ORT – The So­ci­ety for Trades and Agri­cul­tural Work

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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

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