(Historical photo, photographer unknown.)
Esperanto was invented in 1887 by a gifted humanitarian intellectual, Ludovic Lazar Zamenhof, who had quite an international pedigree himself — he was a Jew of German origin living in what is now Poland, then Czarist Russia, and bordering on Lithuania, steeped in the Lithuanian Jewish tradition.
In his hometown of Bialystok, four “native” languages — Polish, Russian, German and Yiddish — competed for local dominance, exacerbating the already sharp tensions between the ethnic groups. Thus Bialystok was a perfect microcosm of the world Zamenhof wanted to help heal.
Zamenhof was inspired to create an easy, logical second language which all could learn and use profitably. When he was 27, his project was ready to be unveiled to the world. The new language grew by leaps and bounds, and by the turn of the century already had an international following. By 1905 the movement was ready for its first international congress — which has become an annual event.
Despite the setbacks of two world wars and the obstacles of nationalism and skepticism, Esperanto continues to advance. In 1987, the largest group of Esperantists in history gathered in Warsaw to celebrate the language’s centennial. Today millions worldwide speak and enjoy this ingenious language.