ORT in Switzerland

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ORT activities in Switzerland began in the 1930s, when ORT-OSE fundraising campaigns were conducted in support of ORT programmes in Eastern Europe. In 1943, Dr Aron Syngalowski, managed to escape France into Switzerland. He began re-establishing communications among ORT groups and individuals, setting up the central headquarters of the World ORT Union in Geneva, where it remained until 1979. Aided by a group of local communal leaders, he also set in motion a programme of vocational training for refugees that continued into the post-war years.

By 1944 there were some 99 ORT workshops, courses for adults, and schools in operation in Swiss camps and internment homes. In 1945, more than 2,000 students were attending 158 ORT vocational training workshops. After the war, the number of refugees in Switzerland decreased and ORT reduced its work accordingly. At the end of 1947, in Davos, two training workshops were opened for cured tubercular patients and patients still in treatment but able to work. All were former concentration camp inmates, who had spent time in Davos sanatoriums and had to remain in the mountains until cured. The vocations selected were, according to expert advice, suited to these physically handicapped individuals. ORT’s work with survivors and refugees continued until the end of 1951. Over 5,000 persons attended the ORT programmes in Switzerland over an eight-year period.

After the war, the ORT Central Training Institute in Anières, Geneva, was established in order to train teachers and instructors for ORT schools around the world. It opened its doors to students in 1949 and offered a two- to four-year programme, which included theoretical studies and practical work in Swiss factories. The curriculum, appealing to students from different backgrounds and cultures, also covered general and Jewish studies. In time, the programme was enlarged to include training of teachers from developing countries and research and testing of new techniques in vocational education. In collaboration with Ecole Technique Superieure in Geneva, selected students could take courses leading to the degree of engineer-technician.

Students were given scholarships to study and board at the Institute and in return were expected to teach at an ORT school in their own countries for five years. While some fulfilled the agreement, others did not. This, together with a decline in demand for training in ORT national organisations, led to the termination of activities at ORT Anières in 1983. In the mid-1990s, ORT Anières reopened and carried out leadership development programmes for Jewish lay leaders and professionals, multimedia technology courses, and various seminars. This programme was short-lived and the building was finally sold in 1997.

From its earliest days Swiss ORT has been providing unflinching financial support for ORT programmes, and continues to contribute to the World ORT core budget today.