ORT in Belgium

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ORT’s activities in Belgium began in February 1946. Three types of vocational courses, aimed at different sections of the community, were devised. Day trade schools offered young people, aged 15-19, a broad vocational programme, which also included some general subjects and Jewish education. Subjects taught included: needle trades (sewing, cutting, tailoring and dressmaking, embroidery, etc.), textiles (weaving and mechanical knitting), woodwork and carpentry, electrical installation, mechanics and radio technics. Shorter-term training workshops and evening courses for adults were offered in corset making, cutting and sewing, shirt making, welding and technical chemistry. Most ORT graduates found employment very soon after completing their courses.

Finally, a variety of manual workshops organised by ORT in Jewish schools in both Brussels and Antwerp gave children aged 9-14 basic woodwork and sewing skills.

Activities began in Brussels, but soon expanded to Kessel-Loo (near Louvain), where a farming school offered training in kitchen gardening, dairy and poultry farming aimed at people planning to make Aliyah. In Antwerp, the first courses opened in 1947, with activities increasing gradually but steadily over the next few years. By mid-1953 Antwerp replaced Brussels as the main focus of the ORT programme in Belgium when all adult courses ceased altogether in Brussels.

In the mid-1950s the economic situation of the Belgian Jewish community improved and student numbers declined. ORT concentrated on evening courses for adults and youths and added subjects such as diamond cutting and auto-mechanics to its programme. As its vocational programmes drew to a close, Belgian ORT began to focus on fundraising activities in aid of the global ORT community.

Video: ORT Belgium documentary (c. 1946)

Documentary film showing scenes at ORT schools for DPs in post-WWII Belgium. Silent, with ending missing.