Miraculous ORT Work During WWII

Berlin ORT Classroom 1938

ORT classroom, Berlin 1938.

With the rise of Nazi Germany and the start of WWII, American ORT somehow continued to maintain its training schools in Nazi-occupied territories. In fact, an ORT vocational high school stayed open in Berlin until 1943.

With refugees fleeing for their lives, the organization intensified its efforts to meet their employment needs. American ORT created employment training workshops and vocational education schools for refugees in NYC and in upstate New York, operating three shifts daily to accommodate the large influx of people.

Recognizing its extraordinary fundraising capabilities, WAO, in 1940, decided to establish itself as an independent organization. Thus, as the Nazis conquered Europe, this committed and devoted women’s organization funded refugee accommodations in France and vocational courses in Swiss internment camps and private homes. WAO also supported training workshops, remarkably, still allowed to exist in Polish ghettos. This continued until the ghettos were dissolved and their inhabitants deported.

Life-Changing Post-War American ORT Initiatives in the 1950s and ’60s

A student learns to use a lathe at ORT Montreuil, Paris, France, 1960s.

By the end of the War, World ORT had established itself as an emergency organization serving Displaced Persons (DPs) in places such as the United States, Israel, Holland, Belgium, and Greece. In 1947, Aaron Syngalowski and David Lvovich, co-chairmen of World ORT, reported that 267 ORT trade schools and workshops were functioning in ten European countries, pointing out that “Jewish communities in these places were gradually becoming stabilized.” American ORT and WAO provided unwavering support for these schools and employment training, opening the doors of opportunity and hope for Jews whose lives had been devastated by the War and the Holocaust.

Similar to what had occurred after the end of World War I, women who had participated in the war effort wanted to stay involved and continued to do so through volunteerism in peacetime. Thus, during the 1950s, dedicated WAO supporters provided substantial sums to support World ORT’s growing network of vocational and technical high schools in Western Europe, North Africa, Iran, India, Israel, and the developing world.

Students at the Harmatz ORT School of Engineering, Jerusalem, Israel, 1980s.

Later in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, WAO added to its repertoire scholarships for teacher training, social assistance to needy students, preventative medical care, maintenance of vocational training schools, and the establishment of a network of large ORT apprentice training centers throughout Israel. Of particular importance was WAO’s support for the creation of the Aaron Syngalowski Centre in Tel Aviv, the first modern vocational institution in Israel. In 1960, Israel’s Minister of Finance, Levi Eshkol (who later became Prime Minister), was photographed at the Centre, which had quickly gained a solid reputation for advanced technical studies. Two other technological projects funded primarily by WAO were the ORT School of Engineering on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University and the Institute for Educational Technology in Argentina.

Chapter 5: Adapting to the Changing Times of the 1970s, 80s and 90s