Records of the ORT Vocational School (Technicum) in Vilna
Scope and Content Note
The Jewish Vocational (Technical) School of ORT in Vilna, known as the Technicum, opened in 1921 and remained in existence until 1940. It trained Jewish young people in the fields of mechanics and electrical engineering over a three-year course of study. The Technicum was subsidized by the ORT Central Committee (Warsaw), the Vilna Jewish Community Council, and the Vilna municipality. The school was equipped with laboratories and workshops, as well as a technical library, and published a series of its own Yiddish-language textbooks for use by students.
Series I contains general administrative records, including membership lists of the administration and supervisory board, bylaws, overviews of the history and organization of the school, inventories of equipment and supplies, budgets, general reports, school statistics, financial records, and legal documents. Series II comprises outgoing and incoming correspondence, mostly that of the school director, with correspondents including the ORT Central Committee in Warsaw, the ORT Committee in Vilna, the Ministry of Education in Warsaw, and the Board of Education (Curatorium) of the Vilna District. Series III contains school records related to students and teachers; materials pertaining to the curriculum and class schedules; letters and supporting documents from applicants for teaching positions; student papers; and materials of the Technicum's Graduates' Association and Parents' Committee. Series IV contains ephemera, including fliers announcing admission requirements and invitations to graduations and other events, as well as blank and draft diplomas and certificates, and other blank forms; one photograph of a machine laboratory; and some miscellaneous items.
Series V comprises an addendum to the collection. The addendum contains materials similar in nature to those in the previous four series, including a significant amount of incoming correspondence (1929-1939), especially from the Ministry of Education in Warsaw, the Board of Education (Vilna District), and the Union of Jewish Teachers in Vilna; and, notably, several examples of the Yiddish-language textbooks published by the Technicum.
- ORT Vocational School (Technicum), Vilna (Organization)
Language of Materials
Yiddish and Polish with some Russian, German, Lithuanian, and French.
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The Society for the Promotion of Handicraft and Agricultural Work among the Jews of Russia, known by its Russian acronym, "ORT," was founded by Jewish community members in St. Petersburg in 1880, and, after receiving official recognition in the Russian Empire in 1905, began to establish affiliated branches in other cities. An ORT Committee was established in Vilna (today, Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1918, at the end of the First World War. In 1920 the city of Vilna (Polish: Wilno) was incorporated into newly independent Poland.
The Jewish Vocational (Technical) School of ORT in Vilna, known as the Technicum, was founded by members of the Vilna branch of ORT in 1920, and opened in January 1921. The aim of the founders was to provide Jewish youth who had completed elementary school, or a portion of gymnasium, an opportunity to acquire vocational training and a path to a trade or profession, in a way that also fostered their general education and development.1 One of the founders, engineer Israel Okun (1877-1941), served as the school’s director for the first three years of its existence. Mateusz (Matisyahu) Szrejber (or: Schreiber; born 1887), another engineer who had taught at the school since its founding, assumed the directorship in 1924, and remained in the post through approximately January 1940.
The task of the Technicum was to prepare its students to become mid-level technical specialists, between the level of the worker and the engineer. To this end it provided a thorough theoretical as well as practical education in the field of mechanics and technology. Graduates of the Vilna Technicum went on to become qualified assistants for engineers, managers of small industrial enterprises, foremen of divisions in factories, and technical draftsmen, among other such professional roles.
It should be noted that for Jews in interwar Poland, gaining admission to government-run vocational schools was difficult; the nation's resources for establishing such schools were insufficient and, in practice, Jewish applicants encountered discrimination.2 According to figures published by the Polish Ministry of Education in 1938, Jewish students made up only 5.1% of the students in state-owned technical schools in Poland in the period 1934-1937, although Jews comprised 9.8% of the general population.3
Since the Vilna Technicum was the only Jewish technical school of its kind in Poland, Jewish youth from all parts of the country studied there. In 1935 Technicum director M. Szrejber wrote that 70% of the students at that time came from outside of Vilna and that every part of Poland was represented, except for the Poznań district and Upper Silesia.4 Concerning the size of the enrollment, Szrejber reported that the total number of students studying at the school had grown steadily in its early years, from 104 in 1923 to a peak of 238 in 1930, and then declined in the following few years, to a total of 144 in 1934.4 As of the end of 1932 the school had graduated approximately 300 students.5
The Technicum had two divisions: mechanical and electrotechnical.6 The course of study, at first envisioned as just two years, in view of the difficult financial circumstances of most of the families of the students, was before long stipulated as three years.7 Classes were taught in Yiddish. The tuition paid by students accounted for less than half of the school's budget. The school was subsidized by the ORT Central Committee in Warsaw, the Vilna Jewish Community Council, and the Vilna municipality.4
Initially headquartered at Wielka Pohulanka (Great Pohulanka Street) 18 and later, beginning in 1928, at Gdańska 3, the school was well equipped. In 1935 the facilities comprised two buildings, one of four stories and the other of three, with a total of 33 rooms, including large halls, technical drawing rooms, recreational rooms, and a variety of workshops and laboratories. From the beginning the school also maintained its own library, which, in 1935, housed over 1,500 volumes, focused on current technical literature, the greatest portion in German, then Russian, Polish, Yiddish, French, and English. In addition, a student committee organized the publication, in lithographic form, of a series of Yiddish-language textbooks authored by the school's teachers.8
Early on, the school sometimes used the rubric "Vilner yidishe politekhnishe kursn" (Vilna Jewish polytechnical courses), but by 1922 its name had been formalized as "Vilner yidisher tekhnikum" (Vilna Jewish Technicum; Polish: Wileńskie Technikum). Around March 1933, the school was required by Polish school authorities to change its name to "Vilner yidishe tekhnishe shul" (Vilna Jewish Technical School; Polish: Wileńska Zydowska Szkoła Techniczna). In 1938, in accordance with a new Polish regulation affecting vocational schools, the Technicum began a transition to meeting the more rigorous academic requirements of a lyceum, or upper-level gymnasium, and subsequently used the name "Mekhanisher litsey" (Mechanical High School/Lyceum; Polish: Liceum Mechaniczne).9
In late 1939, the Technicum apparently introduced a crafts/artisanal school division, known in Yiddish as the "hantverker-mitlshul" (Crafts/artisanal high school; Lithuanian: Amatų mokykla).10 A separate crafts/artisanal school had been run by the Vilna ORT Society during an earlier period, beginning in the mid 1920s, but had been disbanded sometime in the early 1930s for financial reasons.11
School announcements of admission requirements through 1926 specifically refer to accepting both male and female students, and later announcements refer generically to pupils, without specifying gender;12 however, in practice the enrollment appears to have been almost entirely male. In fact, in the mid to late 1930s, the Polish (although not the Yiddish) rendering of the school's name in its letterhead and stamp includes a reference to it as an all-male school, "Prywatna Męska Techniczna Szkoła Żydowska" (Private male Jewish technical school), and it was listed as such in the Vilna city directory.13 The minimum age of applicants was specified as 16 years through 1924, but was lowered to 15 years in 1925, and to 14 years in 1927.12
At the beginning of the Second World War, in late September 1939, Vilna was occupied by the Soviet Union. Subsequently, as a result of a mutual assistance treaty between the Soviet Union and Lithuania, Vilna was transferred to Lithuania, in late October 1939. The ORT Technicum was apparently closed for a time during this period, but reopened by November and at that point was offering special vocational courses for Jewish refugees in Vilna.14 For a while, the Jewish Refugee Aid Committee at the Lithuanian Red Cross in Vilna subsidized tuition for refugees, until May 1940.15
As of February 1940 the Technicum's correspondence with the Lithuanian Ministry of Education was carried on by a new director, J. Viršubskis, who apparently replaced Mateusz Szrejber in that post.
Following the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in June 1940, Vilna, along with the rest of Lithuania, was officially annexed to the Soviet Union, on 3 August 1940; it became the capital of the newly created Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior moved to ban all non-communist cultural and religious organizations in July 1940, at the beginning of the Soviet occupation, and the ORT Society in Lithuania immediately petitioned the ministry to be allowed to continue its activities. After initially ordering the society's board to be replaced, the ministry nonetheless finally issued a resolution, dated 6 August 1940, to close the society, on the grounds that its activities were incompatible with state security.16 Among the extant records of the Technicum in the present collection, the latest dated item is correspondence from the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, dated 31 August 1940, received on 3 September, referring to the closure of the crafts school, and the dismissal of Director Viršubskis and the teaching staff, as of 1 September.17
On 24 June 1941 Nazi Germany occupied Vilna, and in September the Vilna Ghetto was established. Mateusz Szrejber, the longtime director of the Technicum, was a resident of the ghetto, and organized a vocational school there; one of the teachers working with him was engineer Józef Janow (born 1884), who had also been a longtime teacher at the Technicum.18 Szrejber and Janow both perished in the Holocaust.
- Szrejber (1935), p. 313.
- Eck (1947), p. 29.
- Eck (1947), pp. 29-30.
- Szrejber (1935), p. 320.
- Fundraising letter by Technicum director M. Szrejber, 18 December 1932 (RG 21, Folder 2).
- Some materials dated 1920-1922 (RG 21, Folder 2) refer to additional programs, including technical-chemical and business ("ekonomishe") courses; however, the school apparently early on narrowed its focus to the two above-mentioned divisions.
- Szrejber (1935), p. 315.
- Szrejber (1935), pp. 316-319.
- The history of the changes in the school's name and type is outlined in a report to the Board of Education, Vilna District, dated 25 September 1939 (RG 21, Folder 16).
- Some student health records in December 1939 refer to the crafts school (RG 21, Folder 62); and correspondence from the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, 14 June 1940, shows approval of two school stamps, one for the Technicum and one for a crafts school, both under the direction of J. Viršubskis (RG 21, Folder 33A).
- Records of the earlier ORT crafts/artisanal school ("hantverker-shul"; Polish: Szkoła rzemieślnicza) are found in RG 47, Records of the ORT Society in Vilna.
- RG 21, Folder 92.
- Księga adresowa m. Wilna: Wileński kalendarz informacyjny. Wilno: Zawadzki, 1933. p. 112. Available online at Podlaska Digital Library, pbc.biaman.pl.
- "ORT institutsyes efenen zikh in Varshe un Vilne; helfn milkhome korbones; Groyser Tekhnikum fun dem ORT in Vilne vider geefent." Forverts (New York). 10 November 1939. p. 12. Retrieved via the "Historical Jewish Press" website of the National Library of Israel.
- Letter from the Jewish Refugee Committee to the Technicum, 28 May 1940 (RG 21, Folder 57). The Committee states that it lacks the resources to continue the subsidies.
- World ORT/Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum (2013). Exhibition catalog, Parengti gyvenimui: ORT Lietuvoje, p. 38; English version: Educating for Life: Ort in Lithuania, section: "During WWII – Closure of ORT," ortinlithuania.ort.org.
- RG 21, Folder 33A.
- Mowszowicz, Jakub. "Derinerungen fun shul-vezn in vilner geto." In: Bleter vegn Vilne: zamlbukh. Łódź: Farband fun Vilner Yidn in Poyln, 1947. pp. 19-23; here: p. 22. Available online at archive.org.
Eck, Nathan (1947). "The Educational Institutions of Polish Jewry (1921-1939)." Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 3-32.
Szrejber, M. (1935). "Der Vilner Yidisher Tekhnikum fun ORT." In: Vilne: a zamlbukh gevidmet der shtot Vilne. Edited by Ephim H. Jeshurin. New York: Vilner Branch 367, Arbeter Ring (Workmen's Circle). pp. 313-321. Available online at www.archive.org.
World ORT in collaboration with the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum (2013). Exhibition catalog, Parengti gyvenimui: ORT Lietuvoje (Educating for Life: ORT in Vilnius). Available as a PDF file on the museum's website (jmuseum.lt/lt/kilnojamosios-parodos/i/249/parengti-gyvenimui.-ort-lietuvoje) and partially translated into English online at ortinlithuania.org.
2.9 Linear Feet (7 boxes and 1 oversize folder)
The Jewish Vocational (Technical) School of ORT in Vilna, known as the Technicum, opened in Vilna (Wilno, Poland; today, Vilnius, Lithuania) in 1921 and remained in existence until 1940. It trained Jewish young people in the fields of mechanics and electrical engineering over a three-year course of study. The Technicum was subsidized by the ORT Central Committee (Warsaw), the Vilna Jewish Community Council, and the Vilna municipality. The school was equipped with laboratories and workshops, as well as a technical library, and published a series of its own Yiddish-language textbooks for use by students. The collection comprises administrative records, including budgets and general reports, school statistics, financial records, correspondence, and files pertaining to students and teachers, as well as materials documenting the curriculum, course scheduling, and examinations. Also included are letters and supporting documents from applicants for teaching positions; student papers; materials related to a graduates' association and a parents' committee; and copies of several of the textbooks published by the school.
The collection is arranged in the following series:
- General Administrative Records, 1920-1939
- Correspondence, 1921-1940
- Records pertaining to Teachers, Students, and Curriculum, 1920-1940
- Ephemera, Photograph, Miscellaneous, undated, 1922-1940
- Addendum, undated, 1925-1940
Other Finding Aid
The original typed finding aid prepared by Felicia Figa in 1977 is on file at YIVO.
These records were part of the YIVO Archives in Vilna before the Second World War. In 1942, during the Nazi occupation of Vilna, the records were looted by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (a special task force of the National Socialist regime devoted to the plunder of art and cultural artifacts) and sent to the Institut zur Erforschung der Judenfrage (Institute for Study of the Jewish Question), an institution of the National Socialist Party (NSDAP), in Frankfurt am Main. In 1945 they were recovered by the U.S. Army and returned to the YIVO Institute in New York, via the U.S. Army archival depot in Offenbach. The records arrived in New York in 1947.
During processing for the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project, the collection was re-foldered into acid-free archival folders. The folder list (through Folder 98) contained in the previous finding aid, reflecting the one compiled by Felicia Figa in 1977, was retained, with minor adjustments (if the folder number has changed, the old folder number is noted in parentheses at the end of the folder summary). An addendum of additional material that, subsequent to the initial processing of the collection, had been found elsewhere among the YIVO Vilna collections and identified as related to the ORT Technicum was integrated as Series V. Also, various scattered materials in the collection were, upon closer examination, identified as related not to the Technicum but, rather, to other schools and vocational training programs run by ORT in Vilna, the records of which are found in another YIVO collection, Records of the ORT Society in Vilna (RG 47); these materials were moved to RG 47. The materials in question mainly relate to the crafts/artisanal school ("hantverker-shul"), circa 1922-1930, including a folder of individual student questionnaires (Folder 63), dated 1929; the professional/vocational school ("profesyonele shul"), circa 1928-1931; and the school and training workshops ("shul-varshtatn") for metalworking and carpentry, circa 1923-1929.
- Administrative records
- Bylaws (administrative records)
- Examinations (documents)
- Financial records
- Jewish engineers
- Jewish students
- Jewish teachers
- Jews -- Education -- History
- Jews -- Poland -- History
- Kremer, A.
- Legal documents
- Lithuania. Švietimo ministerija
- ORT Society, Vilna
- Okun, Israel, 1877-1941
- Poland. Ministerstwo Wyznań Religijnych i Oświecenia Publicznego
- Printed ephemera
- Receipts (financial records)
- Szrejber, M.
- Trok, Y.
- Vilnius (Lithuania)
- Vocational education
- World ORT Union
- Guide to the Records of the ORT Vocational School (Technicum) in Vilna, 1920-1940 RG 21
- Originally processed by Felicia Figa in 1977. Materials further processed, described and finding aid encoded by Yakov Il'ich Sklar in 2006. Materials further processed, described, and prepared for digitization by Violet Lutz in 2019.
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Earlier work funded by the American ORT Federation (1977), the Gruss Lipper Family Foundation (2006), and the Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany.