The second annual Zamenhof Symposium at the New York office of UEA attracted an enthusiastic audience of 90 people for a series of presentations about Zamenhof, Esperanto, and several new books. The New York office of UEA played host in the conference room upstairs from the tiny office they share across the street from the United Nations. Neil Blonstein, UEA representative to the UN, set up a display of materials for people to look at while Scott Page manned a table with books for sale. These included two works recently translated into English, the Zamenhof biography by Korzhenkov and the launch of the new Soros book, described below, and the new release of Poŝtmarkoj el Esperanto, a book of haiku in Esperanto with English translation. Tom Ecchardt greeted the audience and introduced the speakers: Esther Schor, Ralph Dumain, Sam Green, and Humphrey Tonkin.
From left: Sam Green, Ralph Dumain, Humphrey Tonkin, George Soros, Françoise Cestac, Esther Schor, Neil Blonstein, Jonathan Soros. Photo by Neil Blonstein.
Esther Schor returned for a second year and continued her exploration of how Zamenhof’s thinking evolved over time. She described how Zamenhof’s conceptions of the future had been accurate in some respects, especially regarding proximate events, but how his long-range thinking had been led astray by various mistaken assumptions about how the post World War I order would result. When Zamenhof came to the United States in 1910, he believed that America was the land of the future and believed it would become the center for Esperanto activity. He couldn’t foresee the Second World War or the Cold War that would follow, or how global capitalism would push English into the forefront of world languages for primarily economic reasons.
Ralph Dumain reprised his presentation from the Landa Kongreso and spoke about the Universala Kongreso of 1910, when Zamenhof came to the United States. With numerous clippings from the Washington newspapers, he showed how the event had been front page news every day, with theater presentations, a baseball game, and even advertisements in Esperanto in the national media. He also described the state of racial segregation in Washington at that time and finished by drawing a connection between William Pickens, the first African American Esperantist, who was described in a poem by Elizabeth Alexander—the same poet who read at President Obama’s inauguration—to show how much the country has changed in 100 years.
Sam Green has become well-known for his recent spoken-word performance piece Utopia in Four Movements. Using some of the same footage, supplemented with new film plus some archive material, he has created a new half-hour documentary about Esperanto, which was previewed at the symposium. In a moving paean to Esperanto, he presents Esperantists as among the last idealists in a world that has rejected the power of ideas to effect the course of human events. With a touching series of vignettes, he shows Esperanto at its height, when people believed that Esperanto would ultimately become a common language for humanity and constrasts with today, where the dream of Esperanto, while a reality for those who speak it, has become irrelevant to the people of the world who must learn English to survive.
Humphrey Tonkin primarily described the launch of the new book Crusoes in Siberia. Published originally as Modernaj Robinzonoj, it was written by Tivador Soros about his experience escaping from a Siberian prisoner of war camp after World War I. After struggling through the mountains, they made a raft and traveled downstream, which they abandoned when they realized they were heading for the Artic Ocean. The book ends when the party reaches a remote mining village, although as Tonkin explained, there is a large portion of the story that was never told: how Soros became involved with the founding of the Esperanto movement in Moscow and how he passed himself off as an Austrian officer to avoid being detained with other Hungarian officers who were kept as insurance to prevent reprisals against leftists in Hungary after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Tonkin had originally made a translation, not for the public, but for members of the Soros family who were unable to appreciate the book in the original Esperanto. Supplemented with additional research—in particular with maps showing the route that that Tivadar had taken through the mountains—and a particular fable that George Soros remembered fondly, the new book is now available through Mondial Books.
Near the end of the book presentation, George Soros arrived, accepted a copy of the new book, and spoke extemporaneously for several minutes. He spoke fondly of his father and how the adventures recounted in the book had been told to him as a child. He remembered when his father had founded Literatura Mondo (an early literary journal in Esperanto) with Kalman Kalocsay and Julio Baghy, who would go on to become the anchors of the Budapeŝta Skolo. And when George said “Literatura Mondo” he pronounced it the way an Esperanto-speaker would. He also recounted how, after his family escaped from behind the Iron Curtain, he went to the British Esperanto Association and received help from the Esperanto community. It was clear he remembered the Esperanto community with warmth. After his remarks, someone asked him if he remembered any Esperanto. He replied, “tra densa mallumo briletas la celo…”