L.L. Zamenhof and the Hope of EsperantoStuff You Missed in History Class
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- 29 Mar 2021
Esperanto was developed by a Jewish man living in the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s a story linked to both persecution and profound hope. Zamenhof hoped to bring the world together through a shared second language.
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Welcome to stuff you missed in History Class A production of I Heart Radio. Hello and welcome to the podcast. I'm Tracy Wilson. And I'm Holly Fahri. Way back in twenty eighteen, I was having a conversation with a friend and the constructed language Esperanto came up in that conversation and I had that little thought, hey, maybe we should do a podcast on that sometime. And now, more than a year later, we have come to that sometime. I know it was from twenty eighteen because we were in a restaurant in Philadelphia, which means that was not during the pandemic and twenty was the last time I was there.
Anyway, I really did not know all that much about Esperanto when I got into this. Aside from the fact that it's a language that was intentionally created to be easy to learn, somehow I associated it with the 1960s and although that was one of its peaks in popularity, but it's also a way older language than that. The other big thing that I associated with Esperanto was the scene in Twin Peaks, where Gordon Cole goes to talk to Shelley at the Double R Diner and says he's going to engage in some counter Esperanto.
And that was just my whole my whole knowledge of Esperanto and that right there, mine was largely from Animaniacs. Oh, yeah, yeah.
Because that's how it's it's usually referenced is like a casual side mentioned in pop culture.
Yeah. Yeah. So we're having I mean, we're we're talking about this in a fun context in this moment. But parts of this episode are really, really tragic because we're talking about a language that was developed by a Jewish man living in the Russian empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And then the speakers of that language were persecuted and even killed under fascist and totalitarian regimes ensue and after World War Two. But at the same time, this is also a profoundly hopeful and idealistic story, because it's one that's about trying to bring the whole world together through a shared second language.
Most of the languages that people on Earth use today are categorized as natural languages, meaning that they evolved over time as people used them, often bringing in influences from other similarly evolving languages as they went. People generally learn to communicate through those languages before formalizing all of the rules associated with them. We have talked on the show before about how grammar came to be a thing and people started applying rules and how if you look at older texts, you'll see things like completely style choice based spellings and grammatical usage and the use of of various punctuation.
So a language does not mean, by the way, to be spoken to be considered a natural language. For example, most sign languages are classified as natural languages, constructed languages, or Conlon's can also evolve over time.
And many of them do. But they start with someone intentionally planning out the languages rules, including things like grammar, syntax, vocabulary and pronunciation.
Sometimes this creation is to develop a language for a fictional world like Klingon or Rakhi or Tolkien's Elvish languages. But constructed languages can also serve more practical purposes. For example, constructed international auxillary languages try to give speakers of multiple natural languages a common language to communicate with. Esperanto is one of these auxillary languages. Also, there are whole linguistics discussions about the interplay between natural and constructed languages and whether these labels are even accurate. So this is just the broadest of overviews.
Philosophers around the world have proposed ideas about constructed languages for millennia. One of the earliest surviving examples of a constructed language was created by previous podcast subject, Hildegard von Bingen, who started constructing a language that she called Lingua Ignatiev, or hidden language in the 12th century. Although her efforts and the surviving records of that language are both incomplete.
After we did that episode on her, we got several notes saying the folks were surprised. We had not mentioned that. So now we have. There have been naturally arising lingua franca and Creoles and pigeons and other shared ways of communicating, that's also been going on for millennia. But by the 19th century, people were also trying to intentionally create languages that would make it easier for people who didn't share a common language to communicate with each other.
Before the development of Esperanto, the most popular such language was Bolac, which was developed in the early 80s by German priest Johann Martine Slier Vola Pook drew from English and from romance languages.
But with enough changes that those origins weren't all that recognisable to the people trying to learn in Vola, Pook also had a complicated set of grammar rules. So overall, it was not considered to be easy to learn. But there were hundreds of Vola Pook clubs and more than 300 text books written in 25 different languages during the peak of its popularity.
That peak was in the late 1980s, and one of the big reasons for its decline after that point was the introduction of Esperanto. In 1887, Esperanto creator was a Jewish opthamologist known as Lazarre Ludvik Zamenhof, who went by the initials LML professionally.
Zamenhof was born in Bialystok on December 15th, 1859. His name from birth was Eliazar. The name he went by morphed a few times over the years before becoming those initials that he used as an adult. And you'll also see those names transliterated with a number of different spellings.
Also, that date of his birth is in the Gregorian calendar. At the time, the Russian empire was still using the Julian calendar and that put his date of birth as December 3rd, 1859.
Today, Bialystock is in Poland, but at the time it was part of the Russian pale of settlement, which was the region of czarist Russia in which Jewish people were allowed to live. Consequently, its population was about 70 percent Jewish. The other 30 percent primarily included Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians who were ethnically Polish, Russian, German and Belarusian. People from these different groups didn't necessarily share a common language. And in his childhood, Zamenhof saw a lot of tension and strife among these disparate groups of people that were all living in Bialystok.
Some of this came from religious divisions, but Zamenhof thought that a major factor was that lack of a common language. People just couldn't understand each other. Zamenhof Father Marcus was a language teacher. And in 1873, when Lasar was about 13, the family moved to Warsaw so that he could take a job teaching at the Warsaw gymnasium. He was actually one of only three Jewish instructors there. Marcus's position also meant that Lazarre could attend the school tuition free.
By this point, Lasar was following in his father's footsteps in terms of studying languages. The Zamenhof family spoke Yiddish and Russian at home and in their day to day lives, and they knew Hebrew as a religious and scholarly language. In addition, Lazarre learned Polish, German, Italian, French and English. He had also started to learn Aramaic, Latin and Greek. He had taught himself those last two because they were required for admission at the Warsaw gymnasium, but they had not been taught at his school in Bialystok.
Marcus Zamenhof seems to have wanted the family to assimilate with Russian society as much as possible. And in 1898 he started working as a fencer for the czarist regime. He was censoring Yiddish and Hebrew publications. That same year, Lazar's started working on a way to bridge the divisions that he saw in the world around him. He had this idea for a universal language that would be easy enough to learn that people could pick it up as a second language without too much trouble.
He and some of his friends from school started working on this project in December of 1878, even though he was a language instructor. Lazar's father did not seem to have approved of this work. In some accounts, someone told Markus that laser's focus on a universal language was a sign of mental illness. In others, the fear was that this project would distract Lazarre from his studies. But either way, Lazar decided to study medicine rather than languages at the University of Moscow.
And when he left for university in 1879, his father made him leave his notebooks with his language, notes behind and later burned them.
We need to set up a little bit of context before we move on to the next part of the story of Esperanto, and we will do that after a quick sponsor break. Planning on watching the game tonight? Well, here's a way to make it even more interesting, a risk free bed of up to two thousand and twenty one dollars. When you place a bet with William Hill sports book, every sports moment becomes even more interesting. Every slapshot, every bucket, every punch, every play.
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L7 Hoft was born during the reign of Tsar Alexander the Second, and as Emperor of Russia, Alexander had instituted a series of reforms. This included emancipating Russia's serfs. Some of these reforms had also affected the Russian Empire's Jewish population. As we noted earlier, Jews could live only in the pale of settlement. But Alexander had loosened those restrictions, at least somewhat. He had also repealed an assimilation program that forced Jewish men into compulsory military service. None of this erased antisemitism by any stretch of the imagination, but at least in some ways, there had been a little bit of progress.
But then in 1881, Alexander was assassinated and rumors spread that his assassination had been part of a Jewish plot. This led to widespread pogroms and other violence against Jewish communities. Alexander's successor, Alexander the third, was deeply anti-Semitic and blamed his predecessor's relative liberality toward the empire's Jewish population for both the assassination and the violence that followed.
Zamenhof returned to Warsaw from Moscow during this wave of anti-Semitic violence. He might have been motivated out of concern for his family's safety and his father's finances in the wake of the pogroms. He didn't go back to Moscow after this point. He enrolled in the University of Warsaw and he finished his medical degree there in 1884.
The violence the Zamenhof witnessed in the early eighties, including in Warsaw, led him to advocate for the establishment of a Jewish homeland. But unlike most other Zionists, he didn't think this homeland necessarily needed to be in the Lavant. He knew Jews, Christians and Muslims all saw sights within that region as sacred. And as a result, he thought that trying to establish a Jewish nation there could lead to further strife. Instead, when he first started writing about this, he wrote about the possibility of buying a tract of unoccupied land along the Mississippi River in the United States and settling there.
So this is a little bit of a tangle. Land along the Mississippi would not really have been unoccupied, and that was the idea. It was getting unoccupied land. But this idea also was not very well received within the Jewish community. Zamenhof ultimately renounced Zionism, but before he did, his later publications on the subject focused more on the idea of a Jewish nation in the general region where Israel is today. During these same years, Zamenhof also promoted the idea that this proposed Jewish state needed to have a modern language to bring together and unify its population.
In his mind, the Yiddish, already being spoken by many Ashkenazi Jews where he lived, did not exactly fit that bill. He thought of Yiddish as a jargon rather than a fully developed language. And on top of that, people spoke different forms of Yiddish, depending on where they lived. And Sephardic Jews were more likely to speak Judaism, Spanish also known as Ladino rather than Yiddish. So as he was studying medicine, Zamenhof was also trying to work out a way to modernize Yiddish into what he saw as a more robust and functional language.
As a side note, at almost exactly the same time, another man, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, was also working on uniting the Jewish people through a common language. In this case, this language was Hebrew, which was mostly being used for religious texts and observances rather than for daily conversation. At that point in 1881, Ben-Yehuda announced that he would speak only Hebrew among his friends and family, and in 1884 he established a Hebrew language newspaper.
His efforts went on from there. Zamenhof later said that he had supported Ben-Yehuda early efforts with the revival of Hebrew, although the specifics of that aren't really documented anywhere. After finishing his medical degree, Zamenhof spent some time working as a doctor. Before long, he decided to specialize and then started an internship in ophthalmology at Warsaw Jewish Hospital. He also spent some time studying in Vienna. After a couple of years in which he moved from place to place, he went back to Warsaw and opened an ophthalmology office in his home, and he moved away from the idea of modernizing Yiddish and back onto his project of developing a universal language that could unite all of humanity.
While living in Warsaw, Zamenhof met Clara Zill Bernick and they fell in love. She encouraged his efforts to develop a universal language, and the two of them used it to write each other love letters. Clara's father was well-off, and when she and Lazarre got married, her dowry was ten thousand rubles. The intent was that this money would help Zamenhof establish his ophthalmology practice, but with his father in law's.
And instead, he used some of it to publish a 40 page booklet on his universal language in 1887, this first booklet was published in Russian and editions in Polish, French and German, followed soon after English and Swedish editions came out in 1889 in English. Its title read, Dr. Esperanto is international language, introduction and Complete Grammar. Esperanto came from the language itself, meaning hopefull one. Eventually the language became known as Esperanto, and in Esperanto this publication became known as unusually Broo or first book.
Here is how Zamenhof described the world he imagined being possible in this first book. If everyone spoke the shared language of Esperanto, quote, the impassable wall that separates literatures and peoples would at once crumble into dust. And all that was written by another nation would be as acceptable as if in our own mother tongue reading would prove common to all and it would advance education, ideals, convictions, tendencies. The whole world would be as one family. To that end, Zamenhof drew from languages that would already be familiar to people in much of the Western world.
It used the Roman alphabet with the words themselves, mainly coming from Latin and Germanic and Slavic languages. This actually also comes up as a criticism of Esperanto that it's not nearly as easy if you don't already speak a romance, Germanic or Slavic language that if you do, you can piece together meanings of things relatively easily.
But if you don't, it's a lot harder. So beyond these recognizable roots, Zamenhof also tried to make the language itself really simple and easy to learn. It had only 16 basic rules, with no exceptions. Every letter had only one pronunciation, and every sound was represented by only one letter. So in Esperanto, there's none of this. Is that a long or a short a nothing like are you and are you g h being pronounced the same way like nonissues?
This language had no silent letters or irregular verb endings, and the stress always went on the next to last syllable of the word. Esperanto also had only one definite article. Le, which was used regardless of gender number or case words in Esperanto, also signaled which part of speech they were. Singular nouns ended an o plural nouns and O.J. adjectives ended in a and adverbs and e verbs in their basic form and in ie with past tense ending in its present tense and as and future tense in OS.
Rather than creating a vocabulary of tens or hundreds of thousands of words.
In this first publication, Zamenhof created nine hundred root words that could be modified with prefixes and suffixes to create a vocabulary of between 10000 and 12000 words. So, for example, the prefix muhl IMHO means opposite and the root Boehner means good. So Albana means bad or Durov means hard, so madura means soft.
The idea was that people would only need to learn a smaller number of roots and then modify them through these prefixes and suffixes to create a much wider, more complete vocabulary.
We've used the past tense here because we're talking about Zamenhof first edition of the book. But Esperanto still exists. People still speak it today. The number of word roots has grown from about 900 in that first book to as many as nine thousand or even more. We will talk more about how Esperanto grew and spread after another sponsor break. Have you heard the stories of the party man? He's a local legend in Los Angeles, sometimes seen stalking the streets and is supposedly responsible for scores of people going missing from Griffith Park over the past few decades.
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L Zamenhof hope was that this universal language would give people from around the world a second language in common, it wouldn't be the official language of any nation. So there would be no country that could claim ownership of Esperanto and no native speakers to look down on people who weren't as fluent. There are a few people who do speak Esperanto as their first language kind of scattered around the world. Today, though, Zamenhof also saw this as facilitating all kinds of exchange among different cultures.
Rather than needing to learn multiple languages to speak to people from different countries, you'd only need to learn Esperanto. And rather than translating works of literature into numerous languages, they could all be translated into one language Esperanto. The first book contained this pledge at the end quote I, the subscriber promised to learn the international language invented by Dr. Esperanto if it be shown that ten millions of persons have given publicly the same promise. Reportedly, only about 1000 people returned these pledge forms to Zamenhof.
But soon Esperanto clubs were being established in western Russia and in other parts of Europe. Esperanto quickly became more popular than the constructed language of Vola Pook that we mentioned earlier. And we also mentioned that Vola Pook had a reputation for being hard to learn, and there's a cute nod to it and that the Esperanto word for gibberish is Vola Picasso. Well, Esperanto clubs are being established around Europe. Zamenhof was really struggling financially. He was trying to promote his universal language while also trying to maintain his ophthalmology practice.
Eventually, money got so tight that he sent his wife and their first child, Atem, to live with her father for a while so he could look for a place where they could afford to live. They had a daughter, Zofia, in 1889, and at that point Clara's father gave them some money under the condition that they come back to Warsaw. They did, although they eventually moved to the smaller town of Grodner, which had a lower cost of living.
In 1894, Zamenhof tried to reform his original rules for Esperanto. Its alphabet use diacritical marks on some of the letters, and most of the combinations of letters and accent marks didn't exist in any other languages. So this caused the problem of printers not having them in their type. They were harder for people with low vision to read, and they didn't exist in Braille at all. It would be a few more years before Subfield Cart and Harold Delenda would develop a Braille alphabet for Esperanto.
The Esperanto community resisted these revisions, though, thinking that it would kind of be like starting over. The diacritical marks are still part of the alphabet, and especially in old printed texts. There have been a variety of workarounds for them.
I would say some of these workarounds are more successful than others, like I was reading, trying to read one old old printed thing and it just looked like these letters were identical when really some of them were supposed to have accents over them and some of them were were not. Zamenhof started an Esperanto magazine called Esperanto and he started translating literature in other languages into Esperanto. Once that translation was an excerpt of Leo Tolstoy, his reason or faith. But then because of Tolstoy's writing on civil disobedience, this translation led to Esperanto still being banned in Russia and it ultimately folded.
However, translating works of literature, including Hamlet, really helped Zamenhof flesh out Esperanto vocabulary as he coined new root words to fit the needs of the text. In 1897, Zamenhof and his family moved back to Warsaw. He re-established an ophthalmology practice once again in his home, and he maintained it for the rest of his life. Many of his patients were among Warsaw's poorest people who lived in the city's Jewish ghetto.
Even though Zamenhof had moved away from that idea of Zionism and from the idea of creating a common language specifically for the Jewish people, he hadn't at all lost sight of the ongoing anti-Semitism and marginalization that Jewish people were facing. He really recognized that Jews were not seen as Russian, and he thought that no matter how many generations passed, that was always going to be the case.
In 1991, he published Hillel ism, a project in response to the Jewish question, and that was named for Rabbi Hillel, the elder, who was born around 110 BCE. Many of Hillel's teachings were rooted in empathy, with one of his most widely quoted being Do not do to your neighbor that which is hateful to you. Initially, Hillel ism reframed Jewish identity to focus on Universal. Ethics rather than Jewish law, with rituals having a cultural rather than a religious meaning, basically it tried to create a religiously neutral bridge between Jewish identity and Russian life.
Zamenhof also saw Hillel ism and Esperanto as connected with Esperanto being part of that religiously neutral bridge.
Also, in 1991, North America's first Esperanto club was established. That happened in Montreal in 1984. The language was exhibited at the St. Louis Exposition and lasering. Clara welcomed another daughter named Lydia, a group of English and French Esperanto that's people who are fluent in Esperanto, also gathered to plan their first international meeting that year as well. That meeting took place in Bologna, Soumaya, France, in 1985.
Delegates at the 1995 meeting ratified a document that came to be known as the Declaration of Bologna, which specified that Esperanto was neutral and that it belonged to no one, and that the only authority of the language was the book Fundamental to Esperanto, which Zamenhof published in 1995. Esperanto had really taken off among French intellectuals, and those French popularity had actually created some issues. France was still reeling from the political scandal known as the Dreyfus Affair after Jewish Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus was falsely convicted of treason in 1894.
This conviction had caused a massive schism in France, with the a.D.A facade faction spreading all kinds of deeply anti-Semitic propaganda. This is actually on the list for a future episode.
At some point, because of all the furor, many of the French intellectuals who had become fascinated with Esperanto tried to distance themselves from Zamenhof, his Jewishness and the ideas of Hillel ism that he was promoting. Even so, Zamenhof was inducted into the French Legion of Honor in 1985.
Violent pogroms also continued in the Russian Empire during these same years, killing at least 2000 Jewish people between 1983 and the start of the Russian Revolution of 1955. In 1936, Zamenhof spoke about these programs in Geneva, calling for Esperanto to become a shared language to try to break down religious barriers. By this point, he had also revised his ideas of Hillel ism into something that he called Holmer Banistmo that roughly translates to humanities. And although this contained a lot of the same concepts that Hillel ism had Zamenhof Homogenise Humanism as a neutral ethical framework to unite all of humanity in a lot of ways, Esperanto and Holmer Inese MO went hand in hand.
Esperanto was a shared language to unite the world, and humanism was, in Zamenhof words, a neutral human religion which would unite not just Jews and Gentiles, but also theists and atheists into one global community with a shared set of ethical principles that really, really had a lot in common with that earlier idea of Hillel ism, but with a slightly different focus. So although part of the Esperanto community shared this sense of global ethics and global unity, others, including a lot of the French intellectuals that we mentioned earlier, were really more focused on the language itself and its practical uses.
In 1997, Zamenhof St. Louis to be front to represent him and the language at the delegation for the adoption of an international auxillary language. But rather than representing Esperanto, which he was expected to do, DBO anonymously proposed that the committee adopt a different language. It was Itou, which was Esperanto for Offspring, to both described Itoh as the revised version of Esperanto, and it eventually came out that he was the one who had submitted it to the committee.
This sparked the first of several schisms within the Esperanto community. As the egoists broke away from the separatists, Zamenhof was really shocked and disheartened by Debow France actions and by the division that followed. But also in 1997, Zamenhof was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the first of 14 times. Multiple different parties made the nominations over the years. The first nomination came from 12 members of the British Parliament. Other nominations included forty two members of the French parliament in 1910, painter and Esperanto promoter Felix St.
Michel and Charles Robert Richet, who was himself awarded the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1913. The Universal Esperanto Association, or UEA, was founded in 1988 and the language continued to spread around the world. It was introduced into Japan after the Rousso Japanese war and it became something of a fad there in 1995 and 1996. Eventually, the Japanese religion Omoto adopted Esperanto as its language.
Dr. Vilhelm Molly proposed renaming Neutral Morrissette, which was a small, neutral patch of territory in Western Europe as a Mikio or place of friendship in Esperanto. And he commissioned an Esperanto national anthem in nineteen eighty.
Germany eventually annexed neutral Morrissette and it became part of Belgium after World War One, even though the idea was for Esperanto to be any nations like official language. The idea that this tiny neutral patch of territory might use Esperanto as an official language was kind of captivating to people. Zamenhof had been a heavy smoker for a lot of his life, and by the nineteen teens he was showing symptoms of heart disease. As he became increasingly ill, his son Adam took over part of the medical practice.
But beyond that, Zamenhof just didn't want to slow down Khama, an e-mail and Esperanto. We're just so deeply important to him. He kept promoting and writing about them and adding more and more works of literature onto his list to translate into Esperanto.
Zamenhof traveled to Paris in 1914 for an Esperanto convention, and he got trapped there when nations started closing borders at the start of World War One, a network of Esperanto that's helped him get back home via Scandinavia.
That same year, a bill was introduced into the U.S. Congress to teach Esperanto in the schools of Washington, D.C. Although that got stuck in committee, there were also people in the US who were advocating for the teaching of Esperanto to break down racial barriers, including black journalist and essayist William Pickens.
In 1916, Zamenhof brother Alexander took his own life after being conscripted into the Russian army. Alexander had been really deeply traumatized by what he had witnessed as a doctor earlier during the Rousso Japanese war. L.L. Zamenhof died the following year on April 14th of 1917, at the age of 57. Clara kept up with his work after his death, corresponding with Esperanto, some promoting the language she died of cancer. On Dec. six, 1924.
Zamenhof had conceived of Esperanto as a neutral language, and the Declaration of Boulogne had affirmed that neutrality. But after Zamenhof death and after the end of World War One, a range of social and political organizations adopted and advocated for the language. These included socialists, labor organizations, vegetarian organizations and members of the Baha'i faith. Well, there had always been people of various religions and political alignments who had learned and advocated for Esperanto. In the 1920s. It became increasingly associated with leftist political and social movements.
Meanwhile, the Universal Esperanto Association advocated for Esperanto with the League of Nations, a proposal for Esperanto to be adopted as the league's official language was blocked by France, which argued that French was already a universal language. Brazilian Ambassador Rouda Rio Branco blocked a resolution that Esperanto be taught in schools, calling it a language of, quote, ne'er do wells and communists.
I love the idea that France thought French was a neutral language. Well, like, this is our universal language. We certainly speak it. Yeah, well, I didn't get into it in this outline. We'll probably talk about it in the behind the scenes.
But like there's also been a lot of conversation about like but now English is the universal language and I'm like, come on, really writes When the Russian Revolution began in 1917, Russian Esperanto is generally supported it and eventually the Bolshevik government officially supported the language, in turn the Esperanto Union of the Soviet Republics. You'll see that as SEIU organized itself according to Bolshevik Principles, which led to a schism between the EU and the U.S.A., U.S.A. was like, this goes against the idea of being politically neutral.
However, when Joseph Stalin came to power, Esperanto fell out of favor in the Soviet Union and by 1936, there were mass arrests of Esperanto hosts, the EU's leaders were executed as separatists were persecuted in imperial Japan as well. In these years in Germany, Heinrich Himmler shut down the German Esperanto Association in 1936.
Overall, the Nazi regime saw the language and its associated movement as radical and dangerous. Reich minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels called Esperanto, quote, the language of Jews and communists. Adolf Hitler also condemned the idea of Esperanto or a similar universal language in his book, Mein Kampf, describing it as a tool that Jews would use to take over the world.
The Nazi regime persecuted and killed Esperanto, including those with and without Jewish ancestry. World War Two continued to strain the idea of Esperanto as being politically neutral. Many Esperanza's were anti fascist, and the movement had always been focused on these principles of peace and international understanding. Networks of Esperanto states offered to aid people who were being persecuted under the Nazi regime. But at the same time, national German Esperanto organizations were established during these years that excluded Jewish members and otherwise tried to appease the Nazis.
And in the 1930s, Nazi party member Anton Vote was the vice president of the UEA, the Zamenhof family. We're all victims of this violence and persecution. The Zamenhof home in Warsaw was bombed in 1939, and afterward Adam Zofia and Lydia Zamenhof, as well as Adam's wife Wanda, were all arrested. Wanda was eventually returned to the Warsaw ghetto and she and their son went into hiding and ultimately survived the Holocaust. So, as we noted earlier, Adam Zamenhof was a doctor and he had become the director of a hospital, though was a pediatrician.
Lydia was a writer and a translator. She had converted to the Baha'i faith and had traveled all over the world studying and teaching and lecturing. The American Assembly of the Baha'i Faith had invited Lydia to the United States to teach Esperanto classes in 1937. But when it turned out that teaching those classes violated the terms of her visa, her request for an extension was denied and she was forced to return to Europe. In nineteen thirty eight, Nazi officers shot Adam Zamenhof to death during the Palmira massacre in January of 1940.
Lydia and Zofia Zamenhof were both executed at the Treblinka death camp. Zofia reportedly went to Treblinka voluntarily, possibly because she did not want to leave her patients.
Although Esperanto had already spread to many other parts of the world before World War, to many of its speakers that its largest organizations had been in Europe and in the face of these horrific tragedies that really took some time before the language started to revive again after the war, the Esperanto community had also faced yet another schism after Swiss Esperanto ists undermined a planned move of the headquarters from Geneva to London. A new organization, the International Esperanto Legault IBL, was established in London and most of the national Esperanto organizations left the UEA and joined it.
The two organizations were merged after the war. The World Esperanto Congress was convened in 1947. That was the first time that it had been held since nineteen thirty nine people started advocating for Esperanto at the United Nations as a way to encourage and facilitate international communication. In 1954, the general conference at UNESCO passed the Montevideo resolution, which supported Esperanto as an international auxiliary language. Poland hosted the World Esperanto Congress in 1959, which was the first time that the Congress had been held in that part of Europe since the World War two years.
The first feature films in Esperanto were produced in the 1960s. There was an Garraway in 1964 and in Cuba, which is also called Incubus, which starred William Shatner in 1966. He apparently learned his lines phonetically.
Esperanto progress was complicated in some parts of the world during these years.
In China, for example, Esperanto were imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s, while the Chinese government simultaneously used the language for propaganda purposes. Even though Zamenhof had created the language with the idea that it would bring peace and unity. In the 1960s, the U.S. Army used it for war games in which the enemy combatants had their own uniforms and spoke Esperanto. As part of this, the Army put out a publication. Called Esperanto the aggressor language, the army eventually dropped this program because it turns out that even though Esperanto is meant to be easy to learn, it is still time consuming to learn a whole language for war games.
Esperanto, whose popularity started to wane a bit in the latter part of the 20th century. But since then, the Internet has made it a lot more accessible to more people. By the early twenty first century, it was also becoming more popular in parts of the world whose official languages aren't based in Latin. So places like China and parts of Africa. The language app Duolingo issued the first version of its Esperanto course in 2014. I took a tiny number of those while working on this episode.
Not enough to hold on any sort of conversation. But I did do a few, it is clear that online classes and apps have led more people to learn at least some Esperanto like Tracy, but exact numbers are really pretty unclear. Estimates range all the way from 100000 speakers to a couple of million.
The Universal Esperanto Association has members in more than 120 countries, but it also seems like in some ways the online spread of the language is both a blessing and a curse. More people are learning the language, but not necessarily with the connection to Zamenhof ideals of unity and bridge building. Like back when most people learned Esperanto almost exclusively through clubs and pen and paper correspondence courses, there were directories of people who would welcome other Esperanto into their homes. It was directory still exists, but it's just it's not as feasible to do something like that when a huge number of people are learning a language through an app without necessarily that shared cultural context.
The Internet's enthusiasm for Esperanto also means that resources in Esperanto can way outnumber resources for other languages that have a lot more speakers. The one hundred Fifth World Esperanto Congress was supposed to be held in 2020 in Montreal, but because of the pandemic that was postponed until 2022. Instead, a series of virtual events took place from June to September of 2020. Also December 15th, L7 Hoffs birthday is now Zamenhof Day.
I enjoyed working on this episode, even as the tragic parts are really hard to work on. Yeah. Do you have listener mail in Esperanto for us? I do this.
It's not in Esperanto, but it is from Carolin. It's about our 1918 flu episode and Caroline says, Hello, lovely ladies. I hope you're doing well and enjoying some lovely spring weather. I'm writing this email right after the release of the first part of revisiting the 1918 flu pandemic. While I understand that there's a lot to cover there, especially in the overlap of the current pandemic. I was disappointed and a little shocked that you did not discuss how both pandemics affect those with chronic illness, especially in regards to mask mandates.
Throughout the episode, I noted three opportunities for you to do so where you didn't. I understand that you had a lot to cover and I do not believe this was done maliciously. So I thought I'd take the time to do so. I could spend all day discussing how the pandemic has negatively impacted us with chronic illness. But I wanted to specifically address mask mandates because this, in my view, is the most problematic in the social realm, although I could tell you to try to be compassionate with this issue.
There were times where it felt like you slipped into stereotyping those who don't wish to wear masks, a selfish ne'er do wells, although there's no denial that this is some of the population. This, again, completely dismisses situations where people do have very serious but personal reasons for not wearing a mask. The remainder of the email talks a lot about Caroline's own personal medical history. So I'm not going to read all of it. But thank you for sharing that with me, Caroline.
So first, I apologize if I made anyone who is chronically ill or disabled feel excluded or talked over or dismissed in working on that episode. There are some valid reasons that people have for not wearing masks. And at the same time, there are also a lot of non disabled people who are using disability as a shield to do crap like print out fake Americans with Disabilities Act notices and like harass store employees and generally make things unsafe for everyone. And it outrages me.
And I didn't feel like it was something that I could like. Bring into the episode without feeling like I was giving. Acceptability or weight to the people who are doing that, because overwhelmingly the disabled and chronically ill people in my life feel more unsafe because of that type of behavior of people who are like using disability as a shield to not wear masks just because they don't want to do it and want to be jerks to others. Also. There is just not a lot of data yet about disability and chronic illness in the 1918 flu pandemic beyond the chronic respiratory diseases that came up several times in episodes like tuberculosis.
And part of that is because the 1918 flu was happening during the eugenics movement during a time when overwhelmingly disabled and chronically ill people were living in special homes and special schools or being cared for at home in a way that they weren't in the public eye very much also like a shortcoming within the field of history.
This just isn't something that historians have looked at a whole lot recently. And the papers that have started to be coming out over the last decade or so are kind of like, wow, there's almost nothing about this. The field of disability studies itself is also really new. So it's like that field has not had a lot of time to go back into, like the 1918 archives to really pore over that and create a comprehensive history of how the pandemic affected people with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
So, again, I apologize if there were people I apologize if the way I wrote that episode made people feel excluded or anything like that.
I feel like there's a lot of complicated stuff with this. So thank you again to Caroline for sending that note.
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Stuff you missed in history class is the production of I Heart Radio for more podcasts from my Heart Radio is it by her radio app Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite shows? I'm Ali Wentworth, the host of Go Ask Ali, I'm a mom, wife, writer and actress, which means I have pretty much no life skills at all, but I do like to talk about them. And I love dissecting the craziness of modern life with brilliant guests like actress Mariska Hargitay.
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