Who Was She?

A podcast where your host shares the stories of women throughout Baha'i history.

  • 4. Bonus episode! BTS on Zaynab

    We are back with a conversation with host Tara and her friend, Angie. Learn how this podcast season came about, the challenges, the creative process, and hear a sneak preview of who the next couple of seasons will be about!
  • 3. Their Legacy

    Welcome to Who was she? Podcast. I am your host, Tara Jabbari. Who was she? Podcast will focus on the stories of women throughout history that were active in the Baha’i Faith. This season is about Zaynab. She was a 19th-century village girl from Persia in the early history of the Bahai Faith and fought for religious freedom.  The following books were used to learn more about the siege of Zanjan:  The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl's NarrativeGod Passes By written by Shoghi Effendi The Divine Curriculum: The Báb, Volume 5, Part 2 by Edward PriceZanjan A Graphic Novel Based on Actual Events by Aaron Emmel and C. Aaron KreaderYou can also find more information on our Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest @whowasshe podcast. And please, rate and subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast. Logo was designed by script editor, Angela Musacchio. Music was composed and performed by Sam Redd. I am your host, Tara Jabbari. 
  • 2. The Battle Begins

    Who was she? Podcast will focus on the stories of women throughout history that were active in the Baha’i Faith. This season is about Zaynab. She was a 19th century village girl from Persia, now Iran in the early history of the Bahai Faith who fought for religious freedom. You can also find more information on our Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest @whowasshe podcast. Music was composed and performed by Sam Redd. Script editor and graphics are by Angela Musacchio. I am your host, Tara Jabbari. Join us as we begin our journey about Zaynab. 
  • 1. Who are the Bab and Hujjat?

    Transcript: Welcome to Who was she? Podcast. I am your host, Tara Jabbari. After a decade working in documentaries, marketing and all things digital media, I found that podcasting is a strong medium to share stories. After years of producing for others, I decided to start my own biographical podcast. Who was she? Podcast will focus on the stories of women throughout history that were active in the Baha’i Faith. This season is about Zaynab, a 19th century village girl from Iran who fought for religious freedom. There is little information known about Zaynab but her bravery and sacrifice inspired many to follow in her footsteps. In order to understand what she did, we must first know about a man named, Mulla Muhammad-Ali also known as Hujjat and about the Prophet, The Bab. The Bahai Faith has two Founders beginning with The Bab, who was born Say-yed ʻAlí Muḥammad Shírází on October 20th, 1819 in Shiraz, Iran. He was a merchant but many who met Him, knew there was something special about Him. In 1844, He revealed Himself to be a Messenger of God, a Divine Educator. He became known as The Bab, meaning the Gate and established the Babi Faith. Later, many of the Bab’s followers would become members of the Baha’i Faith when, Baha’u’llah, the next Messenger of God or Divine Educator, revealed His Station in 1863. There is so much more to know about the Founders of the Baha’i Faith and  I encourage you to research more! A trusted site is Bahai.org as a good starting point. For the purposes of this podcast, we will move on to learn more about one of the early believers, Hujjat. Hujjat was born in Zanjan, Iran in 1812. His father was one of the leading mujtahids, or authority in Islamic law. Father and son were known for their great sense of character, knowledge and piety. In Dawnbreakers, a book about the beginning of the Baha’i Faith, it writes, “(Hujjat) was a man of independent mind, noted for extreme originality and freedom from all forms of traditional restraint.” This caused great admiration from the people but hatred from the Islamic governing clergy.When Huggat learned that a prophet, or manifestation was among them, he wanted to learn more for himself. Through an exchange of letters, Huggat acknowledged The Bab as a Prophet. “It is my firm and unalterable conviction that this Siyyid of Shiraz is the very One whose advent you yourself, with all the peoples of the world, are eagerly awaiting. He is our Lord, our promised Deliverer.”He became a devout Babi. Hujjat taught the Faith to his hometown. It is reported that two-thirds of the people of Zanjan accepted It. The clergy were furious and worried, “The time is fast approaching when not only Zanjan but the neighboring villages also will have declared themselves his supporters.” The clergy believed that the Babi Faith was a disruption of their authority and would eventually destroy their institution. They decided that the best thing to do was to kill Hujjat and his fellow believers. But the Babis were not going to stay passive. They organized their own protection. It was important for them to defend themselves but never to instigate violence. “Do not think we are destined to conquer the world by the sword; in every age the blood of the believers has fueled the flame of Faith; we will be martyrs,” affirmed Hujjat. In the next episode, we will learn about the siege of Zanjan, one of the most violent and devastating battles in the Faith’s history and the introduction of one of their most fearless warriors, Zaynab. You can also find more information on our Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest @whowasshe podcast. And please, rate and subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast.
  • Trailer for Season 2: Zaynab

    Full Transcript: Who was she? Podcast will focus on the stories of women throughout history that were active in the Baha’i Faith. This season is about Zaynab. She was a 19th-century village girl from Persia, now Iran in the early history of the Bahai Faith who fought for religious freedom. There is little information known about Zaynab but her bravery and sacrifice inspired many to follow in her footsteps.When a new faith began in 1844 in present-day Iran, there were many attempts to end it. We will learn about the siege of Zanjan, one of the most violent and devastating battles in this new Faith’s history and about one of their most fearless warriors, Zaynab.She disguised herself as a man to fight in the front lines. It was written that, “No man has shown himself capable of such vitality and courage.” In the book, God Passes By by Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, He wrote, “The resourcefulness and incredible audacity of Zaynab, a village maiden, who, fired with an irrepressible yearning to throw in her lot with the defenders of the Fort, disguised herself in male attire, cut off her locks, girt a sword about her waist, rushed headlong in pursuit of the assailants, and who, disdainful of food and sleep, continued, during a period of five months, in the thick of the turmoil, to animate the zeal and to rush to the rescue of her men companions ...these stand out as the highlights of this bloody contest.”So please subscribe and learn more about this amazing woman who fought so bravely and inspired many.  You can also find more information on our Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest @whowasshe podcast. Music was composed and performed by Sam Redd. Script editor and graphics are by Angela Musacchio. I am your host, Tara Jabbari. Join us as we begin our journey about Zaynab. 
  • 8. Bonus episode! BTS

    Same podcast, different content: a conversation with host Tara and her friend, Angie. Learn how this podcast came about, the challenges, the creative process, and hear a sneak preview of who the next couple of seasons will be about!
  • 7. Out of the Abyss

    In the season finale, we learn about the several attempts to save Lidia’s life during World War II and last words from her to those who helped her and her family.  TRANSCRIPT:Welcome to Who was she? Podcast where I, Tara Jabbari share the stories of women throughout Baha’i history. This is the final episode of this season about the life of Lidia Zamenhof, an Esperantist and Baha’i who traveled through three continents to teach languages in effort to bring unity to humankind. On December 9th, 1938, Lidia arrived back in Poland. It took her some getting used to. She wrote, “The highest skyscraper in Warsaw, of which the city is so proud, because it has seventeen stories, cannot impress me anymore.” She wrote about her travels and despite the many hardships she went through, she only spoke of all the friendships she made. Lidia missed teaching Esperanto but decided to focus on translating Baha’i Writings into Esperanto now that she had the time. She also found out about a friend who died in France and wrote to the family expressing her condolences and also her own feelings about death, “Personally, I believe that…the destruction of the human body does not mean the death of the person. This body, composed of atoms, must disintegrate because everything that is composed must decompose. But the higher part of man, his spirit, does not consist of atoms; it is not a combination of chemical elements and is not subject to the law of decomposition. I believe that our consciousness lives on in ways and conditions which we, still living in the body, cannot imagine, just as the little child in the womb of its mother is incapable of imagining the world it will be coming into and for which is being prepared. Those thoughts are a great consolation for me, whenever physical death places a barrier between myself and those I love…”  Her thoughts and beliefs could bring some comfort to others, certainly to her as the world entered a new war that would ultimately be the cause of her death.  By fall, 1939, the Third Reich invaded Poland which began the second world war. After three weeks of trying to fight them off, Warsaw was conquered. Now they were all under the Nazi rule and Jews had to be distinguished from the rest of the population at all times, which meant that Jews had to wear the Star of David on their sleeves and Jewish businesses and schools were closed with their quarter surrounded by fences and barbed wire to keep away from everyone else.  Learning of what was going on and news about Lidia, in particular, were scarce and hard to distinguish from rumor. In November, 1939 the same year that Martha Root died some Jewish newspapers in the US reported that the Zamenhof family were arrested because Lidia had gone to the United States to spread anti-Nazi propaganda.  Esperantists and Baha’is in America worked together to try and save Lidia’s life. They contacted the Polish Embassy and the US State Department officials in Berlin but officially, they all said they could not take any action as Lidia was not an American citizen.  Letters sent to Lidia’s family were being returned with no forwarding address. But in March, 1940, Stephen Zamenhof, Lidia’s cousin who was in New York when the war broke out was able to learn from family in Russia that the whole family had been arrested after the occupation in Warsaw. Adam, her brother was the first to be arrested at the Jewish Hospital where he had been the Director of the Hospital. Then his wife, Wanda and sister Zofia were arrested. His son, Ludwik was spared due to his illness, possibly of typhus and therefore, left at home. Lidia was also arrested. Ludwik eventually was able to share that Lidia and Zofia were released after several months in Pawiak Prison and found a place to stay in Ogrodowa Street since the Zamenhof home had been destroyed during the bombardment of Warsaw. Adam was sent to Danilwiczowska Prison. Eventually, it was learned that at the end of January, 1940 Dr Adam Zamenhof had been shot and killed with a hundred other intellectuals and professionals.  Meanwhile, an Esperantist, Jozef Arszenik who was taught the Baha’i Faith by Lidia visited her before the Ghetto was sealed off. He offered to hide Lidia in his home on the outskirts of Warsaw. After the war, Mr. Arszenike wrote: “That noble woman refused my offer to save her, saying that I with my family could lose our lives, because whoever hides a Jew perishes along with the Jew who is discovered.” He also wrote that Lidia’s last words to him were, “Do not think of putting yourself in danger; I know that I must die, but I feel it my duty to stay with my people. God grant that our of out sufferings a better world may emerge. I believe in God. I am a Baha’i and will die a Baha’i. Everything is in His hands.” After the war, Mr. Arszenik became a Baha’i and lived till the age of 80.  There are accounts of attempts to save Lidia’s life, one in particular which is what personally inspired me to learn more about Lidia. In the late 1930s, for Germany, it was clear all signs pointed to a war. A German Baha’i, Fritz Macco and his brother and friends were worried about what that meant for them. As Baha’is, they must obey their government but also as Baha’is, they did not want to fight and did not agree with Germany’s politics The men wrote a letter to the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, for guidance. The Guardian reportedly replied that if their desire not to take a life was sincere, God would assist them in attaining it. Fritz and his brother and friends were soon drafted into the army. all of them died in the first week of the war with the exception of twenty-four-year-old Fritz. He was sent to Warsaw as an ambulance driver for the German Army which allowed him to not be in a non-combatant duty. He was puzzled as to why he was spared but when he arrived in Warsaw and found Lidia, he believed he was spared to help save her life. Again, Lidia refused to leave “her people” and though he could not save her life, Fritz would go on to help the Resistance and save many other Jews and Baha’is in occupied land, including his own mother. Sadly In September 1944, Fritz was killed. By 1942, there was scarce information on Lidia but she was able to send a postcard to a friend in Holland sharing that Zofia and sister-in-law, Wanda are working as doctors in the Ghetto. Although she never wrote it down, it was probable that Lidia was teaching others English. This was against the law as English was considered the enemy's language under-occupied Poland but it gave people hope. But in July 1942, there was the order that all the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were to be “deported to the east,” to a camp called, Treblinka.  While Wanda and her son Ludwik were able to escape and survive outside the Ghetto during the deposition, Lidia and Zofia were not able to. They were taken 120 kilometers from Warsaw to Treblinka. The death camp was about fifty acres and surrounded by antitank barriers and barbed wire with watchtowers in each corner. There were gas chambers and burial pits where the bodies were disposed of originally by lime then later by burning on large iron racks. Eventually, Nazis became worried that the mass graves might be discovered so they exhumed and burned them. It is calculated that one million, two hundred Jews died at Treblinka including Lidia and her sister. The author of Lidia’s biography Wendy Heller writes, “Among the ashes in the ground at Treblinka are those of Lidia Zamenhof.” She was thirty-eight years old.  After the war, it was discovered that miraculously, the Jewish cemetery had not been destroyed and Ludwik Zamenhof’s tomb still stood. There eventually would be a plaque set in place on Klara Zamenhof’s grave with the names of Lidia and Zofia, that reads “Murdered in the year 1942. Let the memory of them last forever.” There was a memorial service held in honor of Lidia by the Baha’is of the United States and Canada on the week of October 25th, 1946. Lidia refused to allow others to endanger themselves in order to save her, she felt a duty to be with her family and the Jewish community. Lidia never hid away from trying to find meaning in the world. She found love in faith and language that she believed would unite everyone. She believed what truly mattered was how someone faced a challenge. I leave you with Lidia’s own words, “behind the densest clouds the sun is shining, that the Most Great Peace will come.’ ‘Whoever can still find in his heart a single ray of faith, as delicate and any as a spider’s thread, will not perish in the abyss, but even if all the powers of this world rise to struggle against him to push him down, even in the fall itself he will stop, and by this ray, as why the biblical ladder, even out of the abyss will ascend to heaven.’ This has been Who was she? Podcast, follow us on our Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest @whowasshe podcast. And please, rate and subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast. Logo was designed by Angela Musacchio. Music was composed and performed by Sam Redd. I am your host, Tara Jabbari.   
  • 6. Lidia Comes to America

    For 14 months, Lidia traveled throughout America but her journey was not an easy one. Meanwhile, in Europe, a war was beginning. Learn how American Baha’is and Esperantists tried to keep Lidia away from the war but ultimately, failed.  TRANSCRIPT:Welcome to Who was she? Podcast where I, Tara Jabbari share the stories of women throughout Baha’i history. This season is about the life of Lidia Zamenhof, an Esperantist and Baha’i who traveled through three continents to teach languages in efforts to bring unity to humankind. It was 1935 and Lidia had spent more than 2 years traveling through Europe to teach Esperanto. Tuition was twenty francs for forty hours of lessons but Lidia often allowed those who could not afford it to still join her classes. Like her father and brother, who provided health care free of charge, they wanted to be able to still serve any who needed them. It was not easy for Lidia, the tuition was her only form of income. Lidia traveled to Lyon the most and those who attended her courses and got to know her, wrote later on that she was not a talkative person, very modest and never tried to impose herself. Many from her travels and childhood would say the same thing but that when she went onstage to teach, she became another person altogether. Rene Lemaire said she was “a person who was almost invisible in the street, who walked along slowly, looking at the ground. But when she was in the classroom teaching a lesson, she was a lion.”  During the Twenty-Seventh Universal Congress of Esperanto held in August, 1935 in Naples, Italy, Lidia spoke on the subject of free will and destiny. She said, “Fate is of two kinds: absolute and accidental…According to its destiny, when the oil in a lamp is consumed, the lamp must go out. But it can happen that, even before the oil is gone, by chance a strong wind may extinguish the flame. The absolute fate of man is to come into the world, to mature, and having attained the state of maturity, to begin to age, and finally, when the time comes, to return his body to the earth but it can happen that a brick falls on his head and cuts the threads of his earthly life sooner. We cannot avoid absolute fate, but we can avoid those other causes, and it is wise to guard oneself against them. Man is responsible for all the actions he performs by his own choice. If no free will existed, there would be no responsibility - neither merit nor guilt.“The greater the suffering, the greater the harvest of spiritual virtues appearing man. Sometimes happiness makes man self-assured and forgetful. But when sorrow comes, man remembers his smallness and powerlessness and turns upward to the Power above, which alone can save him from his difficulties. And thus his self-assurance dissolved and his spirituality grows…”  Like she had done in the past, Lidia also spoke with the Union of Esperantist Women, urging them not to let children play with war toys, “because the toy of childhood will become a terrible reality in adulthood.” Instead, she urged the women to teach their children about other races and lands. Children should be encouraged to cultivate friendships “not only with children of their own race or people, but with children of other lands, above all, with children of those lands from which they are separated by the barriers of political hatred and prejudice.” She explained that this can be done easily through Esperanto. Lidia concluded, “Above and beyond the borders a wondrous bridge will be built of the children’s hearts. Upon that bridge the mature generation will meet sometime and build a new, better future.”  Meanwhile, the Universal Esperanto Association felt the pressure that they needed to adapt “to the needs of the times.” The Vice President Anton Vogt was a German member of the Nazi Party. Therefore, about twenty Jewish delegates of the UEA were forced out of their positions. Lidia challenged the Esperantists to fight against this attitude and actions the UEA was enforcing. She wrote in an article called, “Nia misio” or “Our Mission” saying, “We must not permit national ambitions to raise their heads among us…Esperanto was created so that the peoples should feel equal with each other, not so that through it they should try to raise one about the others…”In another article she wrote, “It is time …to stand up and proclaim to the whole world that the international language opens not only human mouths and ears but also hearts.”  She knew there was a danger within Esperantists but the Baha’is at least were committed to the ideals of universal peace and unity. If more Baha’is learned Esperanto, it would help ensure the ideology. She wrote for The Baha’i Magazine saying, “The international language is part of the Divine Plan which given effect in the era of Baha’u’llah (the Founder of the Baha’i Faith). And the creation and spread of Esperanto are proofs of the creative power of Baha’u’llah’s words.”  In Northern France, a reporter for Le Petit Havre asked her how she thought an international language might bring about peace. “We are not naive!” exclaimed Lidia, “We know very well that Esperanto will change neither the face of the world nor the feelings of men but we believe that an international language will contribute powerfully to a better understanding among people, and we also know that without understanding there cannot be love.”  But the world was starting to crumble. By July 15, 1936, there was a decree that all organizations of article languages were to be liquidated in Germany. Without the German Esperantists, and with a civil war breaking out in Spain the next Universal Congress was very small, with only 854 attendings, the smallest congress since 1922. Baha’i activities were also prohibited throughout Germany and the Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly of Germany soon dissolved.  In 1937, a letter arrived for Lidia by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States and Canada cordially inviting her to visit America. She had wanted to go for a while and her wish was finally coming true. She would go and teach Esperanto to the Baha’is and connect with the existing Esperantists.  Her spiritual mother, Martha Root would not be able to see her during Lidia’s travels in America due to her own travels abroad. There was another issue. Many American Baha'is, while they believed in the purpose of an auxiliary language, did not want to learn Esperanto as they did not think it was necessary.  Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith and now a close confidant of Lidia who guided her travels had to explain that while it is not certain that Esperanto is the international language of the future, he did encourage Baha’is to support and study the language, writing, “Baha’u’llah has specified in His writings that such a language will either have to be chosen from one of the existing languages or an entirely new one should be created to serve as a medium of exchange between the nations and peoples of the world. Pending this final choice, the Baha’is are advised to study Esperanto only on consideration of the fact that the learning of this language can considerably facilitate intercommunication between individuals, groups and Assemblies through the Baha’i world in the present stage of the evolution of the Faith.”  On September 29th, 1937, Lidia arrived in New York harbor on The Batory. She was mesmerized by New York’s skyscrapers, traffic and huge groups of people. She wrote, “My legs still wobbled and I still felt the roll of the ship but there wasn’t time to think about that…In America one doesn’t waste time.”  Her presence and her talks amazed many American Baha’is. Many wrote later that she spoke English in “a delightful French accent” and one Baha’i wrote, “(Lidia) has a peculiar quality that I have never run across before. Great simplicity in expression combined with a profound grasp of spiritual reality.”  People were mesmerized and couldn’t get enough of her and her sincerity about the Faith and Esperanto. However, her travels caused her to be ill, eventually, she was diagnosed with jaundice and she had to call off classes for a week. When she got better, she continued to speak and meet American Baha’is. The growing persecution of Jews were spreading throughout Europe and many hoped that Lidia could stay in the States.  Legally, Lidia was considered a Jew, but she explained that meant nothing spiritually. If she tried to change her legal status, she was worried how it may affect the Polish Jewish community which was already a minority and suffering due to the growing persecution. She wrote to Shoghi Effendi for guidance and waited anxiously. He replied stating “that in view of the fact that such membership as you say, has a rather social and legal significance and does not involve necessarily any definite religious implication, it would not be necessary for you to formally resign from that body at present.” Lidia was relieved, as always, the Guardian and the Baha’i Faith brought her much-needed guidance and comfort. In a letter to a friend, Lidia wrote detailing her spiritual search, “I remember that when I took my first steps in that new Faith, my interest, like the waves of the sea, rose and seemed to fall, but just like waves of the sea, it flowed over my soul always more and more. Now I am like a person who, after great thirst and suffering reach the showers of a sea of sweet water, an ocean full of the water of life - and fears thirst no more.”  By January, Lidia left New York City for Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC. American customs were still something she had to get used to. Sometimes, there were misunderstandings but Lidia and particularly her hosts found ways to make that happen less. Her travels led her to the midwest to parts of Michigan, Illinois and Ohio. She was able to see the construction of the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, which to date, is still the only one in North America. She wrote to friends, “That Temple gave me very sweet feelings, there I felt as if at home: in my spiritual home.”  Baha’i and friend, Roan Orloff Stone recalled years later, “Lidia had such a love for Baha’u’llah, a love for Esperanto - it was a double love - that you didn’t look at her beauty or her lack of beauty, you just saw her personality; you just saw her soul in her eyes. When the name of Baha’u’llah was mentioned, or the language of her father’s invention, as if through a miracle, her whole personality changed…she forgot her own self as with shining eyes and vibrant voice she launched into discussion or recounted her experiences in her field of service.”  Lidia was very involved in almost every place she visited in America amongst Baha’is and Esperantists. She and Roan were even recruited to act in a play about the earliest believers in the prophet, The Bab, the Predecessor to Baha’u’llah. Lidia portrayed Zaynab, a peasant girl who fought for the right of religion by disguising herself as a boy and was consequently killed With the help of the American Baha’is, she requested an extension to stay in the States. However, she was denied after learning that by earning a profit received for her Esperanto classes, she had broken the law under the permit that she applied to enter the country with. Lidia was puzzled and embarrassed. She never knowingly broke the law. It turned out that this was a cause of a series of oversights, one being the American Counsel in France for not making the matter clear to Lidia from the start. The American Baha’is who organized her trip could also share the blame for not having obtained the proper paperwork which would have explained that Lidia was not allowed to accept any form of payment while in the United States. A combination of these and other factors caused so much trouble for Lidia in the States and ultimately, one might argue her life.  There was a saying shared to her, Baha’is tried to scramble a thought of how they can keep Lidia at least away from Poland where the war was growing. They decided to have Lidia apply for a visa to be in Canada. Alas her application was. denied. After the initial shock and fear at the reality that she must go back to Poland Lidia wrote, “It is a real disappointment for me, very painful, but we must accept serenely what comes and trust that God guides us on the way that is most right for us.”  Lidia left on November 29th, 1938 after 14 months in the United States, giving and receiving tearful farewells to all the friends she made in America. It was a hard time for her and for them, as the world was so uncertain but also because she had come to love the Americans and found a new family there.  On the same month that she was due to leave, President Roosevelt announced that European refugees already in the United States on a visitors’ visa would not be forced to return to their countries where they might face persecution. Overall, twenty thousand people were able to take advantage of this immigration policy but Lidia was not one of them.  While in America, Lidia wrote an essay called, “The Ways of God.”“Why did suffering and pain have to be a part of man’s development? Through oppositions and deficiencies, we learn to judge the value of everything.” “In fact, do we recognize and enjoy the value of health when we are well? Usually, respect for health only comes with illness. We realize the value of sight when we are blinded…we learn the value of hearing when we can no longer enjoy music and conversation with our fellows. We realize the value of peace when war weighs over our heads. We realize the sweetness of home when ashes cover the home hearth or fate forces us to leave it…Even the nearness of our dear ones we usually only learn to value when separation comes.” Lidia returned to her homeland and along with many of her family, would not survive the war. Next episode, we will talk about her time during the war and the several failed attempts to save her life.  This has been Who was she? Podcast, follow us on our Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest @whowasshepodcast. And please, rate and subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast. Logo was designed by Angela Musacchio. Music was composed and performed by Sam Redd. I am your host, Tara Jabbari.
  • 5. Teaching in Europe

    In this episode, we hear how Lidia began to travel around Europe to teach Esperanto, spoke at conferences about the importance of unity as the Nazi Party grew more powerful, and how she gained confidence that her passion work was making a difference. Listen to excerpts from some of her talks and more in the latest episode of Who was she? Podcast!  Transcript:  Bonvenon al Who was she? Podcast where I, Tara Jabbari share the stories of women throughout Baha’i history. This season is about the life of Lidia Zamenhof, an esperantist and Baha’i who traveled through three continents to teach languages in efforts to bring unity to humankind.  Upon returning from her pilgrimage, Lidia attended the Universal Congress of Esperanto in June 1930,  held in Oxford, England. During her time there, she would learn more and eventually become a certified Cseh teacher of Esperanto. The Cseh method was created by a Romanian Catholic priest, Andrei Cseh. He developed the technique which utilized blackboards and paper for the first few classes and by speaking in simple Esperanto about everyday subjects. Gradually the class teaches grammar and broader vocabulary of the language. After 40 hours, students were expected to have a basic ability to communicate in Esperanto.  Lidia was intrigued and impressed by the Cseh Method and began to study it so could train and educate others. For the teachers of the Method, the style was very demanding, requiring the teacher to present during the entire class.  The direct method would start with the teacher speaking to the class in Esperanto about everyday subjects. For instance, they would learn about different animals or malsamaj bestoj and other objects. Eventually, the students would learn more about it’s grammar and vocabulary and could discuss fluently about various subjects like la historio kaj spertoj de mondmilito unu or the history and experiences of World War I. For Lidia, the method was tiring but it was her mission and passion, to teach Esperanto as effectively as she could. Her students later wrote that when she spoke during her classes, “ she spoke slowly, very clearly, with a strong but at the same time gentle voice. She was always there when we needed her.’ She also spoke at the Baha’i Meeting during the Congress where 60 Esperantists attended. Her speech concentrated on the topic of “Man, God, Prophet.” People who read and saw her work during these Congresses wrote and commented that she was an eloquent speaker, able to captivate despite her small stature. Her passions came right off the page and spoke to any who were present.  Some Esperantists like Professor Odo Bujwid from the University of Krakow openly disapproved of Lidia’s Baha’i activities. He and even family members warned Lidia not to mix her Baha’i activities with Esperanto. This pained Lidia as she would never do anything to damage Esperanto and her father’s work. Other Esperantists like Andrei Cseh, was a friend and supported Lidia for combining both passions. Lidia continued to work on translating Baha’i Writings from English to Esperanto, including one of the key books, the Kitab-i-Iqan, or The Book of Certitude. Martha Root was very proud of her spiritual daughter though she was worried Lidia would have a hard time being one of the few Baha’is in Poland, where she still mostly resided. Lidia lived with her sister and brother and his family so she did not have to work to make money. It allowed her to concentrate on teaching and translating which often paid little or nothing at all. Martha wrote, “She is a born translator, she has a genius for it, and the books she has translated into Esperanto will be a great “leaven” not only in Europe but also in the Far East. Her mind is keen and logical and I have met few people in my life more just than Lidia.”  In  September, 1932, 28 year old Lidia decided to leave her home and become a traveling Esperanto teacher. She first left for Sweden teaching in small towns and at times, had over 250 people come to hear her speak and attend her classes. Here is an excerpt from one of her talks,“We and the whole world, and the entire realm of creation attest to the Creator, Who, having given existence to all, remains Himself outside and above all. We cannot know His essence, we can only know Him through His creation. The essential teachings of all the prophets of the past were the same. Each of them brough rays of the same sun, each of them taught love - love of God, love of one’s fellow man. Although the prophets had disappeared from the material world, their words had not. The Divine Inspiration which spoke through the mouth of each of them did not die but, like a phoenix, is always reborn of its own ashes. In this day once again its song can be heard. Whoever has ears, let him hear.”  By the end of the year, she finished her time in Sweden and was asked by the French Esperantists to visit France and teach. Her first stop was Lyon, Dr. Andre Vedrine, who attended spoke that “Lidia Zamenhof was a remarkable teacher. Plain in appearance, she demonstrated a sprightliness and a joyful spirit which could leave non indifferent.”   After three weeks in Lyon, her pupils were fluent and spoke to Lidia in Esperanto only. It left her immensely proud of them and happy to see her service and work being paid off. She left Lyon writing, ‘although the day was cold, my eyes were sweating.” Lidia continued to travel throughout France, often speaking also about her father and that Esperanto was not merely a language but it was more of a spirit of unity and brotherhood among people. 1933 came around andthe annual Universal Congress of Esperanto was getting ready to be held in Cologne, Germany. However, Lidia decided not to attend. In the book, The War Against the Jews, it explains that between the two world wars, there were some seven hundred anti-Jewish periodicals in circulation in Germany and over four hundred anti-Semitic organizations. By March 1933, Hitler’s authority was established and the SS had set up the first concentration camps in Dachau, Germany.  The Esperanto movement in Germany was making a lot of attempts to accommodate itself to the Nazi regime and some Esperantists naively hoped that by renouncing Zamenhof, they could prevent the language from being suppressed.  Meanwhile, Lidia continued to travel around France. She admitted that she was home-sick and did not enjoy traveling but in order for her to accomplish the goal to teach Esperanto and unity, she knew she had to continue to do so. She wrote to Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith that she considered her work teaching Esperanto as a “part of the divine program for improving the conditions of the world.” Lidia’s classes would have people from 50 to 150 attendees in France. After two years of traveling in Sweden and France teaching, she returned for a brief visit back home in Warsaw.  With her family, she attended the 26th Universal Congress of Esperanto where she was reunited with her spiritual mother, Martha Root. She gave a talk that proved how much her few years of travel and teaching had shifted her focus and gave her purpose: “There are people who believed and lost their faith. Oh, that is the fate of many of those who prayed but found their prayers unfulfilled; those who in sickness begged for health; those who in misery asked for help; those whom death robbed of their best beloved; finally millions of those who lived through the inferno of the war who, having avoided the bombs and gases, vainly eke out the most miserable existence. All those hopeless, rebellious ones ask: ‘Does God really exist? Where is He? How could He create so much misery and cause so many tears to flow?’“Or it appears to these people that besides God another and equal power reigns in the world, which is the scene of an eternal battle between the good God and the prince of darkness.‘The Baha’i teachings proclaim the nonexistence of evil. Is it possible to imagine a power which would be able to stand against the Creator of everything? To believe in Satan means in fact not to believe in God, for it means not to believe in His most essential attributes: His power over everything and His goodness…“That which we call evil is only lack of good. Darkness is only lack of light. Blindness is only lack of vision. These are but passing circumstances, often created by ourselves. They will pass, for eternity is an attribute of God, and to Him only good belongs. “One may say, on the contrary, that it is small consolation to the blind to assert that his blindness will pass - together with his life. But that is the view point of the short-sighted. For life does not pass…“With full assurance the Baha’i Teachings assert the immortality of the human spirit. The body is only an instrument, which the spirit uses for a time to express itself. Even if the instrument becomes defective, the hand that uses it does not perish. The body is like a garment that becomes outworn and is cast away. But its wearer is not cast away along with the garment. The body is like a cage in which dwells the bird of the spirit, before it breaks the cage and flies to heavenly heights. “And when bodily life shall cease, when the blind eyes are closed, other eyes will open and the joys of the spiritual world will recompense the sufferings of those who physical eyes saw not the brilliance of the material sun. ..“What is true of man is also true of mankind. It also must learn the lesson of harmony, and that harmony it must find, before all else, in itself. It must be like a chord in which one note does not grate against another, but together with the others forms a beautiful harmony. It must be fragrant as a garden where many diverse flowers bloom one beside another. It must feel as one tree rich with many brother-leaves, one sea abounding with many brother-drops.”  After her speech, Martha remarked that the whole audience applauded and newspapers praised her speech.Lidia spoke one more time during the Congress for the Union of Esperantist Women:  “In the work for peace, the first and chief place should belong to the women. War is an affair of men…the male love of power and authority…the result of that primitive social order which always had as its leader and ruler - the man. But today women are rapidly rising from the low status they have held. In many respects they are now equal to men; in others, they surpass. That superiority exists in those spheres which deal with sensitivity and feeling, and this sensitivity dictates to us dislike of force and coercion. For too many centuries, we women have been told that our main role in life is motherhood, and that is what we are suppose to remember. The feeling of a woman’s heart, especially a mother, must hate war, which destroys her nest and leads her dearly loved ones to the fields of horrible death. For a long time, men have said that the task of the woman is to give, and to look after the man. Let them then understand that no compromise is possible between us and war…“Let us untie to bring peace to the war-tortured world. And we women can do that better than men. What have they done in that respect? Disarmament conferences, which are only futile chatter as long as souls lack the feeling for peace. “To inspire that peaceful sentiment is the role of the woman. It is she who educates, she who first forms the mentality of future state leaders. You who are mothers: never put toy soldiers into the hands of your child. Teach him that blood must not be shed, that violence is ignoble. Teach him to love not only the nearest neighbor, but also the neighbor across the border. “Even if you think that you humble teachers and secretaries can do very little, still do not hesitate to offer your “widow’s mite” to the cause of peace. Because it may happen that war will break out again and pitilessly engulf those who are dearest to you in the world. And then your heartache will be treated when you think, “I could have worked for Peace, but I did not.”” After the Congress, Lidia and Martha said goodbye, not knowing that this would be the last time they would see each other.  Next episode, we will learn more about Lidia’s continued travels and teaching Esperanto which will lead her to the United States while the Nazi Party gained more and more power throughout Europe. This has been Who was she? Podcast, follow us on our Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest @whowasshe podcast. And please, rate and subscribe wherever you listen to this podcast. Logo was designed by Angela Musacchio. Music was composed and performed by Sam Redd. I am your host, Tara Jabbari.