Robert Frimtzis


“We were Survivors. We were interested in studying and getting somewhere. We didn’t want to talk about the war. We were focused on the future.”

Robert Frimtzis was born in a town of Beltz in Bessarabia (now Moldowa). When he was ten years old his life was shattered when Germany attacked the Soviet Union and his town was destroyed. Together with his parents Robert Frimtzis  evaded Nazi capture and escaped to Tajikistan. At twelve Robert had to quit school and go to full-time work to obtain food for his family, while his father served with the Soviet Union’s Red Army. After the war, the family fled the Soviet Union and crossing illegally many borders reached a DP camp in Cremona in Italy. “There was nothing to do in the camp,” he said. “Then, out of nowhere, we found ORT schools. They were a godsend. I’d never heard of ORT before that. The worst part of the DP camps was the boredom. So ORT provided us a way of getting out of the boredom. They offered courses in fields such as mechanics, electronics, radio repair and woodwork. I’d had to leave school at the age of twelve and work as a helper to an electrician so the electronics course at Cremona was an obvious choice.”

During his free time Mr.Frimtzis volunteered in the ORT office and pursued his own studies, using ORT text books – and with the support of ORT instructors – to learn algebra and physics. Later he attended a course in electrical motor winding run in a small refugee camp, housed in a nunnery outside the town of  Iesi near Ancona.“We were Survivors. We were interested in studying and getting somewhere. We didn’t want to talk about the war. We were focused on the future.”- he recalled.

 At the end of the course he was invited to apply for a place at the new Anieres Institute for training ORT Instructors. After entrance exams  he  was one of two people out of 400 applying from Italy to be accepted into the Central ORT Institute. The inaugural class consisted of sixty-three young men from various countries. They attended classes five days a week from morning to evening. “All the instruction was in French so we all had to study French. The instructors could speak various languages but once we were in the classroom it was only French. They told us it was for our own good. Imagine how difficult it is to study engineering – now try studying it in a language you don’t know. In addition you’re competing with some students whose mother tongue was French. But it only made us work harder. As far as I was concerned this was my road to the future”- remembered Mr.Frimtzis.

His  studies at the ORT Institute were interrupted when he was granted a visa to go to America.

After arriving in the USA, Mr Frimtzis won a place at the City College of New York  by gaining near perfect results in high school matriculation exams after studying only two semesters at night classes. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, he went on to gain a Masters degree at Columbia University and joined the historic Apollo programme which put man on the Moon.[1]

[1] Source: World ORT Archive: Robert Frimtzis interviewed by Katarzyna Person, June 2009