It gives me great pleasure to present this new World ORT project: The Hope and the Illusion.
The project consists of the photo album, the enclosed CD-ROM and the project website, which can be found at www.ozet.ort.spb.ru. It tells the little-known but historically important story of the Soviet government policy to create Jewish autonomous regions in Ukraine, the Crimea and Birobidzhan ó and the resulting reorganisation of Soviet Jewish life ó during the period between the two world wars.
For ORT, the project has been a labour of love involving several years of research conducted in the World ORT archives in London and in archives and museums in St. Petersburg, Russia, the place of ORTís birth 126 years ago. World ORT has a long and proud history in Tsarist and Soviet Russia, much of which is only now being fully understood. From its humble beginnings in 1880, ORT has become one of the largest Jewish educational organisations in the world, having operated in more than 100 countries worldwide and currently educating over 270,000 students annually.
The period 1921Ė1938 is a remarkable piece of history, not just for ORT but also for the countries of the former Soviet Union and for the Jewish people itself. The resettlement of Jews into the state-sponsored Jewish autonomous regions was met with enthusiasm by both Soviet Jews and large segments of the world Jewish community, including World ORT. Despite serious misgivings about cooperating with the Soviet authorities, ORT took on a vital role in the project, viewing it as a way to empower Jews and help them attain social equality and economic self-sufficiency.
Many of the research materials used in The Hope and the Illusion project have never previously been published, and in many cases this is the first time that these documents have been used in historical research. By making these materials available to the general public, we hope to share with you the great hopes and expectations, as well as the deep disappointments, experienced by thousands of Soviet Jews between the two world wars. The Hope and the Illusion project is a deeply moving testimony to Jewish life during this period ó and its tragic aftermath.
I am also delighted that ORT is publishing this collection of photographs, previously made famous by some of the greatest Soviet photographers of the time. These photographs give us a real taste of the mood and spirit that prevailed at the time, and provide a better understanding of what motivated and inspired thousands of Jews, including Jews from the West, to pack up their belongings and move all the way to the Ukrainian steppes and the Soviet Far East. As with the historical documents, this is the first time that many of these photographs are being made available to the general public.
The period between the Russian Revolution and World War II is a complicated period in the history of Soviet Jewry. Similarly, the story of ORTís work in the former Soviet Union helping those in great need during this turbulent time is one of the least known chapters in ORTís long history. It is a remarkable story, but also a tragic one since ORTís work there was forced to end in 1938 when the Soviet authorities terminated ORTís operations throughout the Soviet Union and victimized the ORT representatives.
ORT was subsequently instrumental in the building of the State of Israel, founding its own network of schools that provide the state-of-the-art science and technology training so vital to the progress of a young country. At the same time, ORT worked to aid the Jewish Diaspora, running innovative education and vocational training programmes throughout post-war Europe and in North America, Latin America and other regions.
In 1991 ORT returned to the former Soviet Union, the place of its birth, after an enforced absence of over half a century. Jewish life in Russia, Ukraine and the other countries of the former Soviet Union is currently undergoing a renaissance ó Jewish communities almost obliterated during the Holocaust and then repressed under Soviet rule are now thriving once again. World ORT is proud to be at the forefront of this revitalisation by providing Jewish education to more than 27,000 students each year in 58 schools and educational institutions throughout Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania, and Kyrgyzstan. By playing a vital role in the regeneration of these Jewish communities we are, quite literally, turning illusion back into hope.
Robert Singer, Director General, World ORT