What do you know about the universal language Esperanto? Some of you may have come across it in a low-budget horror movie staring a 33-year-old actor by the name of William Shatner, who later became Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame. The film, Incubus was filmed in Esperanto, not to support the idea of a language of peace, as the language was originally designed, but to provide the film an eerie overtone. The idea bombed.
Developed by one Lazarus Ludwig (Ludwik) Zamenhof, Esperanto was to become a common language, one which permit nations at war to trust each other. Zamenhof was an ophthalmologist by trade, but, more importantly, he was a linguist. His father and his grandfather had been foreign language teachers.
His family lived in Warsaw. He loved languages and spoke many of them. He even wrote a five-act tragedy based on the tale of the Tower of Babel. It was called The Tower of Babel, or the Białystok Tragedy in Five Acts. Zamenhof envisioned a world without either linguistic barriers and the hatred of one religion for another. He wished to present the world with an international language that would be easy to learn and accessible to all.
The first version of Esperanto arrived in 1873. However, the original copybook containing the first version of the language was burned by Ludwik’s father. According to the family legend, he wanted his son to pay more attention to his studies.
In 1879, Zamenhof went to Moscow to study medicine. He became a Zionist as he faced more and more antisemitism during his Russian stay. His thoughts on Zionism had a change when he returned to Warsaw to establish his residency as an ophthomologist.
He published the book Lingvo internacia under the pseudonym Dr. Esperanto (Dr. One Who Hopes) on July 14, 1887. His “hope” was that the language would lead to international peace. Unfortunately, his “hope” was an expensive endeavor, and Zamenhof suffered many financial setbacks. “The book contained the 16 cardinal grammatical rules of Esperanto as well as 917 word roots taken mostly from existing European languages: Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages. Leo Tolstoy reportedly learned Esperanto in 3-4 hours. The language spread massively in the early 20th century and the first International Esperanto Congress was organized in 1905. Following WWI, Esperanto was often conceived as a quasi-revolutionary instrument of the emancipation of the proletariat, endorsed by Socialists and called by them ‘Latin of the workers’.” (9 Things You Need to Know About Esperanto and Its Creator) The idea was to create the easiest possible language which could be learned in a shortest possible time-span.
Eventually, he moved toward Grodno, where he revisited the idea of Zionism. He also began working on the foundations of a new religion, called Hillelism. Rabbi Hillel was known for his gentleness and tolerance, and Zamenhof used him as the basis for the religion. He wished to connect people religiously as well as having a common language. “He later modified Hellelism, renaming it Homaranism (the meaning of which in Esperanto referred to humanity more generally), so that it might serve as the basis for a new, universal, linguistically neutral human culture. However the new religious found few adherents. In 1888, Zamenhof published two new books, Dua libro de lingvo internacia (The Second Book of the International Language) and Aldono al la Dua libro (Supplement to the Second Book). The following year he produced Russian–Esperanto and German–Esperanto dictionaries.
“Returning to Warsaw in 1898, he opened a private medical practice. From 1889, he edited the monthly La Esperantisto, which was published in Nuremberg; he also founded the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Society of Esperantists). In the programmatic declaration of its first congress, held in 1905 in the French city of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Zamenhof abjured all the benefits of authorship of the new language, turning it over to the entire world. He translated many works into Esperanto, including the Torah, which he finished shortly before his death.” (Zamenhof, Ludwik)
World War I and his declining health saw an end to his hopes of bringing people together under one language and one religion. His daughter Lidia took up his cause and widely lectured on the merits of Esperanto throughout Europe and the United States, but she was arrested by the Germans and confined to the Warsaw ghetto during Hitler’s reign over Europe. Adolf Hitler considered Esperanto an instrument of an international Jewish conspiracy. Eventually, along with her sister Zofia, she was transported to Treblinka, where she was murdered by the Nazis. Their brother Adam was murdered in the mass executions in Palmiry forest in 1940.