Zamenhof's Witnesses

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L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, is the focus of Zamenhof's Witnesses, a worldwide cult movement.

The Esperantist Congregation of L. L. Zamenhof's Witnesses (Esperanto: Esperanta Kongregacio de Atestantoj de Zamenhof) or simply Zamenhof's Witnesses (Atestantoj de Zamenhof) are a fundamentalist, messianic, pacifist and Esperantist new religious movement. The organization reports a global membership of more than seven million witnesses involved in the proselytization of new members (komencantoj) to Esperanto, a constructed language they believe to be capable of bringing about world peace.

Basing their beliefs on a literal, conservative interpretation of the language's basic text, Fundamento de Esperanto, their most important teaching concerns the inevitable, forthcoming destruction of the English language in the Final Victory of Esperanto (Fina Venko), and the establishment of the Kingdom of L. L. Zamenhof, the language's creator, over the entire Earth, which they believe to be the only possible solution to the problems of the human race.

Members of the religious movement are best known for going door-to-door to preach the importance of Esperanto, distributing literature such as the magazines Monato and Esperanto, and conducting free home Esperanto courses. They are also known for their refusal to study English or Ido even in life-threatening emergencies. They refuse to celebrate festivals such as Christmas, Easter or birthdays because they are not international enough. Members often call their doctrines "Our Affair" or "the Idea," and refer to each other as being "of the Same Idea." Zamenhof's Witnesses view non-Esperantist society, or "crocodile society," as morally defiled, and limit their social interaction with non-Esperantists.

Their literature has been translated into numerous languages and includes the books What does the Fundamento de Esperanto really say?, Millions now living will never learn Esperanto and How to Learn Esperanto.

History[edit]

Zamenhof's Witnesses travel in groups to spread the message that Esperanto will soon be spoken all over the world, ushering in an era of world peace.

In 1870 a Polish ophthalmologist named Kazimierz Bein (Kabe) formed an independent group to study Esperanto's basic text, the Fundamento de Esperanto, with Pastor Antoni Grabowski and Father Andreo Cseh, a Catholic Priest and former follower of Johann Martin Schleyer. In 1877 Kabe began editing a religious newspaper, The Herold of Esperanto, with William Shatner. In July 1879, after Shatner had become the movement's first apostate (kabeinto), Kabe began publishing the magazine Monato, highlighting his interpretations from a fundamentalist viewpoint and paying special attention to his belief that English was in its "last days." The Zamenhof's Tower Tract Society was formed in 1881 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and focused on publishing articles, doctrines and copies of the Fundamento. Three years later, on December 15, 1884, Kabe became the President of the society, which became legally recognized in Pennsylvania.

The early movements were organized independently. Kabe firmly rejected the concept of a formal organization for his members as "completely unnecessary," and declared that his group had no oversight over its members' finances, no creed and no name. In 1910 he announced that the group would identify itself as the International Association of Esperanto Students. Shortly thereafter, Kabe suddenly passed away, and control over Monato was passed to the Publishing Committee according to his wishes while the Board of Directors waited for the election of a new President.

Doctrinal Changes[edit]

During the 1922 World Congress of Esperanto, a new emphasis was placed on door-to-door preaching. Significant changes in the doctrine were decided upon, including the proclamation in 1918 that the Final Victory of Esperanto would occur in 1925. The unsuccessful predictions for 1925, combined with other doctrinal changes, caused a dramatic decrease in participation in the yearly celebration of Zamenhof Day, from 90,434 in 1925 to 17,380 in 1928. In 1932 they announced that despite the fact that L. L. Zamenhof was Jewish, Jews would have no special role in Esperantoland. The dates of Zamenhof's Second Coming and the beginning of English's "end times" were continually moved forward. In 1935 it was decreed that native English speakers who converted to Esperantism, if deemed worthy, would survive the destruction of English and live on into the Time of the Final Victory in an earthly Green Paradise (Verda Paradizo).

Because their interpretations of fundamental texts continuously evolved, their publications instructed their members not to salute the Green Flag as other Esperantists did, or to sing the Esperantist National Anthem (La Espero). In Nazi Germany Zamenhof's Witnesses suffered horrible persecutions, with an unbelievably large number of Esperantists (5,000) sent to concentration camps. The Witnesses also had to live through Mafia violence in America, and their activities were banned in Canada and Australia because they taught members to refuse learning English.

1942-present[edit]

From 1938 to 1955 Zamenhof's Witnesses launched a series of lawsuits in American courts to defend their rights to observe and preach their religion, winning 36 of 45 cases. The cases were also successfully defended in Canada and Australia.

From 1966 on, their publications began to predict that the thousand-year reign of Esperanto would begin early in 1975, and they devoted their efforts to spreading the good news of this inevitable occurrence. In 1974 a newsletter of the Zamenhof Society praised the Witnesses who bought homes and possessions and dedicated them to the cause. The number of people joining the World Esperanto Association increased significantly, from around 59,000 in 1966 to more than 297,000 in 1974, but membership decreased after the prophecy proved false. In 1980, the Zamenhof Society stopped fixing dates for the Final Victory of Esperanto and ceased to mention it in new publications.

A Zamenhof's Witness stands outside a large compound believed to be owned by the new religious movement.

Organizational Structure[edit]

Zamenhof's Witnesses are organized as a hierarchical order, called a "universal association" by its leaders in order to portray it as Esperanto's only organization on Earth.

They are led by a Board of Directors, a patriarchal group that varies in size, but since 2010 consists of seven members of whom all must confess that they are in the "fervent Esperantist class" of people who hope to see the Final Victory of Esperanto. They reside in the offices of the Esperanto City-State, a micronation set up to administer the affairs of the Esperantist populace. There are no elections, because new members are chosen by the Ruling Body. The Board of Directors describes itself as Zamenhof's "representation," his "faithful and discrete slave." Although close to 10,000 Witnesses declare themselves to be Esperantists, in practice the Board of Directors does not seek the counsel or approval of other Esperantist Witnesses who rank lower than members of the Esperanto City-State when they formulate policy or doctrines, or while they produce material for publications and conventions.

The Board of Directors also presides over a number of subcommittees responsible for various administrative functions, including publication, program creation and proselytization. They directly nominate all committee members of national associations and observers of Districts and City-States, who travel around checking up on communities within their jurisdictions.

Although the Witnesses have no formal system of clergy, each community has its own patriarchal body of propagandists and instructional servants. Propagandists are generally responsible for congregational administration, fixing the times of meetings, choosing speakers and organizing meetups, conducting public relations and creating "legal commissions" to explore and decide on disciplinary acts for cases regarded as breaches in fundamental or organizational rules. New propagandists are nominated by the national office after a recommendation of the Ruling Body of Propagandists. Instructional servants, nominated in a similar fashion, pay clerical and collective taxes and also have to teach Esperanto and organize meetups.

The publications of Zamenhof's Witnesses strongly emphasize the need for obedience and loyalty to Esperanto's basic text, the Fundamento de Esperanto, warning that individuals must submit to it if they wish to receive the favor of Maestro Zamenhof and survive the Final Victory. Publications declare that acceptable service to the Maestro can only occur within Zamenhof's Witnesses, and members must remain loyal subjects of the religion's leaders and local congregational propagandists.

Busts of Esperanto's creator play a central role in the liturgy of Zamenhof's Witnesses.

Beliefs[edit]

The doctrines of Zamenhof's Witnesses have been established by the Board of Directors, and they suggest that responsibility for the interpretation and use of the Fundamento de Esperanto lies with the Ruling Body of Zamenhof's Witnesses.

Doctrinal Sources[edit]

The complete canon of Holy Scriptures is accepted as the divinely inspired and infallible Word of L. L. Zamenhof, and includes the Fundamento de Esperanto as well as a book known as "The Gospel According to Edmond Privat" or "The Life of Zamenhof". The Witnesses accept these books as scientifically and historically accurate and trustworthy, and interpret the majority of the Fundamento de Esperanto literally while accepting that it is also rich with symbolism. They think that the Fundamento is the source of truth and the basis of all of their beliefs. According to ethnographic studies of the religion by sociologists, declarations by the Board of Directors via Esperanto publications are more important to the majority of believers than the Fundamento itself. The leadership of Zamenhof's Witnesses asserts itself to be the only visible channel of the Creator of Esperanto, and asserts that the Fundamento cannot be understood without active involvement in the Esperanto movement.

Zamenhof and Jesus[edit]

Zamenhof's Witnesses center their religion mainly around L. L. Zamenhof, the Creator of Esperanto, rather than on Jesus, a deity of minor importance who also plays a role in Esperanto literature. They prefer the name Zamenhof to the German original Samenhoff or the Russian Zamengoff, since it appears as Zamenhof in the Fundamento de Esperanto. The Witnesses believe that Zamenhof is the author of the only true international language, and give him the title "Maestro." They believe that all worship must be directed toward him, and regard the current international popularity of English, Spanish, Mandarin and at least dozens of other languages over Esperanto as evidence of humanity's fall from grace.

Satan[edit]

Zamenhof's Witnesses believe that Satan, or Satano, is a member of a rival Esperanto association known as the Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda (Global Non-National Association) or SAT. According to Zamenhof's Witnesses, Satano was once a loyal Esperantist who developed envy and desired worshippers of his own. Satano persuaded Adam and Eve to obey him instead of Zamenhof, which got them and their descendants involved in a competition between the World Esperanto Association and SAT. Zamenhof's Witnesses teach that the SAT and their demons were expelled from heaven on October 1, 1914, bringing about the beginning of the Final Victory.

The Witnesses believe that the world is under the control and influence of members of the SAT (Satanoj), that they misinform people about the vocabulary of Esperanto, and that they are the reason so many weirdos, pedophiles, nudists and communists learn Esperanto. They do not believe individual rulers or governments are under the direct control of the SAT yet, but to stop this from happening, the Witnesses ingratiate themselves to individual rulers and governments, guilting them into paying for grants to promote and teach their language.

The Fate of Sinners[edit]

Zamenhof's Witnesses believe that failure to learn Esperanto is a state of non-existence with no consciousness. However, speakers of Ido will burn in Hell and be tormented by fire. The role of apostates (kabeintoj) remains unclear and controversial. Some argue that as long as they have significantly contributed to the Esperanto movement, and do not actively oppose the movement after leaving or learn a rival auxiliary language, there may be a place for them in the Eternal Blessing which is to be carried out.

The Fate of the Righteous[edit]

After the destruction of English in a cataclysmic event known as the Final Victory, the true Esperantists among Zamenhof's Witnesses (numbering 144,000,000) hope to purify the Earth "on the foundation of a neutral language, making people become accustomed to one another so that everyone will see in their neighbor only a human being and a brother." This new society will be known as Esperantoland (Esperantujo). The word "brother" remains controversial, but supporters of the doctrine say that there is no Esperanto word for "sibling" and to just shut up already.

A temple where Zamenhof's Witnesses gather to worship the creator of Esperanto and pray beneath the Green Banner.

Practices[edit]

Zamenhof's Witnesses are largely known for proselytization, but there is also a religion in its own right behind the door-to-door preaching.

Gatherings[edit]

Gatherings for worship and study are arranged at Esperanto clubs, which are the "churches" of Zamenhof's Witnesses, and where religious images such as green stars and pictures of L. L. Zamenhof are found. The Witnesses belong to communities organized by territory, and they attend weekly lessons called "meetups" planned by the community's delegate to the World Esperanto Association. The meetings are largely dedicated to Esperanto study and the literature of the Zamenhof Society. The form and content of the meetings are not established by the headquarters in Rotterdam, which means that each meeting will be different around the world and will vary by week. Members of the community meet up to study the accusative case each week. Meetings are opened and closed with songs and a short "Prayer Beneath the Green Banner". Each year, Witnesses from a few communities within a "circuit" meet up for a convention and assembly, usually at rented hotels or auditoriums. Their most important and solemn occasion is the "Remembrance of Zamenhof's Death," which always happens on the Jewish Holiday of Passover.

Proselytization[edit]

Zamenhof's Witnesses are probably best known worldwide for their obstinance and dedication in spreading and teaching the language Esperanto, usually by going door-to-door. They do this based on a commandment of the language's creator to "Never grow weary until the beautiful dream for eternal blessing of the [entire] human race [by Esperanto] has been carried out," and his efforts to spread the language still form the basis of their propaganda. Home Esperanto studies are offered to people who show an interest in their creed, which they present with the help of many literary publications. The literature is published in Esperanto with a large gamut of books, magazines and other publications, along with a small grammar in more than 500 languages.

Monthly Reports[edit]

The Witnesses believe it is their duty to devote as much time as possible to the propagation of Esperanto, and they must deliver monthly proselytization reports to the community leader. The members who do not present this report are known as neĝisostuloj (literally "not-to-the-bone-people", i.e. not fully Esperantists) and receive the community leader's counsel that they should begin preaching. Those who do not present proselytization reports for six consecutive months are considered kabeintoj (apostates).

Here is an example of one such report:

Esperanto English
Mi havas amikon kiu ŝatas lingvojn kaj lingvistikon, kvankam ne tiom, kiom al mi. Jam de kelkaj jaroj mi parolas al li pri Esperanto, kun la espero, ke li ekinteresiĝu kaj eĉ ekstudu ĝin. I have a friend who loves languages and linguistics, although not as much as I do. For a few years now I have been speaking to him about Esperanto, with the hope that he would become interested and begin learning it.
Mia amiko ĉiam estis tre pacienca kun mi kaj miaj aferoj, eĉ se li rigardas ilin kiel strangaĵoj aŭ stultaĵoj. Sed alitage li preskaŭ enuiĝis kun mi kiam mi, unu fojon plu, pruvis konvinki lin pri la virtoj de Esperanto. My friend had always been very patient with me and my affairs, even if he looked at them as strange or stupid. But the other day he became fed up with me when I tried, one more time, to convince him of the virtues of Esperanto.
Mi jam rimarkis, ke li rigardas Esperanton kiel stultaĵo, kiel perdo de tempo, kiel io senutila kaj absurda. Fojfoje mi montris al li librojn kaj revuoj en Esperanto kiujn mi aĉetis kaj li rigardis ilin per malŝata rigardo, rigardante min poste kun la sama rigardo, kiel se la libroj en Esperanto kaj mi estus io strangega kaj malŝatinda. Kaj poste: -"Kaj kiom kustis tio al vi?" -"Kvin eŭroj". -"Psss" (kiel dirante: "kia stultaĵo elspezi monon je tiaj stultaĵoj en tia stulta lingvo"). I had already noticed that he saw Esperanto as stupid, as a waste of time, as something useless and absurd. From time to time I would show him books and magazines in Esperanto that I had bought, and he would look at them with displeasure, look back at me the same way, as if the books in Esperanto and I were something very weird and deserving of distaste. And then: -"How much did that cost you?" -"Five Euros." -"Pfft" (as if to say: "what idiocy, spending money on those dumb things in that dumb language").
Sed alitage li parolis pri Esperanto pli klare ol neniam kaj pruvis, ke li, kiel ĉiuj, estas plena de antaŭjuĵoj kaj eraraj ideoj pri la lingvo. But the other day, he spoke a little more clearly about Esperanto than he ever had before, and proved that he, like everyone, is full of prejudices and mistaken beliefs about the language.
Li diris al mi, ke Esperanto ne altiras al li kaj volis komprenigi min, ke li estas laca pro aŭskulti min ĉiam parolante pri Esperanto. Mi demandis al li kial, se li ŝatas lingvojn, havas neniu intereson pri Esperanto, kaj li pruvis, ke li havas tiom da antaŭjuĵoj kaj nescion pri tiu ĉi lingvo, kiom la plejmulto de la homoj: li diras, ke al li ne interesas lingvo "elpensita de iu ajn ulo kaj kiu utilas por nenio" ("no me interesa una lengua que se inventó un tío cualquiera y que no sirve PARA NADA", eldirante "ulo" malŝatege). Tiel vidas li Esperanton. "Lingvo senutila"; "lingvo kiu neniam sukcesis nek sukcesos"... "Vi jam donis al mi kursojn de Esperanto kaj mi eĉ ne rigardis ilin, nek la unua fojo, antaŭ kvin jaroj, nek neniam post. NE INTERESAS AL MI ESPERANTON", aldonis. He told me that Esperanto does not interest him and wanted to make me understand that he is tired of listening to me going on and on about Esperanto. I asked him why, if he likes languages, he has no interest in Esperanto, and he proved that he has as much prejudice and ignorance about this language, as the majority of people: he said that he does not care about a useless language invented by some random guy ("no me interesa una lengua que se inventó un tío cualquiera y que no sirve PARA NADA", pronouncing "random guy" with particularly great distaste). That is how he looks at Esperanto. "A useless language," "a language that never succeeded and will never succeed"... "You have already given me Esperanto instructional books and I did not even look at them, not the first time, 5 years ago, nor will I ever. I DON'T CARE ABOUT ESPERANTO," he added.
Mi pruvis unu fojon plu, ke li komprenu la virtojn de Esperanto, sed li eĉ ne lasis min daŭri. Li ripetis, ke Esperanto ne interesas nek altiras al li... I tried one more time to help him understand the virtues of Esperanto, but he did not even allow me to continue. He repeated, that Esperanto does not interest or attract him.
Malgraŭ ĉio, kaj kiel mi diris al li por finigi la diskuton, mi scias, ke li, kiel ĉiuj, perdas grandan mondon, grandajn plezurojn, grandan lingvon. Kaj certe mi ne povos eviti daŭre paroli al li pri Esperanto. Despite everything, as I told him to finish the discussion, I know that he, like everyone, is giving up a great world, great pleasures, a great language. And certainly I will not be able to avoid continuing to speak to him about Esperanto.

Opposition[edit]

The beliefs, doctrines and practices of Zamenhof's Witnesses have on many occasions led to denouncements and opposition from governments, communities and religious groups.

Persecution[edit]

Political and religious contempt for Zamenhof's Witnesses have, on a few occasions, led the Mafia to act against them and the governments of many countries to oppress them. Because of their doctrine of political neutrality and their refusal to serve in the army, many Witnesses were imprisoned during the Second World War and other times of mandatory military service. In Germany, more than 5,000 Witnesses were sent to concentration camps. In Canada, Zamenhof's Witnesses were placed in concentration camps along with political dissidents and people of Japanese and Chinese descent. In the former Soviet Union, around 9,300 Witnesses and their families were deported to Siberia via Operation North in April 1951. The religious activities of Zamenhof's Witnesses are forbidden or limited in many countries, including China, Vietnam and a few Islamic states.

Ex-Witnesses[edit]

Many former members of Zamenhof's Witnesses have criticized the organization and its dogmas. Such members are known as kriĉjintoj (untouchables) and are despised far more than kabeintoj (apostates). This is because the dogma of Zamenhof's Witnesses commands any apostate to bow out suddenly, silently and gracefully after having made a significant contribution to Esperanto's propaganda; any breach of this is considered an act of heresy. If they learn another artificial language, especially Ido, they are called perfidistoj (traitors).

Speakers of the language Ido believe their language would be spoken all over the world if it were not for Zamenhof's Witnesses.

Other Made-up Languages[edit]

People who speak other made-up languages have accused Zamenhof's Witnesses of not playing fairly and smashing all opposition by any means necessary. The official position of the Board of Directors is that "we have no opinion on those despicable, traitorous dilettantes."

Accusations of Sexism and Eurocentrism[edit]

Some critics of Zamenhof's Witnesses have accused them of being a patriarchal order consisting primarily of white European men with a few token women and non-Europeans, who are used in public relations campaigns to glaze over the sexism and racism that they themselves have to either fight or accept within the order. The organization's response has always been that "sexism is not real because the word is not in the Fundamento or any of the Official Additions that have been made to it, nor is it possible to be Eurocentric because if you look at the map, it is a geographical fact that Europe really is the center of the world. Plus, look at all these female and non-European Witnesses!"

Esperanto kidschain.jpg

Failed Predictions[edit]

The publications of Zamenhof's Witnesses have made many predictions for world events they believed were prophesized by Esperanto's sacred texts. The failure of most of these events to happen, especially the events prophesized for the years 1914 (the destruction of Ido) and 1925 (the Final Victory of Esperanto), have led them to change or modify a few doctrines. Their publications now explain that Maestro Zamenhof had used his Witnesses and the Internacional Association of Esperanto Students (the earlier name of the organization) as prophets, but the earlier prophecies were unclear, and little by little he was leading his members to a better understanding of his will.

Opponents of the Witnesses' doctrines, on the other hand, have accused the members of being false prophets for making these predictions, especially because the religion had asserted that its predictions would happen beyond a shadow of a doubt or were approved by the Maestro himself. The publications of the Zamenhof Society declared that Witnesses would not need to have any doubts about what the Maestro revealed through the organization. A former Zamenhof's Witnesses stated that members of the organization supposedly have a "very strong faith" in the Final Victory of Esperanto, and that they face expulsion if they do not accept the organization's doctrine, including failed predictions.

The Zamenhof Society rejects accusations that they are false prophets. It says that its explanations of Esperantist prophecy can be mistaken because they have never been asserted to be "the words of L. L. Zamenhof."

See also[edit]