Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum ORT In Lithuanian Archives
The first Lithuanian branch of ORT societies that first appeared in Russia in 1880 (Общество ремесленного и земледельческого труда среди евреев России – the Society for Skilled Trades and Agricultural Labour among Jews in Russia) was opened in Kaunas in 1908. The circumstances surrounding the opening of this branch and its activities are in the documents found in the files of the archive of the Commission for the Activities of the Kaunas Province Societies at the Kaunas County archive (Fonds No I-53. Inventory No 1. File No 104). They include notices of intention to open a branch in Kaunas, the appointment of Dr Isaakas Feinbergas as authorised person in charge of the opening of the branch, information about launching the branch, and the address. There is also a brochure with the society statutes and instructions for other branches. After the reestablishment of Lithuania’s independence in 1918 there were two branches that were governed by ORT principles: the ORT Society for the Promotion of Trades and Agricultural Labour in Lithuania (established in 1920) and Towarzystwo Popierania Pracy Rzemieślniczej i Rolnej wsród Żydów (Society for the Promotion of Trades and Diligence among Jews), which operated almost throughout its existence, from its opening in 1918, in Polish-occupied Vilnius and the south-eastern part of Lithuania. Both societies were closed in 1940 at the beginning of the Soviet occupation. Written documents about the activities of these two societies are kept at the Lithuanian Central State Archives. A file about the surveillance of ORT activities in Lithuania is kept in the archives of the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior (Fonds No 1367. Inventory No 1. File No 76). It contains documents about the society’s board, changes in its personnel and the closure of the society in 1940. There are documents concerning the beginning of the activities of the branches, including requests sent by the Chair of the board of ORT to the Minister of the Interior for permission to establish branches in various Lithuanian cities and small towns. There are files on the surveillance of the activities of twenty of the society’s branches (Fonds No 1367. Inventory No 1): File No 90 (Kudirkos Naumiestis); File No 91 (Šiauliai); File No 92 (Virbalis); File No 93 (Šakiai); File No 94 (Kybartai); File No 95 (Vilkaviškis); File No 96 (Mažeikiai); File No 97 (Panevėžys); File No 98 (Marijampolė); File No 99 (Telšiai); File No 100 (Plungė); File No 101 (Radviliškis); File No 102 (Jonava); File No 104 (Kėdainiai); File No 105 (Butrimonys); File No 106 (Seirijai); File No 107 (Kalvarija); File No 108 (Simnas); File No 109 (Alytus). All files contain reports about the election of the branch boards, their members, their jobs and ages. The local archives of the county heads contain records on the surveillance of the activities of some of the society’s branches that operated in these counties. As the first ORT branch was established in Kaunas, its headquarters were located there too. The surveillance file of its activities is kept in the archive of the head of the Kaunas city and county (Fonds No 402. Inventory No 4. File No 130a.). Among other documents, it includes an application for permission to establish the society, made by its founders (25 October 1920), the first statutes (27 October 1920) and one more file (Fonds No 402. Inventory No 5. File No 224) regarding the surveillance of its activities. It also contains quite a few documents about the activities of the Jonava branch, which operated in the Kaunas county.
The archive of the head of Panevėžys county contains the files of the ORT Panevėžys branch (Fonds No 404. Inventory No 2. Files No 114, 115). Documents relating to the ORT Plungė, Telšiai and Radviliškis branches from the period 1936-1940 are kept in the archive of the Lithuanian Jews’ public organisations (Fonds No 1141. Inventory No. 1. Files No 22-28). ORT established and supported a vocational school in Kaunas and various trade and agricultural labour courses. Documents concerning their activities are at the Special Education Department archive of the Ministry of Education (Fonds No. 391. Inventory No. 5). They fully illustrate ORT’s primary aim, which was education and professional training. The Ministry of Education archive also contains files on the ORT vocational school, college and trades courses. They cover a very short period – from the autumn of 1939 (the end of Polish occupation) until the second part of 1940 when the society was closed. In the file concerning the private secondary vocational school (Fonds No 391. Inventory No 5. File No 805), besides other documents there are the school’s statutes, a list of the teaching staff and their job titles, lesson timetables as well as correspondence concerning the issue of teaching staff and teaching records. There is also a plan of the building where the school was located. Plans have survived not only of the vocational school in Vilnius, but also in Kaunas. The archive of the Construction and Road Inspection of the Ministry of the Interior contains a file with a 1934-approved design used to build the ORT vocational school building on Jonavos Street in Kaunas (Fonds No 1622. Inventory No 4. File No 395). ORT operated mainly in the eastern part of Polish-occupied Lithuania, including Vilnius. The documents relating to its activities are therefore kept at the archive of the Vilnius city municipality (Fonds No 53. Inventory No 23). There, File No 1670 (with a Polish title: Towarzystwo Popierania Pracy Rzemieślniczej i Rolnej wsród Żydów) deals with the society’s activities and its leadership. It includes: minutes of the election of the committee and auditing commission, applications for meetings, collection of donations for support of the society, lists of society members, statutes, political police reports, leaders’ political views, and correspondence with society leaders. Mention is made of educational and vocational training institutions established by the society: a vocational school, college, library and various trades courses. The documents are from the period 1921-1939. The society’s activities are also covered in several other files, which cover correspondence with various public organisations: with the Governor of the Vilnius area, with the commandant’s headquarters, and with the police for permits to hold various public events, such as concerts and meetings. For instance, in File No 789 there are the society’s plans to organise courses for concreters and radio technicians for society members; an application to hold concerts and tea parties for members and supporters; police agents’ reports relating to the society’s meetings, such as the subjects of presentations and lists of the society members. There are also documents regarding the educational institutions supported by the society. The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum has exhibits connected with the activities of ORT: photographs that have not been displayed, documents, personal belongings and various artefacts belonging to people who participated in ORT programmes. Some private collections include objects and photographs that are important for ORT history. For example, Esfir Bramson, who lives in Vilnius, has photographs and documents connected with the activities of her uncle Leon Bramson, Chairman of the ORT Central Board. Another Vilnius resident, Judith Rozina, has photographs, foreign course diplomas and personal belongings belonging to her mother Riva Altfeldienė, a teacher at the ORT vocational school in Kaunas. Some of the exhibits from the museum archive, together with items from personal collections, are on display for the first time in this exhibition. Certainly not all of the pages of ORT’s history have been opened. While researching for this exhibition, a document was discovered at the Lithuanian Central State Archive. It mentions that the initiative to establish ORT originated in Lithuania, and the establishment of such a society was considered in Kaunas in 1869 – much earlier than ORT’s creation in St Petersburg in 1880. Unfortunately, we did not manage to find out more about this interesting fact. Therefore, an exciting discovery is in store for those historians who will carry out deeper research into ORT activities. Illustration: While organising the exhibition, this document was discovered at the Lithuanian Central State Archive, documenting ORT’s authorisation for its member L. Gurvičius to search at the Lithuanian Central Archive, as it was called then, for 1869 documents linked to plans to establish ORT in Lithuania (LCVA. Fonds No 391. Inventory No 5. File No 59. Page No. 9). Neringa Latvytė-Gustaitienė Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum Head of the Department of Historical Research