Zamenhof Lidia (29.01.1904, Warsaw - 06.08.1942, Treblinka II) - writer, translator, promoter of Esperanto.
Lidia Zamenhof was born on 29 January 1904 in Warsaw. Her father Ludwik died in 1917, when Lidia was 13 years old. She was the last of the three Zamenhof children, alongside Adam (1888-1940) and Zofia (1889-1942). Lidia had socio-religious views most closely resembling those of her father, although it seems that she never had the opportunity to discuss these issues with him, if only due to her age. She reached her worldview on her own. She also did not follow in her sibling's footsteps when it comes to education. Adam and Zofia began their medical studies in Lausanne in Switzerland, which Adam graduated from in 1912, while Zofia graduated in 1914 from studies in St Petersburg.
Lidia began her studies at the University of Warsaw. She obtained a Master's degree diploma in legal sciences in 1925 and newer worked in her field of study. She missed her intellectual calling, or rather it was her family that influenced her course of study. Linguistic studies and Polish philology constituted studies that were closes to her intellectual interests. She pursued these passions in an auto-didactic manner. During her early youth, she declared herself an atheist. She did not know Hebrew or Yiddish nor did she express any significant interest in either of them. She loved to read Polish literature.
Due to the fact that almost the entire Zemenhof family used Esperanto, and her family house was often visited (even after Ludwik's death) by such remarkable Esperanto experts as Antoni Grabowski, Edmond Privat, or Leo Belmont, Lidia entered the orbit of Esperanto and fell in love with the language during her participation in the first state and global congresses on Esperanto. She soon found a way of life that filled her with activity. It consisted in teaching Esperanto using the so-called Ĉe-metodo. This method allows teaching Esperanto to students who use various languages and do not understand each other, while it is not necessary for the teacher to know any of the languages used by the students. For Lidia this was both a method of earning some money and an opportunity to visit almost all of Europe as well as the east coast of the USA, because she was invited to lectures.
Additionally, Lidia was a translator of Polish literature into Esperanto as well as a translator of the revelatory works of Baháʼí authors from English into Esperanto and into Polish. Another of her activities was being active in the feminist movement - as we would call it nowadays. Unfortunately, we have little information about this activity, as feminism itself, and particularly Lidia's feminism as secondary to the matter of Esperanto, has not been presented in the Esperanto press in a systematic manner. It is also not known whether she was involved with any male or female partner during her life.
After Poland regained its independence, the Zamenhof brothers and sisters, as well as their children would mostly consider themselves to be Poles or Poles of Jewish origin. The children were brought up in Polish, Russian, Esperanto, and partly French languages, culture, and literature. Lidia was so passionate about the Polish language that she translated into Esperanto, among other things, Zygmunt Krasiński's Irydion, one of the most intricate works of Polish Romanticism. Without a thorough study of Polish literature, this excellent (unfortunately unfinished) translation would have been impossible. She also translated Quo Vadis into Esperanto as well as many novellas by Sienkiewicz, Prus, and others.
The most controversial and misunderstood was Lidia's activity or religious affiliation with the Baháʼí faith. Above I wrote that Lidia reached her worldview on her own, only scratching her father's views. Ludwik Zamenhof spent his entire life working on - let's call it - socio-moral principles, which we know as homaranismo [1.1]. Unfortunately, it is impossible to explain clearly what homaranismo is all about and every author who has attempted to address this issue has failed, including the author of this article. Undoubtedly, Lidia also faced this insoluble problem of understanding Ludwik's ideas.
Lidia “matured” into the Baháʼí faith for three years (1924-1926). It was not a sudden enlightenment, but calculated intellectual “gymnastics” she had to eventually go through as an atheist. According to Zofia Banet-Fornalowa, Lidia “explained it in such a way that the Baháʼí faith constitutes another, higher degree of homaranismo” [1.2]. I will not go into the essence of Baháʼí, I will only note that Baháʼí is genetically a very specific, already previously reformed version of Shīʿa Islam and seeks to unify the theistic faiths as a basis for bringing people together regardless of race, language, and nationality.
Due to the fact that the founder of this religion, Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), was aware that the truths revealed to him were often conveyed in the language of various allegories, in his will he appointed his son 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921), the chief exegete of his revelations. The writings revealed to Bahá'u'lláh are contained in the books known as the Kitàb-i-Aqdas. They include §189 concerning a universal language: “It is the duty of the mighty of this world [...] or the rulers of the earth to agree with one another and to choose one of the existing languages or a new language to be taught among all the children of the world, as well as one writing (alphabet). In this way, the entire earth will be able to be considered as one country.” Indeed, 'Abdu'l-Bahá proved to be a skilful and smart interpreter of the revelations, a prolific and charismatic author. It was he who suggested in the 1920s that the most likely language to fulfil Bahá'u'lláh's prophecies was Esperanto, but he did not establish a relevant dogma concerning the matter.
I would like to mention that both Bahá'u'lláh and hundreds of thousands of Baháʼís are martyrs and victims of Shi'i religious fanaticism, particularly in Iran. Therefore, it cannot come as a surprise, what arouses “indignation” in the Esperanto movement to this day, that Lidia may have found a “worldview” closest to her in the Baháʼí faith. Lidia did not become a follower of Bahá'u'lláh like Christians of Jesus or Muslims of Muhammad. What can certainly be said in relation to Baháʼí and Lidia is that she has penetrated the circle of Baháʼís who approved of her.
In 1930, Lidia visited Haifa, a holy site for the Baháʼí faith. She was charmed by the attentiveness with which the Baháʼís cherish the tombs of their “prophets” in the mausoleum in Acre and in the well-kept Baháʼí gardens on the slopes of Mount Carmel. The Baháʼí gardens in both Acre and Haifa are so beautiful that I myself had the impression of being in paradise. They are, in fact, still beautiful today.
Since her association with the Baháʼí faith, Lidia in a way “merged” Baháʼí with Esperanto and its “inner essence” (interna ideo), and since then she has attended almost all national and international Esperanto congresses trying to subtly promote the Baháʼí faith, which most Esperanto experts considered - to say the least - as “heresy”. However, Lidia herself was always treated kindly and often enthusiastically in the movement, especially as a talented teacher and educator. At the invitation of the American Esperanto experts, Lidia visited the United States in September 1937. From this visit, everything began to break down in Lidia's Esperanto success so far.
It came as a shock to her that American Baháʼís do not want to learn Esperanto, while American Esperanto users do not want to hear anything about the Baháʼí faith. She had been observing political life in Europe from the USA and was fully aware of the impending catastrophe of the war, particularly Nazi liquidation anti-Semitism. She was afraid of returning to Europe. As a result, she tried to leave America for Haifa. When she realised this was not possible, she wanted to stay in the US and was even going to ask for US citizenship. She was unable to arrange anything, and her American friends, still sympathetic to her, didn't try to help. She returned to Poland in December 1938.
After the outbreak of war, she was captured by the Gestapo and resettled in the Warsaw ghetto. According to some sources, there was a possibility that Lidia could be taken out of the ghetto. However, Lidia did not want to leave her loved ones and remained in the ghetto[1.3].
On 6 August 1942, during a major deportation, she was transported with her loved ones to the German extermination camp in Treblinka. Her brother Adam was shot by the Germans, most probably in the forest at Palmiry in 1940.
Lidia's symbolic grave (a memorial plaque next to the grave of her mother Klara Zamenhof) is located in the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw.
Prof. Walter Żelazny
- Banet-Fornalowa Z., Lidja Zamenhof, filino de la aŭtoro de Esperanto, [in:] “Familio Zamenhof”, La Chaux-de-Fonds 2000, pp. 71-93.
- Dratwer I., Lidja Zamenhof: Vivo kaj agado, Antverpeno 1980.
- Libiszowska-Żółtkowska M., Konwertyci nowych ruchów religijnych, Lublin 2003.
- Heller W.,Lidia — The Life of Lidia Zamenhof. Daughter of Esperanto, Oxford 1985.
- Heller W., Lidia: La vivo de Lidia Zamenhof, Filino de Esperanto, translated into English from Esperanto by Bernhard Westerhoff, Antverpeno 2007.
- Heller W., Życie Lidii Zamenhof,translated from Esperanto into Polish by Lidia Ligęza, Białe Błota 2009.
- Żelazny W., O Zamenhofie i esperancie inaczej,Białystok 2022.
- [1.1] . Hom'ar'an'ism'o is a word coined by the laws of Esperanto vocabulary: (“hom” = human + “ar” = collective trait + “an” = follower of an idea + “ism” = idea + “o” = noun)
- [1.2] Banet-Fornalowa Z., Familio Zamenhof, LF-Koop, La Chaux-de-Fonds 2000, p. 75.
- [1.3] Banet-Fornalowa Z., Familio Zamenhof, LF-Koop, La Chaux-de-Fonds 2000, p. 90.