Francisco Valdomiro Lorenz, hyperpolyglot and pioneer of the Esperanto movements in Bohemia and Brazil

In the small town of Dom Feliciano, 170 kilometres from Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil, the memory of Francisco Valdomiro Lorenz is deeply cherished. The kindhearted instructor, farmer and doctor, with a command of allegedly more than one hundred languages and boundless fields of knowledge, dedicated his life to helping others. A Czech man in a colony of Polish immigrants, Lorenz lived a modest existence, while healing the poor at no cost. A man who ‘was never lazy’ and a true incarnation of ‘multiple lives’, Lorenz tells the fascinating story of pioneering Esperanto-movements on two continents, while also intersecting spiritism, revolutionary action, and other languages on the way. 

Born on the 24th of December 1872 as a miller’s son in Zbyslav, at that time in the Habsburg Empire, Lorenz was a language aficionado from an early age, who did not hesitate to plunge into the world of constructed languages. As Volapük took centre stage in the 1880s, Lorenz became a recognised ‘poedan’ (poet) for composition and translation of poems into this language, also teaching it in Prague. He learned Esperanto, newly created in 1887, and three years later published the first handbook of Esperanto for Czech speakers. In Adresaro, the address book of early Esperanto speakers compiled by L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto, Lorenz became the Esperantist with the number 1276, being thus one of the earliest known Esperantists. He exchanged letters with Zamenhof and with Richard Geoghegan, a pioneer of Esperanto in the UK and the USA, and also with other Esperantists from Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Germany, and France, as Lorenz recalls in his memories (Novobilský 2017). 

17-year-old Lorenz
17-year-old Lorenz

Despite giving courses of Esperanto and publishing the Esperanto learning book, this did not translate directly into the creation of an Esperanto movement in Czech territory at that time. From his students, only two are known: František Hájek, a young boy who would become an activist in the Esperanto workers movement, and Běla Raichlová, born Krapková, student of pedagogy and a revolutionary (Mařík in Starto 1977/4-5: 9). More people would be reached by Lorenz’ Esperanto learning book in 1900, when his printer in Pardubice remaindered the many remaining copies. One of them was Stanislav Kamarýt, who would become one of the founders of the organised Czech Esperanto movement (Kamarýt 1983).

Lorenz’ incursion into constructed languages was cut short by misadventures forcing him out of his homeland. He would renew his interest in Esperanto many years later, while also toying with Ido, Idiom Neutral, Occidental, Bolak, Nov-Esperanto, and working on his own projects Mundial and Cosmolingua. 

As an editor of socialist magazines and a proponent of Czech national independence from the Habsburg Empire, Lorenz was a victim of persecution. Ultimately, he had to leave for America, receiving by chance the passport of a young man who was to travel to Brazil but decided not to. In an unpublished autobiographical note, he describes this episode:

I was holding a big conference in a public hotel, when unexpectedly a friend called Ludoviko Chmelik came and whispered in my ear: ‘Police is arresting all activists who fight for freedom; policemen have already raided your library and carried out anything that they could take; they are searching for you; they have already arrested many; this time it’s serious!’

This friend handed me over on the spot a grammar, a dictionary, and a conversation guide in Portuguese, and also a small amount of money. He also handed over to me the passport of a young man my age, whose parents were about to leave for Brazil, but who did not want to emigrate. In this way I took his place, and I avoided being imprisoned.

From the hotel I travelled to Lisbon, from which I sent a postcard to my parents reading: ‘Destiny is carrying me overseas, goodbye!’

[my translation from Esperanto]

He arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1893, in the midst of a naval officers’ rebellion and of a federalist revolution against president Floriano Peixoto, which did not allow him for the moment to travel south, as he intended to. For a short period he lived in the states of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais, before finally reaching Rio Grande do Sul. On the 8th of August 1894 he arrived in Dom Feliciano (at that time named São Feliciano, before changing its name in 1930). He worked there as a school instructor and director (creator of the first school in Dom Feliciano in 1895), as a doctor, and as a farmer, cultivating wheat, corn, potatoes, beans, among others. He described his life in the colony in letters sent to his Czech relatives (Novobilský 2017), with rich details of the Brazilian environment and crops, praising his new homeland as a welcoming land, and a land of freedom above all. 

Lorenz married Ida Kraschefska, the daughter of a widow by whom he got hosted when he arrived  in Dom Feliciano. Ida was originally from Birkenfeld in East Prussia and her grandfather was Polish. She emigrated to Brazil at the age of seven, and she married Lorenz when she was sixteen and he was twenty-three, in 1895. They had thirteen sons, three of which died prematurely, and adopted eight others. Lorenz is remembered for helping many other children pursue studies, by hosting them in his home, or by buying school supplies out of his own pocket for them. Seeing the lack of literature dedicated to youth, he also wrote Ensinos paternos (1910) and Contos e apólogos (1918).

As the descendants of the Polish immigrants in Dom Feliciano showed interest in Polish and Lorenz did not have time to teach it, he engaged another teacher for this task in 1927, whom he paid at his own expense and whom he also hosted. The Czech immigrant also helped Polish in Brazil learn Portuguese by publishing a grammar (1908) and a dictionary (1910). Lorenz is remembered in his community as someone who always lived an extremely modest life, generous and kind hearted. Although he was offered the position of a consular translator by president Vargas, he decided to continue working in his school, and had no interest in leaving Dom Feliciano. 

Lorenz was writing by hand, often on page margins because of the lack of paper, by candlelight. In 1926, he succeeded in having a typing machine and a kerosene lamp. Electric light would arrive in Dom Feliciano only after 1960. Under harsh conditions, he nevertheless left a vast body of work, taking a particular interest in indigenous languages and cultures, such as: A mentalidade amerindia (1938), La brazilaj aruakoj (1983), Kompleta gramatiko de la tupia lingvo (2015).

Further, Lorenz was an important contributor to the association Círculo Esotérico da Comunhão do Pensamento. He wrote articles on astronomy and astrology for Almanaque do pensamento for decades. He was also named doctor in Kabbala by the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Cross. In honour of his activity, a masonic lodge in Porto Alegre took up his name.

Engaged in perpetual study and correspondence, Lorenz was remembered by his son Waldomiro for his prolific activity:

Many and many times it was us who carried this voluminous correspondence to the post office. Somebody said: ‘If it weren’t for the amount of correspondence of professor Lorenz, this post office wouldn’t have survived.’

He never complained, nor did he ever make any complaint for working that much! In one of his writings in Esperanto, he said: ‘Mi neniam pigris.’ (‘I was never lazy’)

[my translation from Portuguese]

Lorenz’ activity was multifaceted, including the practice of medicine and homoeopathy, and writing in this field (Receituário dos melhores remédios caseiros, 1910; Homeopatia Doméstica Brasileira, 1946). Accounts of his deeds are often anecdotal. People in Dom Feliciano recount that he invented a vaccine against the Spanish flu, and that nobody fell ill in the community in that pandemic. 

Many were the cases in which Lorenz as a medium was said to be involved, and members of his family engaged with the world of the spirits or with reincarnation (extensively documented in Novinski 2020). The story of reincarnation of two children of Lorenz determined psychiatrist Ian Stevenson of University of Virginia to travel to Brazil and discuss with Lorenz’ family in order to document them (chapter ‘Two cases suggestive of reincarnation in Brazil’, in Twenty cases suggestive of reincarnation, 1974). 

After the death of his first wife Ida in 1944, Lorenz married in 1949 Francisca Nalepinski Schumann, born in Warsaw in 1882 and widow of a Polish doctor. They moved to Porto Alegre in 1950, to be closer to family. In their old wooden shack in Felicíssimo de Azevedo street, they were visited by local Esperantists among which railway worker Ary Zemora, engineering student Alberto Flores, lieutenant Carlos Henrique Dionísio, English teachers Wanderley Francisco Gonçalves and Boris Eston, and also by Esperantists from other states of Brazil (Alberto Flores in Almanako Lorenz 2016: 175). Letters were exchanged with spiritist Esperantist Ismael Gomes Braga, with whom Lorenz shared a common interest in the Ido language as well, and in languages in general.

Lorenz died on the 24th of May 1957, at the age of eighty-five, as the oldest Esperantist in the world (Esperanto 623/1957: 160). By that time, he had mastered 104 languages according to his family, and left behind dozens of works, original and translated, including historical and occultist novels, translations of Bhagavad-Gita from Sanskrit into Portuguese and Esperanto, and a collection of poems in Esperanto translated from forty languages. His book Esperanto sem mestre, published by the Brazilian Spiritist Federation in 1946, became a key handbook for learning Esperanto.

There is no easy way to prove Lorenz’ mastery of the impressive amount of languages he is credited with. The number of 104 languages is mentioned by his son Waldomiro in a handwritten presentation of his father’s work offered to the library of Dom Feliciano in 1988. Waldomiro inventoried Lorenz’ works, drafts, and translations of religious excerpts, and often wrote introductory notes to the opuscules compiled and donated to the library, reiterating his father’s knowledge of more than one hundred languages. Although in Brazil Lorenz is nowadays presented by Esperantists and spiritists as the greatest polyglot ever, wrapped in a mythical aura, he does not usually figure in top lists of polyglots outside these two circles – to which his isolation in Dom Feliciano may have decisively contributed.

Although Lorenz was an enthusiastic proponent of Esperanto in Brazil, this did not quite meet his expectations. As his son Waldomiro would later explain in a foreword written in Esperanto to his father’s anthology of translated poetry, efforts to promote the international language were hampered by poverty, the ill-educated rural neighbourhood, and the lack of Esperanto publishers in his vicinity. Lorenz maintained contact with the wider movement through correspondence, and he also instilled the love of Esperanto in Waldomiro, to whom he would send letters in various languages, including the international language. It is to say that Lorenz’ relation to Esperanto was rather sinuous, as he was interested in many constructed languages – with a particularly keen interest in Ido after its emergence in 1907, manifested through the editing of Ido magazines, and the publication of a grammar and a dictionary of Ido. Yet Lorenz’ physical isolation in Dom Feliciano meant that his efforts for either constructed language could only have a limited impact, and often did not cross paths with the evolution of their respective communities.

After an original momentum around the turn of the century, decades of steady progress, and a low in the 1930s, the Esperanto movement in Brazil started flourishing again, and kept vivid through encounters and congresses, even though just out of reach for the farmer in Dom Feliciano. Lorenz expressed his special fondness for Esperanto in a letter sent to the 14th Brazilian Esperanto congress held in Curitiba in 1954, containing a poem that became a commemorative hymn of the event. Praising Esperanto’s work for peace, the poem was conserved in the congress annals, together with letters of good wishes to the congress. One of such greeting messages who got swept into the records came from the Esperanto youth in Ostrava, from Czechoslovakia , where seeds had  been sowed by Lorenz decades ago. ‘We sow and sow, never tire…’, and Lorenz seemed to obey Zamenhof’s words.

In his work Iniciação linguística published in 1929, Lorenz drew on his extensive expertise in natural languages, and in the final part concluded in favour of a constructed language. Analysing Pirro’s Universalglot, Schleyer’s Volapük, Zamenhof’s Esperanto, Beaufront’s Ido and De Wahl’s Occidental, Lorenz affirmed the supremacy of Esperanto.

Part of his work is attributed to his mediumistic gifts. Such is the case of Voĉoj de poetoj el la spirita mondo, published in 1944, of which several poems were dictated to Lorenz by spirits, including the spirit of Zamenhof. It is also believed in spiritist circles that Lorenz as a spirit, after disincarnating, dictated his messages about the language problem in the spirit world to Brazil’s greatest medium Francisco Cândido Xavier, who in 1959 published the bilingual book Esperanto kiel revelacio – O esperanto como revelação

Lorenz is also viewed as a promoter of the Czech press in Latin America. Member of the association Slavia, the first Czech association in South America founded in 1893, he sought to put to work his experience in editing that he had gained in his homeland. In 1902, he published the first issue of Slavia – Orgán Čechů v Brazílii (Slavia – organ of the Czech in Brazil). Most of the copies were inauspiciously confiscated by Brazilian authorities, in what was supposedly a compliance with Austro-Hungarian intriguers in Brazil (Kázecký 2009: 181).

In 1917, Lorenz published his translation of Comenius’ Labyrinth of the world and paradise of the heart into Portuguese. In another work, Um apóstolo do progresso: páginas da história tchéque, he wrote about the fascinating life of the Czech philosopher. It can also be assumed that Lorenz’ perspective of an international constructed language was infused by the works of Comenius, who had insisted on the imperative of such language and on concrete principles to achieve it.

In 1931, Lorenz was invited by the president of the Czech senate to come back to his homeland, but he politely declined, as he had set down profound roots in Brazil. After the conquest of independence, the emancipatory movement in which Lorenz had taken part in his youth years, Omladina (‘Youth’), came to be rehabilitated. The celebration of an independent Czechoslovak state fuelled the desire for brotherliness and bridging to the Brazilian people, which Lorenz aimed to accomplish through an anthology of Czech literature translated into Portuguese, co-authored with Jan Veselý (1928).

In 1940, the first Esperanto learnbook in Czech, that Lorenz had published in his youth, celebrated its 50 years jubilee. As the Czech were suffering under Nazi occupation and Esperanto was persecuted, Esperantists in Santos, in the Brazilian state of São Paulo, honoured the jubilee of the Czech Esperanto book by taking up the name of Lorenz for their local group.

Although in his homeland Lorenz is today largely unknown, in Brazil he is the third best known person of Czech origin, after Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek and businessman Jan Antonín Baťa (according to general consul of Czech Republic in Brazil, Pavel Procházka, as referenced in Novobilský 2017).


A living memory 

On the 17th of December 2022, the municipality of Dom Feliciano organised ‘the spiritual journey for Lorenz’, on the occasion of 150 years since his birthday. Half a dozen Esperantists from the Gaucho Esperanto Association travelled together from Porto Alegre to join locals, Lorenz’ relatives, and spiritists, in a commemoration that started at the funerary monument of Lorenz and his wife Ida Kraschefska, and continued at the house of Lorenz and the house of one of his sons, with information plaques being unveiled in these places. Then the journey brought the participants to the Cultural House of the Polish Immigrant, where they could enjoy an exhibition on Dom Feliciano and Lorenz, films on Lorenz (Muitas Vidas and O agricultor que falava mais de 100 línguas!), interviews, and a presentation on Lorenz’ Esperanto work. Fernando Lorenz, honorary consul of the Czech Republic in Porto Alegre, also engaged in projects of education for peace with the Institute Professor Francisco Valdomiro Lorenz, gave a talk in the memory of his great-grandfather. 

‘The spiritual journey for Lorenz’ was just the first of its kind, as there are plans to turn it into an annual event. A couple of recordings give us glimpses of the encounter (1, 2, 3), while an insightful brief in Esperanto by Miguel Bento from Porto Alegre leapt into the pages of Eldonejo Lorenz’ bulletin Komunikoj

A decade earlier, the municipal administration of Dom Feliciano had inaugurated the Memorial Lorenz, the place where the 2022 journey for Lorenz began, in front of the cemetery of Dom Feliciano. Lorenz’ mortal remains were brought from Porto Alegre, and at the request of his family the remains of his first wife were put in the same memorial. The event counted with the support of Lorenz’ grandsons, of several representatives of the Czech Republic in Brazil, and of the director of the local house of culture, Luciana Novinski, who published a book in the memory of Lorenz (Francisco Valdomiro Lorenz – Um homem além do seu tempo, 2021).

For spiritist Esperantists, Lorenz will continue to be considered one of their leading exponents, proving that Brazilian spiritism and Esperanto became one. Benedicto Silva appraised him as one of the ‘three classics’ in this field, along with Porto Carreiro Neto and Ismael Gomes Braga. Through his work, Lorenz contributed to emphasising ‘the overlapping, complementary goals of Esperanto’s interna ideo and spiritism’s aspirations for universal community’ (Pardue 2001: 24).

In the 2022 edition of the Brazilian Esperanto congress in Ribeirão Preto, several activities paid tribute to Lorenz, including presentations on his life and on his interest in constructed languages, and a bookstall of the publishing house Lorenz (Eldonejo Lorenz), who also publishes an yearly almanack honouring his name.

The humble teacher and philosopher will also be remembered by Oomoto believers as a contributor of their magazine Oomoto from Japan, directed by Onisaburo Deguchi. 

Universalist in nature, Lorenz explored wide-ranging areas, from esoterism, astrology, kabbala, to palmistry or hinduism. An incarnation of Zamenhof’s homaranism (humanitism), Lorenz worked to accomplish the brotherliness of humankind, convinced that Esperanto facilitates understanding and creates the foundation for building a better world. A mobile library, Lorenz could help anyone who needed orientation about the most diverse matters, and he could do so in whatever their language was. On the shelves of the library in Dom Feliciano that nowadays bears his name, Lorenz’ knowledge, much of which lies in hand-written notes, gives a vibrant testimony on how a man isolated physically from cultured society was nonetheless the one to make this change, being ‘a man beyond his time’ (Novinski 2021).



Bento, Miguel. ‘1-a spirita pilgrimado por Lorenz’. Komunikoj, n. 188, 2022.

Esperanto. Rotterdam: Universala Esperanto-Asocio, n. 623/1957.

Flores, Alberto. ‘Iom pri Francisco Valdomiro Lorenz’. Almanako Lorenz. Rio de Janeiro: Spiritisma Eldona Asocio F.V. Lorenz, 2016.

Kamarýt, Stanislav. Historio de la Esperanto-movado en Ĉeĥoslovakio. Prague: Ĉeĥa Esperanto-Asocio, 1983.

Kázecký, Stanislav. “Publicações tchecas no Brasil (Contribuição à história do jornalismo e imprensa tcheca no Brasil)”. Ibero-Americana Pragensia. Prague: Karolinum, vol. 43, n.1, 2009.

Lorenz, Franscico Valdomiro. ‘Aŭtobiografio de Francisko Valdomiro Lorenz – postmortaj notoj de la aŭtoro’. Donated by Waldomiro Lorenz to the library F.V. Lorenz of Dom Feliciano, unknown year.

Lorenz, Waldomiro. ‘De F.V. Lorenz (História de Dom Feliciano)’ (handwritten). Coletânea de artigos publicados em revistas por Francisco V. Lorenz. Donated by Waldomiro Lorenz to the library F.V. Lorenz of Dom Feliciano, unknown year.

Mařík, Jaroslav. ‘Ĉe la lulilo de Esperanto en Ĉeĥoslovakio’. Starto, n. 4-5, Ĉeĥa Esperanto-Asocio, 1977.

Novinski, Luciana. Francisco Valdomiro Lorenz – Um homem além do seu tempo. Porto Alegre: Odisséia Gráfica e Editora Ltda, 2021.

Novobilský, Vlastimil. Francisko Valdomiro Lorenz: atesto pri la vivo kaj verko de eksterordinara homo. Trans. Margit Turková. Dobřichovice: KAVA-PECH, 2017.

Pardue, David. ‘Uma só língua, uma só bandeira, um só pastor: Spiritism and Esperanto in Brazil’. Esperantologio / Esperanto Studies 2, 2001.

Stevenson, Ian. ‘Two cases suggestive of reincarnation in Brazil’. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974 [1st ed. 1966].

1 thought on “Francisco Valdomiro Lorenz, hyperpolyglot and pioneer of the Esperanto movements in Bohemia and Brazil”

  1. Dankon pro tiu ĉi artikolo. MI serĉis informojn pri la vivo de Lorenz por prezenti al esperantistoj en Aŭstralio. Lorenz meritas esti multe pli bone konata inter esperantistoj ekster Brazilo. Li estis evidente multflanka talentulo kaj krome modesta homo kun alta morala nivelo.

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