A Witness to History
April 09, 2012
One of my favorite sections from The Universal Language tells the story of an Esperanto monument on Texel island in the Netherlands. I was heartbroken not to go further into detail about the monument, but sometimes when you're editing you have cut things you really like in order to make the overall film work. Filmmakers refer to this as “killing your babies.”
Texel is a very lovely small island in the north part of the country. Esperanto was phenomenally popular there during the early 20th century––about 2,000 of the island’s 8,000 residents spoke the language. This was largely the work of two brothers on the island, Gijs and Johan Duinker. They owned the local newspaper, the Texelse Courant, and had picked up Esperanto while traveling through Europe. They were also amateur filmmakers and made a fantastic little movie about the construction of the Esperanto monument on Texel and other activities of the local Esperantists. Check out the unbelievable stop-motion animation at the beginning!
As I was making The Universal Language I was painfully aware that I could have made a whole separate movie just about this one monument. The story is so interesting. During WWII, the Nazis occupied Texel and actually tore the monument down. Hitler had called Esperanto “a language of Jews,” and so any sign of it had to be eradicated. Sadly, the Duinker brothers were both killed by the Nazis during this time.
After the war, the monument was rebuilt. Some Texel residents had actually saved the star and other pieces of the monument after it was torn down, so they were able to create an almost identical reconstruction. However, there’s no one left on Texel who speaks Esperanto today. Only the monument survives. Most tourists pass right by, but I’m sure from time to time someone looks up and wonders what this Esperanto thing is. Later, I like to imagine their curious google search and their amazement upon discovering the fantastic story of Esperanto and the Texel monument.