ORT in Lithuania

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ORT’s earliest activities in Lithuania began in 1908 in Kaunas. A Vilnius branch was established in 1918. The society’s statutes were formally registered in Lithuania on 7 February 1921.

ORT set up trade schools for the young and vocational courses for adults, as well as an apprenticeship programme. ORT schools and workshops existed in 25 towns and cities through­out Lithuania, but at the heart of the programme were the Vilnius [Vilna] vocational school for Jewish boys, the Vilna Technicum and the ORT Kaunas [Kovno] vocational school. The Technicum opened in 1920 and provided both an electrical course and a mechanical course, with graduates becoming technicians and engineers’ assistants.

The Kaunas school opened in 1921, attracting youths and adults from all over the country. It provided general education, as well as vocational training in a variety of subjects. In the 1930s demand for admission increased dramatically and in 1936 a purpose-built “House of Jewish Labour” was officially opened.

ORT promoted gardening as an important source of additional income for urban Jewish families, setting up gardening projects in 11 cities, alongside Jewish primary schools. The programme eventually reached 5,100 children annually. It also provided Lithuania’s Jewish farmers with technical advice, as well as direct aid in the form of tools, equipment, seeds and livestock. ORT Lithuania’s first rural school opened in 1934, offering a course in housekeeping and home economics on the Ungurinė estate in Marijampolė county. In 1935, it was transferred to Kalinava estate near Kaunas. Most of the graduates then left for Palestine.

ORT Lithuania continued working after the outbreak of war. However, with the imposition of Soviet rule in June 1940 the ORT Committee was dismantled, its property confiscated. During the war, Jacob Oleiski, former Director of ORT Lithuania, and Matitjahu Schreiber, former Head of the ORT Vilnius school, together with former ORT teachers, set up vocational schools in both Kaunas and Vilnius ghettos. The programmes enabled students to train in a variety of subjects and also functioned as community cultural hubs. The Vilnius ghetto was liquidated in September 1943; the Kaunas ghetto in 1944.

ORT returned to Lithuania in 2002 and its school and media centre provide general and ICT-based education and a Jewish studies curriculum to youngsters, as well as computer training and job search support for Vilnius’s adult Jewish community.