Recalling ORT’s post-war work for new website


01 April 2009 Recalling ORT’s post-war work for new website World ORT is searching for alumni who can add their stories to a new website about the organisation’s work, mainly across Europe, in the years immediately after World War II. Thanks to a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, World ORT has employed doctoral history student Kasia Person to compile information about ORT programmes which benefited tens of thousands of Holocaust Survivors in 15 countries from the United Kingdom to China.The project builds on the extensive research conducted by Dr Sarah Kavanaugh for the book ORT, The Second World War and the Rehabilitation of Holocaust Survivors. ‘There is a lot of information which could not be placed in Sarah’s book but is good for the website,’ Ms Person said. ‘I am supplementing that with my own research of archival documents and ORT reports from the period. But for the website to give as complete a picture of ORT’s post-war activities as possible I would be really interested to hear from anyone who attended ORT classes in the relevant places and would like to share their story.’ An estimated 80,000 Survivors benefited from ORT vocational courses set up in 79 Displaced Persons (DP) camps in Germany and Austria after the war, and many of the alumni went on to make new lives for themselves in North America and Israel. Thousands more underwent training in ORT centres in Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Shanghai. Never before had vocational training been applied on so large a scale to a refugee situation. ‘ORT rehabilitation projects discussed on the website will range from pilot training in Italy, maritime training in England and haute couture in Paris to cinema operating courses in Poland and agricultural training in Hungary,’ Ms Person said. Already she has interviewed three alumni whose bitterly painful wartime recollections give way to the miraculous building of new lives with good careers made possible by the training which ORT gave them.One of them, Uri Urmacher, was born in Siedlce, Poland in 1935. Having lost his mother to cholera, young Uri and his sister were abandoned by their father and cared for by Jewish partisans. Immediately after the war he survived Polish pogroms and found sanctuary in the Rosenheim DP camp where he learned how to make ice skate blades on a lathe. He was among those whom the Hagannah smuggled onto the ship Exodus 1947 bound for Eretz Israel. ‘ORT was the first education I had ever received,’ Mr Urmacher said. ‘It planted an engineering seed in me which was later enhanced by my education on a kibbutz in Israel. Years later, as an American citizen, I sat at the engineering console at ground control in Cape Canaveral, Florida, testing the first space shuttle that America launched.’ Born in Warsaw, Ms Person speaks Polish and English and reads Yiddish, the latter a huge asset in her doctoral study – conducted at Royal Holloway, University of London under Professor David Cesarani OBE – on the social life in the Warsaw Ghetto focusing on the experiences of assimilated Jews.’I knew about ORT’s activities in the Ghetto through diaries and written records,’ she said, ‘but I didn’t know much about ORT other than that. It’s been very enlightening doing this research for the website.’ Anyone with information which may be of interest to Ms Person can contact her by email at [email protected] or by telephone at +44 (0)20 7446 8510.