ORTs Work During the Second World War
ORT (The Society for the Promotion of Trades and Agriculture in Russia), started in Russia in 1880. By mid 1930s, despite growing anti-Jewish legislation and mounting antisemitism the organisation expanded into a well functioning network of Jewish trade school providing physical and psychological relief for unemployed in Eastern and Central Europe.
The work continued after the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939. From the beginning of the war, the help provided by the organization was two-fold. ORT concerned itself firstly with Jewish refugees, who sought asylum in countries not yet taken over by the war. Secondly, it worked in the ghettos of Eastern Europe-closed parts of towns and cities in which Germans concentrated the Jewish population, before either killing them in the vicinity of the ghetto or deporting them to death, concentration of forced-labour camps.
Work with refugees
ORT courses for refugees could be found in all the countries where Jews were forced to flee.
ORT’s wartime work began 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 were transferred to a school in Leeds, where they carried on the work and training that had begun in Berlin. The school operated for two years, training both boys from the Berlin school as well as refugees from Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and Poland.
During the early years of the war, while its headquarters had been based in France, ORT came to the rescue of the refugees who had fled Germany and Austria and found themselves interned as ‘enemy aliens’ in that country. It established vocational courses in the internment camps, while at the same time fighting for their release. Those released were placed in ORT agricultural training projects. Similar projects were carried out among Jewish refugees in Switzerland.
It was not only in Europe that ORT worked during the war. More than 3,000 Jewish refugees obtained training in the ORT school in Shanghai. Vocational schools were also set up for wartime refugees in New York and Cuba. According to ORT reports, among those learning their trade in New York were 1,002 former merchants, 405 former physicians, 161 rabbis, 743 lawyers and 98 former government officials, including several judges.