A small town in Southern Lithuania
Where the Jewish Community is no more
1880 a group of Russian Jews petitioned Czar Alexander II for permission to start a fund to assist Jewish trade schools and establish new colonies, agricultural schools and model farms in order to help lift Russia's five million Jews out of crushing poverty. The success of the appeal led Russian authorities to create the "Society for Trades and Agricultural Labor," for Jews of Russia. It is from this original name-Obschestvo Remeslenovo i. Zemledelcheskovo Trouda-that the word ORT is derived.
Farming, tool and industrial cooperatives were formed. Jews were trained as artisans in everything from sewing and handweaving to mechanics and furniture design. ORT became a pioneer in teaching, using new techniques to raise standards, while always giving attention to those with the greatest need. In its first 25 years, ORT provided training to 25,000 Jews in 350 towns within the Russian Empire, vastly improving their quality of life. .
As time marched on, ORT’s training programs evolved to meet the changing needs of Jews as reflected by politics, war and industrialization. After World War I, ORT’s character and focus shifted from Russian Jewry to an organization that linked Jews from across the globe-first in Europe and later on other continents. ORT opened vocational and agricultural schools and encouraged industrial expansion by providing tools and training.
In Vilkaviskis the school was situated on the ground floor of the building that housed the Jewish High School
ORT Vilkaviskis note papaer
ORT Vilkaviskis Official stamp
Diploma for Issac Finkelstein
Partial list of students
Learning to drill
Man at work at the ORT vocational school in Vilkaviškis, Lithuania, 1937. Courtesy of the World ORT Archive, London.
These pictures are taken from an exhibition prepared by ORT and displayed at the Lithuanian Parliament as part of the 4th Litvak International Congress in Vilnius, September 2013
Pictures used by kind permission of Rachel Bracha, Archive Coordinator, World Ort and Dr.Kamile Rupeikaite of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum
ORT High School in Vilkaviskis
From June 1931, a three-year course for boys in metalworking run by the town’s Haskalah Va’avoda was offered in Vilkaviškis. In October
1937 it was taken over by the ORT Vilkaviškis branch. In September 1938 permission was received to open a dressmaking section for girls.
It was then renamed and became the ORTVilkaviškis three-year trade course. It was runaccording to the statutes and programme signed
by the Education Minister in the society’s building,which had been purpose-built for the course.It had all the necessary modern machines, tools
The course did not differ from a vocational school: students over 14 with primary education were admitted; studies lasted for three years;
not only special, but also general subjects were taught.
The ORT Vilkaviškis branch, the World ORT Central Committee in Paris, and donations from individuals financed the courses; the tuition fees
and income earned from fulfilled external orders were also used to fund it.In 1939 the course was led by Samuelis Eidelsas, who was educated at Brno High Technical
School; he also worked as a lecturer. Other lecturers were Alfonsas Ulčinas, Abromas Streleckis, Sara Faktorovskytė, Giršas Levinsonas, BašėŠamborskytė and others.
In 1940 the courses were attended by 40 students: 24 in metalworking and 16 girls in sewing.On 1 September 1940, the People’s Education
Commissar of Soviet Lithuania ordered the courses to be closed; it happened three weeks after ORT activities were banned.
At the beginning of the first Soviet occupation, from 1 July 1940, the Lithuanian Minister of the Interior banned all non-communist organisations (public, cultural, religious) in the
country in the “interest of security”. The same day the leadership of ORT sent a request to the Minister asking him to let ORT and its chapters in the provinces continue their activities.
They attached a list of the organisation’s board members. Having read the list, the Minister decided to remove the Chairman Abelis Jodidio and other members as unacceptable to the new communist regime. A new board was to be formed over a period of six months. He appointed Benjaminas Soloveičikas to be in charge of current affairs and funds, and allowed the organisation and its chapters to continue their activities. Despite Soloveičikas’ efforts to form a new board, a month later, on 6 August 1940, the Interior Minister issued a resolution to close the Organisation for the Advancement of Skilled Trades and Agricultural Labour among Jews in Lithuania, ORT, and its chapters. He based his decision on the grounds that “under the present circumstances further activities of the organisation were no longer compatible with state security”.
Closure of ORT in 1940
The image of the man using the drill is am image is from the ORT archive but does not originate in Vilkaviskis. The location is unknown but from the man’s clothing it is clear that this was far earlier than the late 1930s when ORT was active in Vilkaviskis