World ORT meets in Berlin, site of its one-time headquarters
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World ORT meets in Berlin, site of its one-time headquarters

BERLIN (JTA) — For the first time since World War II, World ORT has gathered its leadership at the site of its former world headquarters in Berlin.

World ORT, which focuses on vocational training and rehabilitation, invited 97 people from 23 countries to attend a two-day board of representatives meeting that ended Monday in Berlin, the city from which its students and teachers were deported to Auschwitz some 68 years ago..

“In 131 years, World ORT has passed many milestones but perhaps none more symbolic as our return to Berlin," said Robert Singer, the organizations’ director general and CEO. "It is a milestone which we aim to lay as a foundation for a brighter future among the communities of Germany.”

The meeting included the launch of World ORT’s "Music and the Holocaust" website, called “the most substantive, comprehensive website on this subject currently
available”; a keynote address by the deputy prime minister of Israel, Silvan Shalom; and an interactive robotics competition with teams from Argentina, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Israel.

A memorial ceremony was held at the Berlin-Grunewald railway station for the World ORT staff and students deported to Auschwitz and Theresienstadt on June 10, 1943. A ceremony also was held at the Meistersaal, or the Great Hall, to commemorate the founding Congress of the World ORT Union there in 1921.

Founded in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1880, World ORT became established as an international organization in July 1921 while headquartered in Berlin.

The organization moved its headquarters to France in 1933 with the Nazi rise to power in Germany, but in 1937 opened an ORT school in Berlin under the leadership of Werner Simon, providing vocational training for Jewish youth who could not gain admission to state or municipal trade schools upon completion of their elementary education.

In 1939, some 104 students and seven teachers and their spouses fled to England, where they re-established the school in Leeds. Most of the remaining students and teachers, including Simon, were arrested by the SS and deported, most dying at the hands of the Nazis.

Today, World ORT assists more than 250,000 Jews and non-Jews around the world annually with education and vocational training.