ORT in Romania and Bessarabia

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This article covers ORT activities in areas that are today Romania, Moldova and parts of Ukraine. Due to the evolving geo-political nature of this region during ORT’s operations there, it is impossible to separate activities into today’s geo-political entities.

After the foundation of ORT in Tsarist Russia in 1880, Jewish farmers in Bessarabia were among the early beneficiaries, receiving assistance to purchase seeds, tools and equipment. Before World War I some three thousand Jewish families were engaged in growing tobacco in the region, and the area was still attracting Jewish farmers. ORT established a supply centre in Kishinev, where Jewish farmers and vintners could acquire, on credit, much of the machinery they needed. In many districts ORT provided machinery and small tools "on hire" and ORT agronomists and instructors regularly visited Jewish farms, giving advice and teaching new methods of agriculture, animal care, and related subjects. ORT Purchase Bureaus also distributed tools and materials to Jewish artisans in Bessarabia.

In the cities and towns, ORT ran a variety of schools, courses, workshops and services, despite an increasing anti-Semitic climate and harsh legislation. At the height of ORT activities in Romania, there were forty-three units of different types, including day schools, workshops for adults, apprenticeship programmes, vocational advisory services and artisan consultation bureaus. Day schools for Jewish youth were maintained in eight cities, including Iaşi, Bucharest and Chernivtsi [Czernowitz]. Farm cooperatives were organised in twelve localities.

In November 1940 Romania joined the Axis Powers. Despite harsh wartime conditions, lack of funds, mounting anti-Jewish legislation and pogroms, ORTs activities in Romania did not stop during the war. The main school in Bucharest, which taught radio, sewing, and manufacture of lingerie, remained in operation almost throughout the war. ORT also maintained projects in Oradea [Oradea-Mare], Cluj-Napoca and Iaşi.

ORT started its post-war work in 1945, with a small number of vocational courses in Bucharest, training young men and women in radio, lingerie-making, and other skills.  Schools were opened in Bucharest and Iaşi in 1946, in Galaţi and Botoşani in 1947, and in Cluj-Napoca, Oradea [Oradea-Mare], Arad and Timişoara in 1948.

The programme ended in 1949, when the government liquidated ORT’s activities. They were taken over by the Jewish Democratic Committee, a Communist front. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ORT returned to Moldova in 2001.