Eastern Europe that did not have an ORT institution -- in Poland in fourteen cities, in Rumania in eight cities, in Hungary in eight, in Bulgaria in two and in Czechoslovakia in six. Students learned as diverse trades as carpet weaving in Bulgaria and cinema operating in Poland. There was a large agricultural training farm in Hungary, while the large school in Bucharest, Romania became the center of Jewish social and cultural life for the whole country. By the end of 1949, the Iron Curtain descended and international Jewish organizations, ORT among them, were excluded from functioning in what than became the Soviet Block. But between the resumption of work after the war and the cessation of activities, at least 20,000 persons passed through ORT programs. A considerable portion of them succeeded in migrating to Israel.

ORT in Western Europe

In Western Europe new committees had to be organized to administer the work in Italy, Holland, Belgium, Greece and other continental countries where ORT had no prior history to build on. And so, for example, in England, in 1946 a vocational school was instituted in London for youth saved from the death camps. 

In the Netherlands first courses were established in cutting and dressmaking for a  group included many women who had lost their husbands during the deportation.  ORT also worked with children operated ‘Ilaniah’- a children’s village set up for 500 Romanian children and youths who were admitted to Holland to prepare for their return to Israel.

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. 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. Swiss ORT also carried out specialist courses for instructors, who were to later work in ORT schools in Switzerland and abroad.  A special school for this purpose was built in Anieres. From the end of 1947 ORT started work with Jewish TB patients in Swiss rehabilitation centres.

ORT's mission in Greece started in 1948. The main ORT school in the country was organized in Athens but also provided boarding facilities for students from Thessaloniki.

French ORT’s activities in France were restored almost immediately after liberation. Its aim was to help the survivors from among the French Jewish community as well as a growing number of refugees who came to France either to start new life there or considered it a stopping point in transit to Palestine. The first schools were being set up in the largest French cities. On 1 January 1946 ORT had already

The first ORT courses in Belgium were set up to answer the needs of young Holocaust survivors, who due to their insufficient education, lack of French language skills or in some cases lack of funds, these young people could not immediately integrate into the public school system. Within a year of its establishment, By August 1947, ORT Belgium had opened in Brussels 32 trade schools, training workshops and vocational courses.