In the 1880s, Ludwik Leyzer Zamenhof, a Jewish ophthalmologist in Bialystok who had become disillusioned with Zionism, concluded that the problems of anti-Semitism, prejudice, racism, and war could all be solved were mankind to adopt a universal language. He proceeded to create Esperanto, a simplified tongue based primarily on the Romance languages but with heavy doses of German, Slavic, and even Yiddish. Soon there were publications and annual conferences. Both still exist today, though the movement never achieved the success Zamenhoff hoped for—as Esther Schor recounts in Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the Dream of a Universal Language. David Mikics writes in his review:
Zamenhof . . . wrote that “my Jewishness has been the main reason why, from earliest childhood, I gave myself completely to one crucial idea, one dream—the dream of the unity of humankind.” . . .
In 1901, Zamenhof unveiled a universal ethics he called “Hillelism,” to be spread by Esperanto speakers. . . Like those contemporary American Jews who define Jewishness as the devotion to social justice, Zamenhof was straddling a fence. If Jewish tradition was an anachronism, [as Zamenhof firmly believed], why name his universal ethics after the sage Hillel? Judaism could only conquer if the Jews themselves disappeared qua Jews, Zamenhof seemed to be implying. . . . He thought that non-Jews would adopt Jewish moral seriousness if only Jews could divest themselves of nationhood, religion, and cultural identity. To put it mildly, the 20th century did not validate this highly paradoxical fantasy. Zamenhof’s own daughters were murdered in Auschwitz. . . .
[Zamenhof] lived long enough to see anti-Semitic polemics appear in a Polish Esperanto journal called Pola Esperantisto. Zamenhof wrote a letter to the editor condemning the articles, in which he remarked that “the entire sin of the Jews consists only in this, that Jews also want to live and have human rights.” But the editor rejected Zamenhof’s letter and continued on his path of Jew-hatred.
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