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19 posts categorized "Esperanto"

03 August 2017

Triumph and Tragedy: Esperanto and the Russian Revolution

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After some initial doubts by the Tzarist censors, the first decade of the 20th century was a period of good relations between Esperanto speakers and the Russian authorities. There were courses and clubs throughout the country. Every year until 1914 an official government representative took part in national Esperanto congresses with the support of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.

When the Russian Revolution broke out, many Esperantists gave it their enthusiastic support. At the same time, they continued promoting the language. Chief among these was an energetic and ambitious young man, Ernest Drezen, who managed to convince the new regime that Esperanto would be an essential tool to enable the world’s proletariat to communicate during the expected proletarian revolution. The Esperanto movement received support from the Soviet authorities at the highest level, which enabled it to develop in a most satisfactory manner.

EsperantoRusiaRevolucioCoverCover of Rusia revolucio de 1917 (Moscow, 1989) YF.2015.a.8476, a  graphic novel about the Revolution in Esperanto

It is important not to underestimate the idealism of the early years, which bore fruit in the fields of language and culture among others. Internally there was a policy of encouraging the use of all the languages of the national minorities, while an important foreign policy aim was the creation of a global proletarian culture. Esperanto fitted naturally into this aspiration for greater internationalism.

Early in 1919 the Bolshevik government made a major contribution to the work of the Esperanto movement. The periodical Esperanto Triumfonta (‘Esperanto will triumph’) reported on this the following year (1920, issue 6):

Moscow: According to the official Communist newspaper ‘Izvestija’ of 16th and 17th January 1919, the Communist government has made a large house available to the Moscow Esperantists.... It will be home to the Moscow Esperanto Society and the Organizing Committee of the Russian Esperanto Federation.... There will also be a bookshop and a large library, a reading room and a meeting room for the club. There are two publications: ‘Oficiala Bulteno’ and ‘Juna Mondo’ (Official Bulletin and Young World).

Drezen knew that any Esperanto association would have to conform to the Bolshevik party line. After various attempts, in 1921 he founded the Sovetrespublikara Esperantista Unio (SEU: Soviet Republics’ Esperantist Union), whose constitution followed the organizing principles of the Bolshevik Party.

EsperantoRevolucioLaKvinjaro

Cover of: L. Sosnovski, Kvinjaro de Sovetlandoj (Moscow, 1923) Above. Below: Portrait of Leon Trotsky from the same book with title-page as Jarkvino de la Oktobra Revolucio. F13/1021

EsperantoRevolucioLaKvinjaroTrocki

Numerous young Esperantists joined the new association, among them many talented people: organizers, journalists, writers, poets. SEU quickly became a strong, healthy and active Esperantist collective with a large membership. To continue receiving state support however it had to publicly cease all relations with the World Esperanto Association (UEA), seen as ‘a “neutral” petit-bourgeois organization in solidarity with the League of Nations’ and therefore not permitted to have members or representatives in the Soviet Republic. This was one of the points approved during SEU’s first congress. Instead, SEU chose to work with the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (SAT: World Non-national Association), which was founded as a non-neutral proletarian Esperantist organization during the same period. SEU recommended that all its members should also join SAT.

EsperantoRevolucioMihalskiCover of : Eugeno Mihalski,  Prologo, (Leipzig, 1929). YF.2012.a.27401

Cooperation between SEU and SAT was initially active and fruitful, but in 1923 there were the first signs of disagreement about the aims and direction of Esperanto activities, when SAT’s executive did not approve some of the decisions made during SEU’s congress. Even so relations remained good, culminating in SAT’s 6th Congress in Leningrad in 1926.

ESperantoRevolucioStamp_Soviet_Union_1926_243

 Soviet stamp for congress of SAT in Leningrad (From Wikimedia Commons

In the meantime the political climate in the Soviet Union was changing. The idea of a world proletarian revolution had fallen out of favour. Stalin, the new leader, believed it was possible to build a Socialist society in a single country. Anyone who disagreed was labelled ‘an enemy of the people’ and punished in accordance with the new criminal code, which came into force in 1926. One Esperanto speaker, Aleksandr Postnikov, had already been executed by firing squad the previous year. He was an army officer, and one of the most active Esperantists in the early 1900s. He was arrested several times, condemned for spying, and only rehabilitated in 1993.

Many groups came under suspicion. In 1936 it was the turn of the Esperantists. There were mass arrests in Ukraine. Torture was widely used to force confessions from innocent people about ‘counter-revolutionary activity’, and the leaders of the Soviet Esperanto movement were made to sign confessions about their participation in the ‘Trotskyite’ organizations SEU and SAT, as well as spying, and even plotting to liquidate the Soviet leadership. The Ministry of the Interior began to arrest Esperantists across the country, because almost all of them were members of SEU and SAT.

Trials against Esperanto speakers continued until 1938. Hundreds of rank-and-file members of the two associations were given long sentences of exile, while the leaders of the movement, including Ernest Drezen and the major poet and writer Eugene Michalski were shot. Vladimir Varankin, a novelist and professor of history and foreign languages, was accused of spying and plotting to murder Stalin, and was killed.

EsperantoRevolucioVarankinCover of Stepanov Nikolao. La vivo kaj morto de Vladimir Varankin (1902-1938) (Budapest,1990). YF.2009.a.37695

SEU had never been officially prohibited. Now it ceased to exist, and the national Esperanto movement was extinguished for almost 20 years.

Were Esperanto speakers really so dangerous for the state? Hardly. But their contacts with foreign Esperantists, which allowed them to send and receive ‘undesirable’ information, were deemed dangerous. They receive an ironic mention in the second chapter of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s work The Gulag Archipelago: ‘Among those great waves, certain modest little wavelets were also swept away, including [...] the Esperantists (a harmful group which Stalin undertook to smoke out during the years when Hitler was doing the same thing).’

So Esperanto had its triumph during the first idealistic years of the Russian Revolution and its tragedy in the years before the Second World War. But after Stalin’s death it revived, and played a remarkable role during the Cold War, when it was one of the channels for communicating with the West.

EsperantoRevolucioNewMonographs Recent monographs about Esperanto movement in the Russian empire and USSR published in Russia.


Moisej Bronshtejn, Russian writer and journalist.
Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association.

The British Library’s exhibition Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is open until 29 August 2017, telling the extraordinary story of the Russian Revolution from the reign of Russia’s last Tsar to the rise of the first communist state. You can also read articles from our experts exploring some of the themes of our exhibition on our Russian Revolution website

22 July 2017

Esperanto as an Asian language

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Linguists are undecided about Esperanto: is it closer to the Asian or the European languages? Its vocabulary is certainly more European, but its structure is similar to that of some Asian languages. In any case, Esperanto started to be known in Asia at almost the same time that it appeared in Europe.

The first mention of Esperanto in Japan was in the late 1880s in relation to a brief flurry of interest in another artificial language, Volapük. It really arrived in 1906 in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. A body of learners, advocates, and users emerged which was notably diverse right from the outset. A sample of some of the early participants serves to illustrate this: Futabatei Shimei, the Russophile and novelist, encountered Esperanto in Vladivostok. His textbook, translated from Russian, was one of the most popular of the early ways to learn. Osugi Sakae, one of the most significant Japanese anarchists, was in prison in 1906 when the first Esperanto meetings were being held, but while there he began to study the language and on release was a very active participant, writing the first Japanese to Esperanto translation, setting up an Esperanto night school, and introducing the language to a number of expatriate Chinese students who went on to form the foundation of the Esperanto (and Anarchist) movement in China.

EsperantoAZIOGarciaDSC_5226

 Cover of: Victor Garcia. Three Japanese Anarchists: Kotoku, Osugi and Yamaga (London. 2000). YC.2000.a.4780

In 1907 a Chinese-language magazine was published in Paris with the title Hinshi-gi (New Century), in which anarchist Chinese students called for Esperanto to come into general use in China. The first Esperanto courses in China began in 1906 in Shanghai.

EsperantoAzioOrientaAzioDSC_5227 Five issues of Orienta Azio in the British Library's collection. Hand written, hand-bound, printed on Washi paper. (Tokyo, 1913-1914). YF.2016.a.7793

And then there was Ho Chi Minh, a young revolutionary who was travelling the world. In 1915 he was living in Crouch End, London, and he learned Esperanto at around this time. He would go on to make use of it in 1945 when the Vietnamese radio service informed the world of the state’s declaration of independence.

EsperantoAzioTagkajeroDSC_5228

Title page of the collection of poems of Ho Chi Min Tagkajero en prizono (Prison Diary) in Esperanto translation (Hanoi, 1966). YF.2016a.7793.

Esperanto was introduced into Korea by students who had learnt it in Japan. However, it would take too long to describe Esperanto’s fortunes in every country in Asia.

Just after the First World War, one of Esperanto’s early heroes was the Japanese Nitobe Inazo. When the League of Nations was established in 1920, Nitobe became one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League. He became a founding director of the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (which later became UNESCO).

EsperantoAzioNitobeInazoDSC_5229Title page of:  Nitobe Inazo. From Bushido to the League of Nations. Edited by Teruhika Nagao (Sapporo, 2006) YD.2006.a.3871

In August 1921, Nitobe took part in the 13th World Congress of Esperanto in Prague as the official delegate of the League of Nations. His report to the General Assembly of the League was the first objective report on Esperanto by a high-ranking official representative of an intergovernmental organization. Although the proposal for the League to accept Esperanto as their working language was accepted by ten delegates, mainly from Asian countries, the French delegate used his power of veto to block the issue.

In honour of Nitobe, a regular feature of World Esperanto Congresses over the last twenty years has been the Nitobe Symposium, in which well-known linguists discuss global language problems.

EsperantoAzioNitobeSimpozioDSC_5230Cover page of: Al justa lingvopolitiko en Azio. Towards Equitable Language policy in Asia. (Tokyo, 2008). YF.2009.b.2191

Esperanto also prospered in China during the same period. Among its supporters was the famous writer Lu Xun. The Chinese Esperanto movement soon became linked to other progressive cultural movements, and the language was learned by numerous intellectuals and revolutionaries.

EsperantoAzioLuSinCover of: Lu Sin, Elektitaj noveloj. (Hong Kong, 1939). YF.2010.a.24509

Esperanto speakers accompanied Mao Zedong on the Long March, and after visiting an exhibition about Esperanto, Mao wrote, “If Esperanto is used as a means for presenting ideas which are truly internationalist and truly revolutionary, then Esperanto can and should be studied.” Mao’s comment opened the way for Esperanto in China.

EsperantoAzioMaoDSC_5231

 Covers of: Prezidanto Mau Zedong. Pri popola milito (Pekino, 1968) YF.2014.a.16361 and Vortoj de Prezidanto Mau Zedong (Pekino, 1967) YP.2011.a.378

In the meantime Esperanto had found adepts in most other Asian countries. Some phenomena are difficult to explain. Iran is one of the Asian countries where the movement has done well from the early 20th century onwards throughout all political upheavals and revolutions. Both the Shah and the Ayatollahs approved its use, and the national movement celebrated its centenary in 2016. And what about Pakistan? The national Esperanto association formally joined the World Esperanto Association in 1978, and continues to hold conferences and publish textbooks in Urdu. For more detailed information about the movement in other Asian countries the best source is Gvidlibro pri Esperanto-movado en Azio (Guidbook to the Esperanto movement in Asia) by Chieko Doi (Yokohama, 1995; YF.2009.a.6158; Cover below).

EsperantoAzioGvidlibroDSC_5233

There is no country in Asia without its Esperanto speakers, from Mongolia to Myanmar, including Kazakhstan, Indonesia, the Philippines and others. An Asian congress of Esperanto takes place every three years. The 8th Asian Congress took place in the Chinese city of Quanzhou in November 2016 with participants from 20 countries. The 9th Congress will be in the Vietnamese city of Da-Nang in 2019. In addition, the Chinese and Japanese are the most prolific publishers of books in Esperanto. The Chinese Esperanto magazine El Popola Ĉinio (From People’s China;  ZF.9.a.6337)  is produced by the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing which has also published almost 200 books in Esperanto. China Radio International  broadcasts regularly in Esperanto and recently has also started producing films for distribution on the Internet.

EsperantoAzioInfanajlibrojDSC_5234Books for children published in China and South Korea, from Esperanto Collections of the British Library.

Considering the strength of the Esperanto movement in Asia, on the day when the 102nd World Esperanto Congress is opening in Seoul we can certainly claim that Esperanto is as much an Asian as a European language.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association.
Inumaru Fumio, Vice President of the Commission for the Asian Esperanto Movement of the World Esperanto Association.

14 April 2017

La Majstro mortis!

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L. L.Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto, died in Warsaw on 14 April 1917. Warsaw was at this time occupied by German troops as the war in Europe still raged and the Russian empire was already engulfed in the flames by the February Revolution.

“Normally the funeral of Ludovic Zamenhof would have been attended by at least representatives of the Esperanto Movement from most European countries; war made this impossible”, notes Marjorie Boulton  in her book Zamenhof, Creator of Esperanto.

ZamenhofBoultonTitle-page and frontispiece of Zamenhof, Creator of Esperanto by Marjorie Boulton (London, 1960). 10667.m.13

Here she describes the funeral procession:

At three o’clock on April 16th the funeral procession set out from 41 Krolewska Street, with those members of the family who were able to come, the Warsaw Esperantists and many of Zamenhof’s poor patients. Foreign Esperantists were represented by Major Neubarth and one other German. As slow procession passed through the Saxon Square and along Wierzbowa Street, Bielanska Street, Nalewki Street, Dzika Street and Gesia Street to Okopowa Street and the Jewish cemetery, the slow black serpent grew longer and longer.

At the funeral Polish poet and Esperantist Leo Belmont spoke warmly about Zamenhof in Polish and the president of the Polish Esperanto Society, poet and translator Antoni Grabowski  paid tribute to the great man in Esperanto.

ZamenhofFunebraProcesio Funeral procession from La Lastaj Tagoj de D-ro L.L. Zamenhof kaj la Funebra Ceremonio. Eldonis Adolfo Oberrotman kaj Teo Jung (Cologne, 1921). YF.2008.a.12302

The news about the death of Zamenhof spread worldwide. In the memorial service in London at Harecourt Church on 6 May 1917, Belgian Esperantist Paul Blaise, married to British Esperantist Margaret Jones and living in England as a refugee, read from the yet unpublished translation of Isaiah by Zamenhof himself.

ZamenhofTheBritishEsperantistNEW The British Esperantist. Issue for May 1917. Announcement of Zamenhof’s death. P.P.4939ka.

The most famous poem about the death of Zamenhof ‘La Majstro mortis’ (The Master is Dead) was written by the Hungarian Esperantist, professional actor and writer Julio Baghy, then a prisoner of war in Siberia.

ZamenhofLaMajstromortisNEW.4322
 La Majstro mortis by Julio Baghy and the first tomb of L.L.Zamenhof in Warsaw (From La Lastaj Tagoj de D-ro L.L. Zamenhof kaj la Funebra Ceremonio).

The extraordinary life of Zamenhof, his language and his ideas attracted and will attract a lot of attention now and in the future. In 2007 the sixth edition of the biography of Zamenhof (first published in 1920) by prominent Swiss Esperantist Edmond Privat was published by the Universal Esperanto Association, based in Rotterdam. On this day, 100 years after the death of Zamenhof, Esperantists from Albania to Zimbabwe and many non-Esperantists remember his life and achievements. Zamenhof’s testament from his poem ‘La Vojo’ (‘The Way’), written in 1896, is still echoing in their memories:

Straight forward, with courage, not veering nor stopping
Pursue we this Way of our own:
Ne’er faileth the water, by dropping and dropping,
To wear through a mountain of stone:
For Hope, and Persistence, and Patience together
Are watchwords in all kinds of weather;
So, step after step – such is ever the story-
We’ll come to the goal of our glory.

L.L. Zamenhof ‘La Vojo’ translated by D.O.S.Lowell, published in Star in a Night Sky. An Anthology of Esperanto Literature (London, 2012). YKL.2014.a.2549

ZamenhofPrivatNEW

Above: New edition of Edmond Privat, Vivo de Zamenhof (Rotterdam, 2007; YF.2013.a.18901), Below: new books about the life of Zamenhof (from France, Poland and Lithuania).

ZamenhofNewbiographis

Olga Kerziouk, Curator, Esperanto studies

 

27 January 2017

Lidia Zamenhof, a cosmopolitan woman and victim of the Holocaust

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Lidia_Zamenhof_(1904-1942)Photo

Lidia Zamenhof  (photo above from Wikimedia Commons) was a teacher, writer and translator and the youngest daughter of Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, the creator of the international auxiliary language Esperanto. She was born on 29 January 1904 in Warsaw, then in partitioned Poland, and later became an active promoter of both the Esperanto language and the Bahá’í Faith.

Her story is told in Wendy Heller’s biography Lidia: the Life of Lidia Zamenhof Daughter of Esperanto.

[LidiaWendyHeller

Cover of Lidia : the Life of Lidia Zamenhof, Daughter of Esperanto. (Oxford, 1985) X.950/44270

After completing her university studies in law in 1925, Lidia Zamenhof dedicated herself totally to working for Esperanto and the humanitarian ideals connected with it. In the same year, during the 17th World Esperanto Congress in Geneva in 1925, she became acquainted with the Bahá’í Faith  of which she was soon to become an ardent promoter. Bahá’í is a relatively recent religion, founded in 19th-century Persia, which emphasizes the spiritual unity of the entire human race. Its founder, Bahá’u’lláh, taught that all religions come from the same divine source, and that the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society, and of the nature and purpose of life.

As a professional Esperanto instructor Lidia Zamenhof made many promotional trips and taught over 50 Esperanto courses in various European countries using progressive, immersive teaching methods. In addition, she was a contributor to major Esperanto periodicals such as Literatura Mondo (ZF.9.b.266 ) and others. Her topics ranged from the teaching and promotion of Esperanto and the development of the Esperanto movement to studies on Polish literature and the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. Her Esperanto translation of Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz was published in 1933. She also translated several volumes of Bahá’í writings, in particular John Ebenezer Esslemont’s Baha’u’llah and the New Era (London, 1923; 04504.g.27. ), considered the foremost introductory textbook to the religion, as Bahá’u’lláh kaj la Nova Epoko.

LidiaZamenhofQuoVadis     Title-page of Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz, translated by Lidia Zamenhof (Amsterdam, [1934]) 12593.d.5.

In 1937 Lidia travelled to the USA for a teaching tour jointly sponsored by the Esperanto Association of North America and the American Assembly of the Bahá’í Faith. She was forced to leave when her visa expired at the end of 1938, and ignoring the pleas of her friends she returned to Poland shortly before the start of the Second World War. Less than a month after the German invasion, the Zamenhof home in Warsaw was bombed; Lidia was arrested together with her brother Adam, his wife Wanda, and her sister Zofia. Adam Zamenhof was shot in January 1940 as one of 50 prisoners killed in retaliation for a Resistance assault on a Nazi officer, while Lidia, Zofia and Wanda were released from prison after five months and sent to live in the Warsaw Ghetto. There Lidia endeavoured to help others receive medicine and food. She was offered the chance to escape by Polish Esperantists as well as by a German Bahá’í soldier, but not wanting to endanger others she refused.

LidiaPORKELATAGOJ

Title-page and frontispiece of the collected works of Lidia Zamenhof Por ke la tagoj de la homaro estu pli lumaj (Antwerp, 2008). YF.2010.a.2370

Her last known letter states: “Do not think of putting yourself in danger; I know that I must die but I feel it is my duty to stay with my people. God grant that out of our sufferings a better world may emerge. I believe in God. I am a Bahá’í and will die a Bahá’í. Everything is in His hands.” However, she died as a Jew, an Esperantist, and a member of the Zamenhof family. Hitler had made his opinion clear in Mein Kampf that Jews intended to use Esperanto to rule the world, and the head of the Gestapo in Warsaw received orders directly from Berlin that the Zamenhof family should be arrested.

The last that is known of Lidia is described by Esther Schor in her book Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language (New York, 2015; awaiting shelfmark).

Toward the end of September 1942, at the age of thirty-eight, she was among the 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto who were packed into cattle cars and sent to Treblinka. (Zofia had gone voluntarily, perhaps thinking she could be of service as a medic.) Eva Toren, then a fourteen-year-old girl who had met and befriended Lidia that spring at a Ghetto seder, would survive to remember Lidia’s final hours in Warsaw. In 1993 Toren recalled the Nazis whipping, shouting, and pushing Jews into the Umschlagplatz, where they stood without water from early morning until evening. In the afternoon, the Germans and their Polish minions arranged the Jews in lines five deep for the selection. Lidia was several rows behind Eva, and they exchanged a pregnant glance. When she was selected for deportation, Lidia “walked regally, upright, with pride, unlike most of the other victims, who were understandably panicked.” On the fifth of September, Lidia Zamenhof boarded the train to Treblinka, where, upon arriving, she was killed in the gas chamber.

LidiaZamenhofKONGRESO

Lidia Zamehof (second from the left) at the 22nd World Esperanto Congress in Oxford, 1930 (photo from: http://www.tolkiendil.com/langues/hors_legendaire/langues_primaires/valeur_educative_esperanto)

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto


Further reading/References:


Hugh C. Adamson and Philip Hainsworth. Historical dictionary of the Bahāʾā Faith. (London , 1998). HLR 297.93

Zofia Banet-Fornalowa. La Familio Zamenhof. (La Chaux-de-Fonds, 2000). YF.2008.a.17135

 

15 December 2016

The dangerous language

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Can there be anyone in the world more harmless than an Esperanto enthusiast? Probably not. Speakers of the international language Esperanto are mainly interested in languages, foreign cultures and world peace. However, since the first book of Esperanto was published in 1887 they have lived through recurrent periods of intolerance and repression.

This is the subject of Ulrich Lins’ book Dangerous Language whose new revised edition in Esperanto has just been published as La danĝera lingvo – Studo pri la persekutoj kontraŭ Esperanto. This book has also been translated into German (1988), Italian (1990), Russian (1999), Lithuanian (2005) and Korean (2013), besides an earlier draft into Japanese in 1975, and will soon appear in English.

DangeraLingvoDuEldonojDSC_3718Lins, Ulrich, La danĝera lingvo. Studo pri la persekutoj kontraŭ Esperanto (Gerlingen, 1988; YA.1989.a.13531). First edition (on the left); New revised edition (Rotterdam, 2016; YF.2016.a.19474) on the right.

 The last century was no less bloody and bellicose than earlier ones, but it was also the century of Esperanto, whose speakers represented an idealistic view that all peoples, languages and cultures were of equal value, a view apparently seldom shared by national leaders. From the earliest days of Esperanto, governments were quick to see potential dangers to their authority in the message spread by Esperanto.

As early as February 1895, when the language still had its base in the Russian Empire, the magazine La Esperantisto  was blocked by the censor because it included an article by Leo Tolstoy, an enthusiastic supporter of Esperanto.

LaEsperantisto1895 La Esperantisto. February issue with Tolstoy’s article Prudento au Kredo? P.P. 4939

In Nazi Germany the authorities immediately understood that the internationalism, pacifism and equality which went hand in hand with Esperanto were the exact opposite of everything proclaimed by the Nazi ideal of a superior “Aryan” race destined to rule over other “Untermenschen” (“subhumans”). Added to this, in Mein Kampf (Vol.1, Chap.XI) Hitler expressed his belief that Esperanto would be used by the Jews to achieve world domination. When the Jews were deported from Warsaw, the Gestapo received specific orders from Berlin to search for the descendants of Zamenhof (the creator of Esperanto). All three of his children died in the concentration camps. The only survivors were his daughter-in-law and her teenage son, Zamenhof's grandson, who still lives today in Paris.

In Japan, too, the imperial police force immediately recognized the progressive (and potentially communist) tendencies of the Esperanto movement. In the first decade of the 20th century the police began to take an interest in the relationship between anarchists and Esperantists, and in 1934 the Japanese Proletarian Esperantist Union was shut down.

It is harder to understand the reasoning behind the persecution of Esperanto speakers in the USSR under Stalin. Immediately after the Russian Revolution there was a flowering of languages in the new Soviet Union. New alphabets were created, all minority languages were recognized, and there was support for Esperanto.

However, in Stalin’s time Soviet society underwent a period of closing in on itself and suspecting everything which potentially had links with other countries. Esperantists were people who corresponded with foreigners, or at least were in a position to do so. As Sergej Kuznecov wrote in the afterword to the previous edition of La danĝera lingvo, the treatment of Esperanto speakers can be seen as the measure of the totalitarianism of every regime. In the purges of the 1930s, many outstanding Esperantists perished even though they were sincere communists: Yevgeny Mikhalski, Vladimir Varankin, Ernest Drezen  and others too numerous to list here.

SovetiajEsperantistojMurditaj

 Books by Drezen,  Varankin and Mihalski from the British Library’s Esperanto collection.

La danĝera lingvo describes in rather less detail the persecutions against Esperanto and its speakers in Spain, Portugal, Italy and other European regimes. Esperantists were even executed in those countries, most notably in Cordoba in Spain, when the Fascist army occupied the town in 1937 and shot all members of the local Esperanto group.

The difficulties in reviving Esperanto organizations after Stalin’s death are described in detail by Lins. The Association of Soviet Esperantists (ASE) was founded in 1979, but remained under strict government control for years. Even in some Western countries it was necessary to wait for the collapse of former regimes; the Portuguese association was only revived in 1972.

ASE-SEJMEsperantoBlog
Memoirs about ASE and SEJM (Soviet Esperantist Youth Movement) by prominent  Esperantists in the British Library’s collection.

In 2017 UNESCO will be commemorating the centenary of the death of Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof. It is fitting that as that year approaches we should also remember the persecutions which have taken place against Esperanto and Esperanto speakers over the past century.

It is surprising now to realise that Zamenhof’s concerns were not primarily linguistic. He was far more interested in bringing an end to wars between different peoples, and in creating conditions for international understanding and peace. He lived through a period of pogroms and major wars in Europe, and it is not by chance that the present period of increasing xenophobia and intolerance in many parts of Europe and the world reminds us of events in Zamenhof’s lifetime. This shows yet again that the road leading towards progress and civilization is neither straight nor easy, but Esperanto remains a tool of vital importance in making Zamenhof's vision of world peace and mutual understanding a reality.

Renato Corsetti, Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics, La Sapienza University Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto.

Further reading

Garvía Soto, Roberto. Esperanto and its rivals : the struggle for an international language. (Philadelphia, [2015]) m15/.11262

Richardson, David. Learning and Using the International Language. (Washington, 2004). YD.2007.a.8182

 

 

31 August 2016

Shakespeare’s role in the development of Esperanto

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In the summer of 1887, Lazar Ludwik Zamenhof published a 40-page brochure in Russian entitled Mezhdunarodnyi iazyk: predislovie i polnyi uchebnik  (‘International Language.  Foreword and Complete Textbook’), under the pseudonym  Dr. Esperanto, meaning “One Who Hopes” in his new language. Soon “Dr. Esperanto’s language” became known simply as “Esperanto”. This obscure, self-published booklet by an unknown author achieved a remarkable success in a surprisingly short period of time.  Over the next three years it was translated into Polish, French, German, Hebrew, English, Swedish and Yiddish, and very quickly Zamenhof began to receive letters from enthusiasts written in the new language. In 1888 he published a second book with further discussion of his language project and a number of short reading passages.

DuaLibroZamenhof D-ro Esperanto, Dua Libro de l’Lingvo Internacia (Warsaw, 1888). 12906.aa.48.

Literary translations, as well as original poetry, played an important role in Esperanto from the start. What better way for the author to test the limits of his new language, and to develop it where it was found lacking? But in addition, Zamenhof wanted to prove that Esperanto was not merely a convenient tool for business and tourism, but a complete language capable of translating the most exalted masterpieces of world literature. In his first two booklets he concentrated on short and relatively simple texts: the Lord’s Prayer, a passage from Genesis, proverbs, a fairy tale by Hans Andersen, a short poem by Heine.

In the literary traditions that Zamenhof knew best – Russian and German – Shakespeare was a dominating presence. His works were admired by Pushkin and Turgenev, Goethe and Schiller, and in 1875-77 three volumes of Shakespeare’s complete plays appeared in Polish translation, edited by Józef Ignacy Kraszewski . Zamenhof may also have seen Polish performances of Hamlet in Warsaw, where he lived as a student and later as a struggling ophthalmologist.

HAMLETPOLISHTRANSLATIONA Polish translation of Shakespeare  such as Zamanhof m ight have encountered, Dzieła Dramatyczne Williama Shakespeare (Szekspira), translated by J. I. Kraszewski (Warsaw,1875-1877). 11765.g.3. Tom II. Hamlet. p. 393

Humphrey Tonkin, in his essay “Hamlet in Esperanto” (2006) points out that: “Shakespeare and Shakespeare translation played a special part in the national revivals of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: for several languages of central Europe, translations of his plays marked their emergence as fully credentialed literary languages – Macbeth in Czech (1786), Hamlet in Hungarian (1790), for example.” Under these circumstances, it was inevitable that Zamenhof should feel his new language could not be considered fully mature until it had shown itself capable of translating the complex language of Shakespeare. Hamleto, reĝido de Danujo  came out only seven years after the publication of Zamenhof’s first brochure – no longer at his own expense, but as No. 71 in the series “Biblioteko de la lingvo internacia Esperanto”, printed by W. Tümmel in Nuremberg. The second edition, in 1902, was brought out by the prestigious French publishing house Hachette.

HamletoZamenhofCover page of: Shakespeare, William.  Hamleto, reĝido de Danujo, tradukis L. Zamenhof. (Paris,1902). 011765.ee.13.

“As early as 1894, Zamenhof published a complete translation of Hamlet,” writes the Esperanto poet William Auld  in the journal Monda Kulturo. “It was his first extensive literary translation and among other things it served to prove incontestably the elasticity and power of expression of this merely seven-year-old language. It rooted the iambic pentameter firmly in Esperanto, and established criteria allowing us to measure and assess the success and poetic qualities of all subsequent translations.”

In her biography Zamenhof, creator of Esperanto (London, 1960; 10667.m.13.), Marjorie Boulton   points out that Esperanto was already sufficiently developed to rise to the challenge of translating Shakespeare’s work without the need to coin a significant amount of new vocabulary for the purpose. Zamenhof’s Hamlet according to Boulton is “perhaps competent rather than brilliant, but it is a good translation – readable, speakable, actable, generally a fair rendering of the original.” Seventy years later, L. N. M. Newell (1902-1968) made a new translation of the play. His Hamleto, princo de Danujo, published in 1964, is more faithful to the original, but less successful at reproducing the spirit of the work. As Tonkin says in his essay, “Newell is for reading, Zamenhof is for acting.”

HamletoNewell William Shakespeare, Hamleto: princo de Danujo; traduko de L. N. M. Newell. (La Laguna, 1964). YF.2007.a.1982

Zamenhof’s translation of Hamlet  was only the first of many translations which were to follow. 21 out of Shakespeare’s 38 plays have been translated into Esperanto over the decades, some of them more than once, while his complete Sonnets were translated by William Auld, one of Esperanto’s most outstanding original poets, besides being a prolific translator, essayist, and candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature.


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Sonnet 18 in parallel English and Esperanto, from William Shakespeare, The sonnets = La sonetoj , el la angla tradukis William Auld. (Pizo, 1981). YF.2007.a.2014. 

Particularly notable are Otelo, la maŭro de Venecio translated by Reto Rossetti (La Laguna, 1960), Somermeznokta sonĝo (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) by Kálmán Kalocsay (1967; YF.2007.a.2023), and most recently two translations by Humphrey Tonkin: La vivo de Henriko Kvina (Henry V: 2003;  YF.2008.a.28552) and La vintra fabelo (The Winter’s Tale;  Rotterdam, 2006; YF.2008.a.28551).


TONKINTRADUKOJ Translations by Humphrey Tonkin from the British Library’s collections


Anna Lowenstein, writer and journalist, author of the historical novel The Stone City,  a member of the Academy of Esperanto

References

William Auld, ‘La enigmo pri Hamleto’,   Pajleroj kaj stoploj. (Rotterdam, 1997), pp. 235-249. [Reprinted from Monda Kulturo 13. 1965]. YF.2006.a.30902

 The translator as mediator of cultures, edited by Humphrey Tonkin, Maria Esposito Frank. (Amsterdam, c2010). YC.2011.a.8838

The exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts, which looks at productions of Shakespeare’s plays throughout the centuries and around the world, continues until 6 September at the British Library.

25 July 2016

Esperanto and Fair Communication

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On 26 July 1887 the censor’s office in Warsaw approved the publication of a booklet with the title Mezhdunarodnyi iazyk. Predislovie i polnyi uchebnik, translated into English in 1888 as Dr. Esperanto’s International Tongue. Preface and Complete Method (British Library 12902.aa.55.(1.)). Since then Esperanto speakers throughout the world have celebrated 26 July as Esperanto Day. The slogan on this year’s posters is Fair Communication. The marriage between Esperanto and Fair Communication has now lasted for over a century.

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Fair Communication Poster for 2016 (Designed by  Peter Oliver)

Many people over the centuries have attempted to create their own language, but their reasons for doing so have not always been the same. In the Middle Ages the motive was religious. The 11th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen invented her Ignota Lingua to speak with the angels. After the Renaissance, the motive was more likely to be philosophical. A typical example was the language created by Francis Lodwick. In 1652 he published his work The Ground-Work, Or Foundation Laid, (or so intended) For the Framing of a New Perfect Language: And an Vniversall or Common Writing. And presented to the consideration of the Learned.

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 The beginning of Francis Lodwick’s, The Ground-Work… (London, 1652).  623.g.4.(1.)

At the time of the French Revolution the emphasis was more on languages with a practical application, and that tendency increased during the 19th century, when inventions such as the steam train and the telegraph led to an explosion in fast travel and new ways of communicating. To all this Ludwik Lejzer Zamenhof, the author of the 1887 booklet, added a social dimension. As a Jew he had experienced ethnic struggles and violence in his native city of Białystok: pogroms by Russians against the Jews, rebellions by Poles against the Russians, nationalistic self-assertion by the Germans and so forth. What a wonderful thing it would be, thought the teenage Zamenhof, if all men could be brothers and stop killing one another! A naïve hope of course, but if you were living now in Syria or Congo, probably that would be your greatest desire as well.

At all events, the ideals of the brotherhood of peoples and a just form of communication survived throughout the last century and are still relevant today. Naturally these ideals have been promoted by Esperanto speakers, but also by others. Let’s take a look at several books published in recent years.

In 1996 Esperanto speakers in collaboration with other organizations inaugurated a series of symposia named after  Inazo Nitobe, one of the Under-Secretaries General of the League of Nations in the 1920s, who proposed that the use of Esperanto should be debated in the General Assembly. His proposal was vetoed by France, who at that time considered itself to be the keeper of the world’s international language. The Nitobe Symposia are outstanding occasions for a meeting between linguists, communications experts, and high-ranking politicians, who have various approaches to the language problem in international organizations and in international life in general. Participants in the first symposia (Prague, 1996), included linguists and translators alongside representatives of the EU, UNESCO and the UN. The proceedings were published under the title: Towards linguistic democracy: proceedings of the Nitobe Symposium of International Organizations, ed. Mark Fettes and Suzanne Bolduc (Rotterdam, 1998; YF.2006.a.31177). The main topic in all contributions was linguistic democracy, not only between nations but also within nations. At that time the struggle of national minorities was a very pressing issue.

 
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Proceedings of the Nitobe Symposia in British Library's Collections

The same topics came up again in the following symposia. For example, the third symposium was entitled: Towards a new international language order (proceedings, edited by Lee Chong-Yeong and Liu Haitao, published Rotterdam, 2004; YF.2006.a.31175). Since the symposium was held in Beijing, and since the Chinese participants tended to emphasise China’s new role as a major power, speakers at the seminar were more interested in international relations rather than linguistic democracy within countries.

An important contributor to these seminars was Robert Phillipson, joint winner of the Linguapax Prize in 2010, and well known as an advocate for linguistic democracy. His book Linguistic Imperialism (Oxford, 1992; 93/06193) received numerous undeserved criticisms from defenders of the status quo. His second book English-Only Europe? Challenging Language Policy (London, 2003; YC.2007.a.282) was translated into Esperanto with the title Ĉu nur-angla Eŭropo? Defio al lingva politiko (Rotterdam, 2004; YF.2006.a.29602; photo below). For years his arguments have been debated in Europe, but his observations have made little headway among European politicians, who prefer to listen to his opponent Philippe Van Parijs. In his book Linguistic Justice for Europe and for the World, (Oxford, 2011; YC.2012.a.10920), Van Parijs prefers to support the use of English at the international level with a tax for those who profit from its use. Van Parijs has been another participant at the Nitobe symposia.

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The French and Italians have also added their voices to the debate. One of these has been the famous French linguist Claude Hagège, recipient of a number of awards and other honours. He defends the French language in the name of linguistic and cultural diversity, for instance in his book Combat pour le français: au nom de la diversité des langues et des cultures (Paris, 2006; YF.2009.a.32989), where he also defends Esperanto as ‘one of the best allies of plurilingualism’. He repeats this assertion in his interview with Esperanto speaker François Lo Jacomo: Esperanto kaj lingva diverseco: intervjuo kun Claude Hagège (Rotterdam, 2006; YF.2008.a.6597).

EsperantoBlogHagegeDSC_2173Books from the British Library's Collections

Italians such as Andrea Chiti Batelli, for many years an important functionary at the European Parliament, have taken the lead in the struggle to restore the standing of the traditional Greek-Latin-Romance culture within Europe. He wrote the booklet Politika hegemonio kaj lingva hegemonio en Eŭropo (Rotterdam, 1995; YF.2006.a.29616) together with Pierre Janton.

For Esperanto speakers, 26 July is the occasion for reflecting on these events.

Renato Corsetti (Professor Emeritus of Psycholinguistics at La Sapienza University in Rome, former president of the World Esperanto Association, General Secretary of the Academy of Esperanto.)

06 January 2016

Indefatigable Pioneer, Zealous Propagandist, Organizer, Financier, Leader

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 The title of my blog is taken from ‘An Appreciation’ for an extraordinary Englishman, published for his funeral in the winter of 1916. Captain Harold Bolingbroke Mudie, born in January 1880, was accidentally killed in France “while on active service” on January 6, 1916.

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 “H.B.M”. An Appeciation. (Letchworth, 1916). 010854.de.56

The carefully-prepared Appreciation is published in two languages, English and Esperanto, which reflects how important they both were in Mudie’s life. English was his mother tongue in which he received a good education; he used it working as a successful financier. At the age of 22 he discovered another language, Esperanto, and fell in love with it. Soon he became an ardent advocate for the promotion of Esperanto worldwide. In November 1903 he founded the gazette The Esperantist with a financial guarantee from William Thomas Stead. Fourteen issues were published; all of them are now available in Project Gutenberg. W.T. Stead’s editorial, which opens the first issue in 1903, is worth reading. The spirit of the pioneering period of the Esperanto movement, full of hope and belief that the solution for the multilingual diversity of humankind was finally found, is alive there.

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   The Esperantist Issue 1 1903 (British Library P.P.4939.k.)

In January 1906 The Esperantist united with The British Esperantist, published by the Esperanto Association of Britain. Mudie joined its editorial committee, and took part in the first Esperanto congress in 1905.

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The British Esperantist Issue 1 1905 (P.P.4939.ka)

Then in 1907 Mudie himself became one of three legendary Esperantists (together with John Pollen and George Cunningham) who organized the very memorable Third World Esperanto congress in Cambridge. La Kongresa Libro (012902.eee.22) is one of the most interesting in the history of the Esperanto movement. It includes not only a lovely description of Cambridge and its wonderful colleges, and a translation of ‘God save the Queen’ but gives also menus and advertisements, including ones for whisky and cigarettes called ‘Esperanto’!

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 Viski Esperanto from La Tria Universala Kongreso de Esperanto. Kongresa Libro. (London, 1907). 012902.eee.22

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Postcard  La Trio por la Tria (from Wikimedia Commons)

In 1903 Mudie was among the founders of the London Esperanto Club. In 1908 he became the first president of the newly-founded World Esperanto Association. A good linguist and an excellent orator, he was also a member of the Lingva Komitato, the precursor of the current Akademio de Esperanto. Alongside these numerous activities he found time to translate from Latin. The British Library holds his translation of Swedenborg, La dogmaro pri la vivo por la Nova Jerusalemo (London, 1908; 3716.de.19), published by the Swedenborg Society.

Even during his holidays he used Esperanto a lot. A very interesting report in two languages is published in The Esperantist vol. 2, nr 6 for 1905 entitled Mia libertempo:

But, for my present readers, it is not well that I should describe this city, but better that I should hasten to beautiful Malta, the fruitful island whose past history has been so bloody and full of interest. Even ere the ship had come to a standstill in the harbour I recognised our energetic comrades, Dr. Busuttil and Messrs. Agius and Dominic Chiantar. These three devoted friends kindly drove me over the beautiful surroundings, and took me into the luxurious hall of the Knights of St. John of olden time, and into various churches. Will they kindly accept my renewed thanks! And ever the same language, intelligible without difficulty! But it was not in Malta that I terminated my Esperantic wanderings, for, after a broiling visit to the interesting Syracuse, I found in Palermo the genial Dr. Nalli, Secretary of the Sicilian Society. He kindly devoted a whole day to me, and proved that he who has not visited Palermo has missed a city of many charms. There also I enjoyed an excellent lunch à la Palermo, while my fellow tourists lost more than two hours waiting in vain at a French hotel.

“As A Leader – noble and large-hearted – he commanded the respect of all his colleagues, who will greatly miss his capacity and calm judgement” (from ‘Appreciation’). Harold Bolingbroke Mudie is buried in the cemetery of Forges-les-Eaux . To commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death, French and British Esperantists are gathering today at his grave in this small town in Normandy. This blog is my poppy laid on his tomb.

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Bolingbroke Mudie. Caricature from 1912 (From Wikimedia Commons)

Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto studies

15 December 2015

The Man who Hoped: Celebrating Esperanto Book Day

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 Type the name “L.L. Zamenhof” into the British Library’s online catalogue and dozens of results will appear: books, articles, journals and scores. As time passes and the centenary of Zamenhof’s death (14 April 1917) approaches, more and items will be added to our collections, as the fascinating personality of the creator of Esperanto and his language keeps attracting the attention of more scholars worldwide.

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Portrait of L.L. Zamenhof (from The Life of Zamenhof by Edmond Privat, London, 1931). 010795.a.77

The most recent academic study in the catalogue is Esperanto and its Rivals (Philadelphia, 2015; m15/.11262). Its author, Roberto Garvía, Associate Professor of Sociology at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, starts with the story of George Orwell’s not-so-happy stay in Paris with his aunt Nellie Limouzin and her partner, radical Esperantist Eugene Adam, known as Eugeno Lanti. The second, and longest part of the book is dedicated to Esperanto and the third to its very diverse users worldwide. Part I is dedicated to Volapük  and Part IV to “Ido and its Satellites”.

Another book by Esther H. Schor, Bridge of words: Esperanto and the dream of a universal language (New York, 2015) will join the collection soon. The classic work by Umberto Eco La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (Rome, 1993; YF.2005.a.22144), which dedicates some pages to Esperanto, is also available to readers in English translation by James Fentress as The search for the perfect language (Oxford, 1995; YC.1996.b.4086) and, of course, in Esperanto too, translated by Daniele Mistretta: La serĉado de la perfekta lingvo: en la Eŭropa kulturo (Pisa, 1994;  YA.2001.a.15737).

Many people worldwide have found and keep finding their “perfect language”. For them it is Esperanto. They use it often or even on a daily basis, as Zamenhof intended:  for international communication.  Some Esperantists share their experiences with wider public in blogs and books. The fervent Irish Esperantist, educationalist and environmentalist, Maire Mullarney published Esperanto for hope in 1989; it was republished in 1999 as Everyone’s own language (YK.2002.a.6844), followed by another book, Maire Mullarney argues about language (Galway, 2004). Some authors are seeking a special mission for Esperanto in the modern world. The German Esperantist Ulrich Matthias published a book Esperanto - das neue Latein der Kirche [Esperanto: the new Latin for the Church] (Messkirch, 1999; Esperanto version, Esperanto: la nova latino de la eklezio, Antwerp, 2001. YF.2009.a.26086).

And, of course, we have quite a few biographies of Zamenhof himself. Some of them were translated into English, such as The Life of Zamenhof by Edmont Privat  translated by Ralph Eliott. Others were written in English first, e.g. Zamenhof, Creator of Esperanto by Marjorie Boulton. (London,1960; 10667.m.13). No lack of “secrets revealed” either! La kâsita vivo de Zamenhof [The Hidden life of Zamenhof] (Tokyo, 1978; YF.2007.a.19318) by N.Z. Maimon looks as the ideology of Homaranismo  developed by Zamenhof. 

Original works and translations by Zamenhof are part of our collections, as well as La Unua Libro  and his correspondence (Leteroj de L.L.Zamenhof, Paris, 1948; ZF.9.a.6229). More than 900 photos related to Zamenhof, his works and his family, are collected in the Granda Galerio Zamenhofa published by Adolf Holzhaus (1892–1982) at his own expense (Helsinki, 1973; YA.2001.b.4401).

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Selection of biographies of L.L.Zamenhof from our collections (Photo by Olga Kerziouk)

Our Esperanto Collections are also rich in material about the whole Zamenhof family. Two of Zamenhof’s younger brothers became ardent Esperantists themselves and tried their hand at poetry and translations. Leono Zamenhof (1875-1934) translated Aleksander Świętochowski’s  drama Aspazja into Esperanto as Aspazio (Paris, 1908; also available as an e-book in Project Gutenberg, where more than 50 books in Esperanto are digitised). Feliks Zamenhof, known as Fez, wrote poetry in Esperanto and translated too. A collection of his works Verkoj de Fez: plena Verkaro de Dro Felikso Zamenhof, edited by Edvardo Wiesenfeld,was published in Budapest in 1935. Recently the Polish researcher Marian Kostecki collected and published the poetical works of both brothers in one book, Esperanta verkaro de fratoj Zamenhof (Czeladź, 2006?; YF.2008.a.25231).

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Photograph  of Felix Zamenhof  from Verkoj de Fez. Budapest, 1931. YF.2014.a.2787

L.L. Zamenhof and his wife Klara had three children, Adam, Sofia and Lidia, all of whom perished in the Holocaust. The best known is Lidia, who was a keen teacher of Esperanto and traveller. Lidia became a dedicated follower of the Bahai Faith after meeting the American journalist Martha Root. The tragic life of Lidia Zamenhof, who died in Treblinka, is the subject of the American writer Wendy Heller’s book Lidia: the life of Lidia Zamenhof, daughter of Esperanto (Oxford, c1985; X.950/44270)

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Photo of Lidia Zamenhof (From Wikimedia Commons)

Recently Zamenhof himself became the hero of a novel by the American writer Joseph Skibell, A Curable Romantic (London, 2010; Nov.2013/1041) – together with Sigmund Freud! Esther Shor published an interesting review in The New Republic.

December 15, the birthday of L.L. Zamenhof, is also known  as Esperanto Book Day. Keen reader Maire Mullarney wrote in her book Everyone’s own language: “Welcomed at first, later detested by dictators, undermined by the jealous, Esperanto grew steadily, and now is in excellent health”. Use the opportunity to visit the British Library and to find more about Lingvo Internacia and its creator.


Olga Kerziouk, Curator Esperanto studies

References/Further reading

Zofia Banet-Fornalowa, La familio Zamenhof.(La Chaux-de-Fonds, 2000). YF.2008.a.17135

Aleksander Korĵenkov, “Homarano”: la vivo, verkoj kaj ideoj de d-ro L.L. Zamenhof. La 2a eldono, korektita kaj ampleksigita. (Kaliningrad, 2011). YF.2011.a.23688

Zbigniew Romaniuk and Tomasz Wiśniewski. Ĉio komenciĝis ce la Verda : pri Ludoviko Zamenhof, lia familio kaj la komenco de Esperanto = Zaczęło sie na Zielonej. (Łódż, 2009).YF.2010.a.417

Henk Thien. La vivo de D.ro L.L. Zamenhof en bildoj. (s.l., 1970) YA.2001.b.4400

Halina dokumento pri la studentaj jaroj de L.L.Zamenhof.  (Osaka, 1977). YF.2008.a.17335

La lastaj Tagoj de d-ro L.L.Zamenhof kaj la Funebra Ceremonio. (Kolonjo-Horrem, 1921). YF.2008.a.12302

 

26 July 2015

Letter from Donbass miners

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“Dear Comrades,” the letter began, “On the 18th anniversary of the October revolution, we send you our greetings.” Dated 10 October 1935 and signed by Soviet Esperantists working in the Donbass region of the Soviet Union, the letter endeavored, via the formulaic ardour of Stalinist homage, to “tell how the miners used to live before the revolution, and how they live now freed from the capitalists, thanks to the Communist party and the genius of the revolutionary leader Lenin, and the wise leadership of our beloved comrade, friend and leader Stalin.”

Translated from Esperanto into English and entitled “From a Russian Miner” (although it was in fact sent not from Russia but from Postyshevo, now Krasnoarmiisk, in Ukraine), this hearty missive appeared in the pages of a 1936 issue of La Laborista Esperantisto (The Worker Esperantist; British Library P.P.3558.ibl.) – the periodical of the British Section of the global Esperantist organization known as Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (S.A.T.) [World Anational Association]. As the standard inside cover of La Laborista Esperantisto reliably explained, S.A.T.’s primary aim was “to utilize in practical ways the international language, ESPERANTO, for the class aims of the working class throughout the world.”  S.A.T. insisted that Esperanto allowed workers to share ideas and educate one another; to collaborate in pursuit of the revolutionary aims of the worldwide proletariat; and to foster “a strengthened feeling of human solidarity” among Esperantist workers otherwise separated not merely by spatial distance, but also by national borders, languages, and citizenship regimes.

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For its own part, “From a Russian Miner” carried the imprimatur of a regional outpost of the Union of Soviet Esperantists. When in 1921 the Union of Soviet Esperantists was established in Petrograd, its founding members devoted themselves to the popularization and deployment of Esperanto as a means of fostering cultural exchange, revolutionary networks, and friendly relations between Soviet workers and their comrades abroad. The global solidarity of proletarian Esperantists would thus advance the global solidarity of the proletariat as a whole.

Throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s, Soviet Esperantists sought to realize this broad internationalist goal largely through the increasingly regulated practice of what the Soviets called “workers’ correspondence.” Soviet Esperantists adapted this method of propaganda, committing themselves to flooding foreign news outlets and workers’ associations with carefully crafted missives like the one that appeared in La Laborista Esperantisto in 1936. The point was to extol Soviet achievements and squash anti-Soviet “rumours” propagated by deceitful capitalists – and to do so via the international auxiliary language of Esperanto. Esperantist leaders abroad could then, in the hoped-for scenario, translate and reprint the Soviet Esperantists’ letters in the foreign press, thereby transmitting official Soviet ideology to workers abroad.

EsperantpForWorrkers           An Esperanto class for workers, From Esperanto dlia rabochikh:  uchebnik dlia kruzhkov i samoobrazovaniia (Moscow, 1930), p. 56.

By the time “From a Russian Miner” appeared, the Union of Soviet Esperantists was in crisis. On the eve of the Stalinist terror that would devour many of the organization’s members, the problems that bedevilled it  ranged widely. While an analysis of these problems goes beyond the scope of this blog entry, “From a Russian Miner” highlights certain flaws in the Union’s  approach to fostering global proletarian solidarity under the conjoined red star of the Soviet Union and green star of Esperanto.

“From a Russian Miner” adopted the format of a letter, but reads like a singsong recitation of talking points issued from a bureaucratic office. As promised in its opening paragraph, it first enumerates the horrors and indignities of miners’ pre-revolutionary life in tsarist Russia, and then celebrates their  joyful new Soviet life. Living and working conditions prior to the revolution, the letter explains, were miserably inhumane as workers inescapably sacrificed themselves to “create riches for an army of parasites.” Production was not only punishing and humiliating, but also shamefully primitive “as nothing was known of machinery.” Clean drinking water was denied the sickened workers, as was even a rudimentary education.

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Soviet poster "Work conditions of miners and workers in the Don Basin" (image from Wikimedia Commons)

The narrative arc marches stalwartly onward in such fashion to the revolutionary climax: the dawning of the “bright and sunny day” that is the contemporary Soviet Union. The life of the Soviet miner, the letter explains, is one of fresh air, clean water, and nutritious food. Electricity illuminates the workplace and modern machinery powers industrial production. First-aid stations, bathhouses, classrooms, and a Palace of Culture ensure good health and enlightenment. “In comparison with our past life, our present life is scarcely credible,” the letter explains.  “Every miner has his little house surrounded with greenery. He has a vegetable garden, pigs, birds, and perhaps a cow.” All of this is owed, the letter concludes, to the wise revolutionary leadership of Lenin and Stalin.

No doubt the so-called “workers’ correspondence” that Soviet Esperantists transmitted abroad in the 1920s and 1930s did energize and inspire foreign workers, igniting their imagination of everyday Soviet life as a model to be emulated globally. In this way, Esperanto did serve the Soviet Union in pursuit of its internationalist aims. Yet the formulaic missives authorized by the Union of Soviet Esperantists for foreign consumption also obstructed the organization’s stated effort to facilitate relationships between Soviet workers and their comrades abroad. Taking “From a Russian Miner” as a representative example of permissible Soviet Esperantist correspondence in the Stalinist 1930s, it is impossible to overlook not only its unnuanced presentation of an entirely unblemished Soviet life, but also its unrelenting monologic approach. The letter’s gaze focuses resolutely inward while its tone is conspicuously incurious about life abroad. “From a Russian Miner” poses no questions to foreign Esperantists, nor does it invite questions from them. The letter’s portrait of Soviet working life is numbingly generic and depersonalized; the collective workers’ “we” is narratively flattened into the faceless beneficiary of the October Revolution. The letter thumps with triumphal celebration of Soviet achievements, but palpably lacks the human touch of the Soviet citizens who wrote it.

“From a Russian Miner” concludes with a plea for a reply from fellow Esperantists abroad – “a letter by which we can feel the brotherhood and solidarity of the world’s workers.” It asks, in other words, for something that “From a Russian Miner” itself failed to deliver.

Brigid O’Keeffe

Brigid O’Keeffe is an Assistant Professor of History at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York.  In June 2015, she joined The Reluctant Internationalists project at Birkbeck College as a Visiting Fellow. During this time, she conducted research at the British Library, using its extensive collection of materials that document the global history of Esperanto and Esperantism.