Honours for ORT veterans


9 December 2004 France and Hungary have each recognised the achievements of two long standing members of the ORT family. Robert Offner, who spent 18 years training civil engineers in Africa for ORTs International Cooperation division, has been presented with the Order of Bravery by the Hungarian government for the daring role he played in the Zionist underground during World War Two. And Eliane Roubach, president of ORT Frances Womens Committee since 1984, has received Frances prestigious National Order of Merit for her commitment to ORT and its socially beneficial programmes. Mr Offner saved scores of lives as a member of Betar in Hungary by providing false papers and hiding places to Jews who would otherwise have been deported to death camps. In Budapest there were buildings in which Jews were locked up. I dressed as an SS man, carried in false documents and took out up to 10 people at a time, Mr Offner said. However, in December 1944, Mr Offner was arrested and severely tortured for three months before managing to escape to Yugoslavia. He made aliyah and fought in Israels War of Independence, the Sinai campaign of 1956 and the Six-Day War, ending an 11-year career with the IDFs Engineering Corps with decorations for bravery and having attained the rank of Major. I was not expecting to receive this medal from Hungary, said Mr Offner, who now lives with his wife Lizzie in Haifa. Hungarys Minister of the Interior Monika Lamperth presented Mr Offner with the silver star in a ceremony at Tel Aviv University. The National Order of Merit awarded to Mrs Roubach is Frances second highest civilian award after the Legion dHonneur and is given at the discretion of the countrys president. The original Order of Merit dates back to the 18th century but its present incarnation was established by General de Gaulle in 1963; it rewards distinguished merit in a public post or in the exercise of a private activity. A member of ORT Frances Executive Committee, Mrs Roubach has been active in ORT for 50 years. My mother-in-law, Marcelle Roubach, was president of the Womens Committee of ORT France from 1947 to 1980, she said. When I got engaged to her son, the first thing she asked me was to get involved in ORT! That was in October 1953, just in time to help with the annual grand bazaar. It was an offer I could not refuse! Since then, Mrs Roubach has grown to be a crucial part of the team that raises money to subsidise meals, holidays and scholarships for the ORT students that need help the most. Mrs Roubach was presented with the blue and gold star by a friend who had already received the honour. I had a big party, about 200 friends and family came, Mrs Roubach said. I asked them to give cheques to the Womens Committee rather than buy presents for me. World ORT Director General Robert Singer said ORT was fortunate to have such a high calibre of people among its professionals and lay leaders. It is people like Mr Offner and Mrs Roubach who, through their courage and commitment, skills and tenacity, that have made ORT the unique organisation it is, Mr Singer said.