Monday, December 15, 2014

A Somber Zamenhof-Day

Esperantists observe December 15 as the birthday of Esperanto.[1] The date is set not in commemoration of the publication of the Unu Libro,[2] but instead of Zamenhof’s birthday, since he used his nineteenth birthday as a pretext to gather some friends together and release his plan for an international auxiliary language. That language is today…well, completely lost. When Ludovik Zamenhof went off to study medicine, his father assured him that his language would be there when he returned. Marcus Zamenhof promptly burned his son’s papers.

Even though the language of 1887 (that is, Esperanto) has some differences from the language of 1878, it’s the initial release of that language, and its creator’s birthday, that we celebrate as the birthday of Esperanto.[3] Zamenhof died in 1917 (at the age of 57), just short of thirty years after the publication of Esperanto. By that time, celebrating Zamenhof’s birthday as the birthday of Esperanto had become a tradition. I have found any brief reference to Zamenof-day festivities in 1917, but the Zamenhof-day activities in Washington, D.C. in 1918 were probably something of a somber affair, as they were also acting as a memorial to Dr. Zamenhof.

The Washington group seems to be the only one that managed to make the newspapers, although Amerika Esperantisto makes it clear that there was one in New York as well, and there had been one in New York in 1917 (although that wasn’t written up in Amerika Esperantisto at the time). The short item in the Washington Times on December 14, 1918, announcing the event gets the name of the person being honored wrong.
An esperanto memorial in honor of Lazarus L. Ramenhof, the author of esperanto, will be held at the W. C. T. U. Hall, 522 Sixth street, at 3:15 o’clock. The public is invited.
That’s Esperanto and Zamenhof. Given that the address “522 Sixth Street” corresponds to four different addresses in D.C. (NE, NW, SE, SW), the Times isn’t being particularly helpful. Fortunately, in the listing of services, they got it right, and narrowed down the address to just one location.
Memorial of Dr. L. L. Zamenhof

W. C. T. U. Hall, 522 Sixth St. N. W.
Sunday, Dec. 15, 3:15 p. m.
Inquiring public invited.
The item in the Washington Herald on December 15, 1918, gives a more detail (and spells everything correctly):
A meeting commemorating the birth of Dr. L. L. Zamenhof, originator of Esperanto, will be held this afternoon at 3:15 at the rooms of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, 522 Sixth street northwest.
The Herald also gave a write-up of the meeting, which they published on December 16:

Hold Esperanto Service in Honor of Its Creator
An anniversary service in Esperanto, in honor of the founder of Esperanto, Dr. Louis Lazarus Zamenhof, was conducted yesterday afternoon at the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.

B. Pickman Mann, who presided at the meeting, gave a short introductory sketch of the life of Dr. Zamenhof. Other talks on the progress that has been made in the adoption of Esperanto as a world language were given. The adaptability of Esperanto for diplomatic and commercial purposes was discussed by W. E. Baff.
According to the article in Amerika Esperantisto, B. Pickman Mann, first sang “la ‘Preĝo’” (“The Prayer”) and then gave a life of Dr. Zamenhof. H. A. Babcock spoke on the progress of Esperanto in English-speaking countries, W. E. Baff on its progress in German- Dutch- and Scandinavian-speaking lands, Amy C. Leavitt on the use of Esperanto in the war, and Sub-Colonel F. A. Postinkov on the progress in the Russian, Balkan, and Asian countries.

On that last speaker, Postnikov was not an American, but part of the Russian Embassy. He was later recalled to Moscow and eventually convicted of treason. As he was president of the Russian Esperanto League, the entire group fell under suspicion of espionage.

After they sang “America” in an Esperanto translation, there were three more talks, by N. S. Guimont, W. E. Baff (again, but this time talking about the use of Esperanto for diplomacy, science, and commerce), and John A. Shiel. Then they sang the Esperanto hymn, “La Espero” (which was written by Dr. Zamenhof), with Miss Leavitt on the piano.

The New York meeting included a poem by James F. Morton, Jr., who was an anarchist and supporter of women’s rights and civil rights (in addition to being a lawyer and Esperantist). On this, the 155th anniversary of the birth of L. L. Zamenhof, I will include it here:
Al la Memoro de Nia Majstro
Por li, kiu gajnojn facilajn rifuzis,
Kaj nur pro homaro la vivon eluzis;
Por li, kies nomo perdiĝos neniam,
Sed restos amata kaj sankta por ĉiam;
Por li, kies agoj la mondon ja benas;
Por li, Nia Majsto, hodiaũ ni venas.
Se laŭdas ni lin per literoj el oro,
Ne estus sufiĉe por lia memoro.

Malfortaj ni estas, malgranda la rondo;
Sed li apartenas al tuta la mondo.
Per liaj laboroj montriĝas la vojo.
Al homa frateco kun paco kaj ĝojo.
Ni ŝparu do laŭdon; la vortojn ĉesigu;
Sed nian fervoron per agoj vidigu.
La paŝojn de l’ Majstro senlace sekvante,
Ni marŝos de venko al venko konstante.
La verda standardo de nia afero
Kondukos la mondon al amo kaj vero.
—James F. Morton, Jr.
(A quick translation)
To the Memory of Our Master
For he, who easily refused gain,
And only for humanity exhausted his life
For he, whose name will be lost never,
But will remain loved and holy forever;
For he, whose actions the world indeed blesses,
For he, Our Master, today we come.
If we praise him in letters of gold,
It would not be sufficient for his memory.

We are weak, the circle is small,
But he belongs to all the world.
Through his work, he showed the way,
To a brotherhood of man with peach and joy.
Let us save our praise; the words cease;
But make our zeal visible through action
Following the steps of the Master tirelessly,
We will constantly march from victory to victory.
The green banner of our cause
Will lead the world to love and truth.
No, there was no hope of my turning that into verse.

Feliĉan Zamenhof-Tago! Happy Zamenhof Day!

  1. Even if that’s not exactly true.  ↩
  2. July 26, 1887, which I consider the real birthday of Esperanto.  ↩
  3. I actually prefer July 26 as the birthday of Esperanto, as it’s the date of the publication of the Unua Libro.  ↩

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1 comment:

  1. I also much prefer the 26 July as Esperanto day. Today has its own significance and should be celebrated, but Esperanto is bigger than any one person.

    Happy Zamenhof Day!


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