ORT – The Society for Trades and Agricultural Work
The ORT was founded in 1880 in St Petersburg, Russia by a group of prominent Jewish intellectuals, financiers and industrialists, who petitioned Tsar Alexander II for permission to provide relief to impoverished Russian Jews through vocational training. ORT’s name is an acronym of the Russian Obshestvo Remeslennogo zemledelcheskogo Truda, meaning the Society for Trades and Agricultural Work. It’s now one of the world’s oldest and largest non-profit, vocational training organisations.
Agricultural and manual skills were fundamental to gaining employment in the Pale of Settlement region of Russia, so ORT established agricultural schools and model farms, offering handicraft and agricultural training, also providing financial help to artisans and farmers. ORT saved many thousands from starvation and helped others find work through practical training in glass-blowing, sewing, gardening, cabinet making and mechanics. Fundamentally, ORT helped people to help themselves.
During the First World War, through co- operative workshops, soup kitchens and credit offices, ORT’s training evolved to meet the changing political situation, war and industrialisation. The focus expanded from helping Russian Jewry to include those in widerEurope and beyond. ORT flourished and by the mid-1930s, was a well-functioning pan- European network of trade schools providing physical and psychological relief for unemployed Jews.
From 1939, ORT’s courses for refugees were available in all the countries that Jews had fled to. For example, over 100 pupils and eight instructors from Berlin transferred to a school in Leeds, carrying on their training. Early in the war, ORT rescued many German and Austrian refugees interned as ‘enemy aliens’ in France, establishing vocational courses in their internment camps. ORT even ran courses in Europe’s ghettos, eg Warsaw and Kovno ( Lithuania).
After the war, ORT worked to rehabilitate Holocaust survivors, providing vocational training, apprenticeships and psychological support to rebuild their shattered lives. ORT ran vocational courses in displaced persons ( DP) camps across Europe. By 1947, ORT was running over 700 courses in DP camps: 934 teachers taught over 50 trades, including metalwork, millinery, typesetting and optics.
During the latter 20th century, ORT continued to develop. Now based in London, ORT undertakes projects in over 100 countries, managing a worldwide network of partner organisations. Jeanette Rosenberg is a professional genealogist who specialises in Jewish, particularly German-Jewish, research