International organization World ORT was founded in 1880 in Saint-Petersburg, the capital of Russian Empire, as a Society of Handicrafts and Agricultural Work among Jews of Russia (ORT - Russian abbreviation for "Obshestvo Remeslennogo Truda"). ORT was set up on the initiative of well-known scientist Nikolai Bakst. He proposed that major Jewish businessman Samuel Polyakov and Horace Gunzburg establish a fund for supporting such a Society. ORT aimed to organize vocational training of Jews, and provide assistance to craftsmen in acquiring tools, materials, opening workshops and moving to areas where their labour was needed.
ORT Temporary Committee
In early 1880 Samuel Polyakov, on behalf of a group of high-ranking Jews of St. Petersburg, petitioned the Interior Ministry for approval of the Jewish charitable fund project in honour of the upcoming 25th anniversary of the reign of Alexander II.
Thanks to the efforts of Baron Horace Gunzburg, the project won the favour of the authorities. Permission to set up the Temporary Committee of ORT was obtained on March 22, 1880. This Committee included the most prominent Jewish businessmen, the rabbi and a number of Jewish intellectuals of St. Petersburg.
As long as 27 years ORT operated as the "Temporary Committee" but thanks to the tact and energy of the ORT leadership, the activities of this society were able to develop successfully throughout Russia.
ORT was supported by donations. Samuel Polyakov and Horace Gunzburg each donated 25 thousand roubles in bank-notes and securities. ORT drew its support from the entire Jewish population of Russia.
The reports of the ORT Temporary Committee allow us to see the popularity of the ORT idea. This popularity was quite explainable: the craftsman's certificate made it possible to leave the overpopulated Pale where competition among craftsmen was keen. For the first three years a number of donators exceeded 10 thousand and funds were raised from 30 kopecks to 25 thousand in money amount.
The founders of the Society of Handicrafts (ORT) soon achieved visible results. Two Jewish vocational schools were opened in Dinaburg and Simferopol as early as seven years after the founding of the Society.
As early as the mid-1890s ORT extended its activity to many towns and settlements inside the Pale. It opened vocational classes for boys and girls at Jewish schools, hired teachers, and gave loans to craftsmen for acquiring workshops inside and outside the Pale.
ost often, ORT financed private Jewish schools on condition that free education would be provided for a number of children from poor Jewish families. ORT aimed to provide training for Russian Jews not only in crafts but also in agriculture. An agricultural school with a model farm was established in Minsk in 1903.
In the early 20th century ORT's specialized vocational classes and branches appeared in large cities that lay outside the Pale - Riga, Yuriev (Tartu), Taganrog.
In 1906 ORT's charter was officially registered and it achieved the status of a standing organization. The ORT charter was prepared in consultation with Leon Bramson, a lawyer and social activist who had earlier cooperated with ORT. From this time and until his death the name of Bramson was inseparably linked with ORT. Since 1911 he occupied the position of its executive director.
Under his guidance ORT expanded its activities, counting on the development of production and consumer cooperation among Russian Jews. In the early 20th century many progressive economists in Russia and abroad based their hopes for a speedy improvement in the public well-being on the cooperative movement.
ORT also paid attention to the need for vocational training for adults and opened specialized courses in professions, which were the most prestigious and in demand at that time. Thus, electrical engineering courses were opened in Vilnius, and drawing courses in Kremenchug. The ORT board discussed opening courses in driving.
During the First World War
After the beginning of the First World War, a part of the Jewish population was forcibly evacuated from the Pale to the inner provinces of the country. These people and their families had to be provided not only with housing but also the possibility of making a livelihood.
ORT joined the Jewish Committee for Relief of Victims of War and Pogroms (ECOPO) in providing relief for the refugees. ORT and ECOPO employment offices helped them to find jobs.
In Petrograd alone ORT opened two cooperative canteens for refugees in 1917, and on the eve of the October revolution it proposed setting up national chapters for employment exchanges. Alongside this, ORT carried on its traditional activities and raised funds for another model workshop.
In 1917 ORT began to propagandize its activities among American Jews for the purpose of raising funds for Russian relief within the framework of ORT activities. Probably, at that time ORT leaders were laid down the basis for the international operation of the organization.
Results of activities in the Tsarist Russia
During 37 years of work in Russia (from 1880 till 1917) ORT founded 17 vocational schools. It fully or partially supported 63 vocational classes and departments in Jewish school for boys and girls. Specialized vocational courses for adults were opened in four cities.
During the War nearly 200,000 refugees and unemployed Jews were registered with more than 380 employment offices opened in 53 provinces.
After the Revolution 1917
During the first years of Soviet State ORT was saved but taken under the monitoring of the Jewish Department of Narkomnatz. According to Soviet authorities' demand ORT began to involve the Jewry to the agricultural labour and developed its activity in Ukraine. The board of Russia's ORT moved to Moscow. Though veterans of ORT used to deal with handicraftsmen and workers unions. In Petrograd the co-operative association "Trud" ("Labour") was founded as a Jewish craftsmen's venture. In 1929 when communists were introduced to the management of ORT and the ending of NEP the activity of the organization was reduced.In early 1920s two ORT schools have been established in Petrograd: a plumber and mechanic one for boys and a waterworks one for girls. In 1923 both these schools were united. The teaching programs included all general subjects according to the Program of the Unified Labour School combined with the teaching of manufacturing. After 1926, Russian students were sent to Jewish manufacturing schools. Gradually the ethnic character of those schools was lost.The government's policy of industrialization and attracting manpower to big factories made ORT unnecessary for the authorities. In 1930, the decision was made to unite ORT and OZET - the only legal jewish voluntary organization which would remain until the late 1930s.In 1938 ORT was forced to reduce activities in the Soviet Union. But in the early 1920s the head-office of ORT moved to Berlin, ORT obtained a status of an international organization (World ORT Union). It saved a Russian abbreviation "ORT" but gave it another meaning - Organization for Educational Resources and Technology Training. ORT's board was to remain in Berlin until late in 1933 when, with the advent of Hitler, it relocated to Paris and later to Marseille. In these and following years ORT extended its activities and created programs of practical training specialized in different fields. But still the priority for ORT is technical and technological training. ORT offices were opened in every country in Europe, Northern and South America. The head-office moved to Geneva and then to London.
Now the World ORT operates in more then 60 countries. During its existence the Society of Handicrafts and Agricultural Work among Jews of Russia became the World ORT - a largest educational organization, leading in technical education and training people of different age and background to the skilled labour.
Return to St. Petersburg
World ORT could come back to Russia only in 1990, first to Moscow and since 1992 to St. Petersburg.
Now ORT centers and technological schools are operating in many cities of CIS and Baltic States. In 1995 "ORT-Gunzburg, St. Petersburg" Resource Centre was inaugurated.
The de Gunzburg family, direct descendants of Horace de Gunzburg, one of the ORT's founders, living in Paris, provided funds to the reestablishment of the training centre in St. Petersburg. Now the activities of ORT-St.Petersburg Resource Centre include many aspects of new educational technology. ORT is aimed to the progress of the newest informational and pedagogical technologies. It realizes different trainings and courses for students and adults, seminars for teachers and management of schools and educational institutions. The Centre helps to the revival of city's Jewish community, cooperates with Jewish organizations and schools and provides them with technical and methodical help. Another trend of activities is a developing of multimedia programs for study of Jewish history and tradition.