Winnie Ille Pu and Dr. Alexander Lenard
Tel Aviv, Israel
|Alexander Lenard. Photo via Wikimedia. Public domain.|
Sandor (Alexander) Lenard1 was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1910 and died in Dona Irma, Santa Catarina, Brazil in 1972. He was a Jewish poet, author, physician, painter, musician, translator, language teacher, philosopher, and polyglot. A short outline of Lenard’s life events could be summarized as follows: Hungary, medical studies in Vienna, Nazi occupation, the Holocaust, the Vatican, US Army Graves Registration Service, Brazil, the translation of Winnie the Pooh into Latin, and playing J.S. Bach. Lenard’s distant cousin, the filmmaker Lynne Sachs, created an experimental documentary portrait of him titled The Last Happy Day.2
When Lenard was ten years old, his family left Budapest for Vienna. As a young adult, he loved to play the piano and engaged in sports and travel. In 1936 he married Gerda Coste and had one son. He studied medicine in Vienna. After Austria’s annexation to Nazi Germany in 1938, he divorced and escaped to Rome. Helga Lenart-Cheng, co-author of a biography of Lenard, explained:
[A]bout his separation from his first wife, Gerda Coste, we have no reliable sources. What we know is that they met in 1930 when she was 15, and he married her in February 1936. Their son, Hans-Gerd was born in July 1936. In 1937 Lenard moved back to Klosterneuburg, and that same year or the following year, Gerda, who originally supported Hitler’s ideas, moved back to her parents’ house in Germany with the baby. To our knowledge, they never met again, but they continued to exchange letters and Lenard supported them with packages during the most difficult after-war years.3
He managed not to be caught by the fascist regime in Rome and worked as a physician. Lenard joined the Italian Resistance and later, when the Allies took Rome, he worked with the Psychological Warfare Branch of Allied Force Headquarters, became medical adviser to the US Claims Service, and was chief anthropologist for the US Graves Registration Service. During his free time, he studied Latin at the Vatican library. His second wife was Italian, Andrietta Arborio di Gattinara. His brother died in a German camp and his sister managed to escape to England. In 1952, Lenard, who by then was fifty years old and spoke twelve languages, was resettled in Brazil by the International Refugee Organization.
Helga Lenart-Cheng added that:
What attracted Lenard to Brazil was perhaps the distance from European civilization and the promise of a large empty green area on the map. As much as he admired European culture and Bach and Goethe and others, Lenard was also appalled by how the war betrayed that culture and he was afraid of a potential third world war…He felt attracted by the “Urwald,” the virgin forest. In his later writing, the rainforests became a metaphor of his voluntary exile and solitude.
Like Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Lenard often played Bach. He mastered languages and taught mathematics. The authorities allowed him to work as a pharmacist or a nurse, and later, to practice medicine and obstetrics in a remote province of Santa Catarina. He stayed there until his death. Alexander Lenard became famous when his Latin translation of Alan Alexander Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (Winnie Ille Pu) was published and became an international best-seller. The New York Times called it ”the greatest book a dead language has ever known.”4 He published additional books and articles in German, Latin, Hungarian, Italian, and English.
Did Lenard choose to translate Winnie the Pooh because Pooh was described as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?5 Lenard did follow the work of German psychiatrist Heinrich Hoffman, who gave the first description of ADHD.6 It is also possible that Lenard found similarities between himself and Milne. During World War I, Milne had served in a secret propaganda unit, and Lenard served in a psychological warfare unit during World War II. Milne wrote about homeopathy in his book The Holiday Round and included medical and psychological topics in his writings. And in Lenard’s The Valley of the Latin Bear:
My place is across from Piminetti’s. It’s the pharmacy, the office, the first-aid station, and it is only my own fault if it is not more. My predecessor also sold homeopathic medicines, nostrums, bananas, cachaça, used pants, “bull-powder” for indifferent steers, and acted as retail and wholesale egg merchant. Doctor Rube came from Lubeck and spoke sailors’ German from having been physician in the German fleet.7
Unlike Milne, Lenard illustrated his own written works. Milne’s Pooh illustrations were made by Ernest Howard Shepard.
Lenard’s The Valley of the Latin Bear (1965) and The Fine Art of Roman Cooking (1966) also became bestsellers. Lenard corresponded in Latin with Robert Graves, the British author, poet, historical novelist, critic, and classicist who was hospitalized with Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sassoon at Craiglockhart Hospital, Edinburgh for shell shock after World War I. Graves wrote Lenard’s biography as a preface to The Valley of the Latin Bear, calling him “a displaced person.”
His biography and many publications were reviewed by Canadian Earle Parkhill Scarlett.8 Scarlett compared Lenard’s philosophy to that of William Henry Hudson, an American-British author, naturalist, ornithologist, and advocate of Lamarckian evolution; and to the beliefs and way of life of John Richard Jefferies, an English nature writer.
Lenard’s publications on medical topics ranged from psychiatry, eugenics, the history of the adrenals, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, medical humanities, and poliomyelitis.9-17 He rewrote his autobiography three times, in three different languages (German, English, and Hungarian). This process of self-translation created a fascinating web of autobiographical texts.18
- “Alexander Lenard.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Lenard.
- Sachs L. The Last Happy Day, 2009. https://lynnesachs.com/2009/06/15/the-last-happy-day.
- Personal correspondence with Professor Helga Lénárt-Cheng.
- McDowell E. “‘Winnie Ille Pu’ Nearly XXV Years Later.” The New York Times, Nov 18, 1984. https://nytimes.com/1984/11/18/books/winnie-ille-pu-nearly-xxv-years-later.html.
- Shea SE, et al. “Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood: a neurodevelopmental perspective on A.A. Milne.” CMAJ, 2000;163(12):1557-9.
- Ohry A and Tzafrir J. “Dr. Heinrich Hoffman and ‘Struwwelpeter.'” Harefuah, 2001;140(5):447.
- Lenard A. The Valley of the Latin Bear. Foreword by Robert Graves. E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc. New York, 1965.
- Scarlett EP. “Doctor out of zebulun. ‘Out of zebulun they that handle the pen of the writer’ (Judges V, 14). Gleanings from the commonplace book of a medical reader. Small talk in the caravan.” Arch Intern Med. 1965;116(6):944-8. doi: 10.1001/archinte.116.6.944.
- Lenard A. “Psychológia-psychiátria” (“Psychiatry and psychology”) in “Lénárd az orvoslásról” (“Lénárd on medicine”). Compiled by Berta Gyula. Hungarian Electronic Library. https://mek.oszk.hu/kiallitas/lenard/irasok/breviarium/Lenard_az_orvoslasrol.pdf.
- Lenard A. “Az eugenikáról” (“About eugenics”). Kortárs, 1985/2. Hungarian Electronic Library. https://mek.oszk.hu/kiallitas/lenard/irasok/cikkek/eugenika.html.
- Lenard A. Partorire senza dolore (Giving birth without pain). Casa Editrice Mediterranea, Rome, 1950. Hungarian Electronic Library. https://mek.oszk.hu/kiallitas/lenard/irasok/partorire/partorire.html.
- Lenard A. Controllo della concezione e limitazione della prole (Controlling conception and the number of offspring). De Carlo, Rome, 1947. Hungarian Electronic Library. https://mek.oszk.hu/kiallitas/lenard/irasok/controllo/controllo.html.
- Lenard A. Il bambino sano e ammalato (The healthy and sick child). Rome, 1950. Hungarian Electronic Library Works List. https://mek.oszk.hu/kiallitas/lenard/irasok/works.html.
- Lenard A. The medical office; contribution to the history of the medical ethics (De officio medici; contributo alla storia dell’etica medica). Tipografia della Bussola, Rome, 1947. Hungarian Electronic Library Works List. https://mek.oszk.hu/kiallitas/lenard/irasok/works.html.
- Lenard A. “The history of research on the adrenals; 1563-1900.” J Hist Med Allied Sci, 1951;6(4):496-505.
- Lenard A. “Poliomyelitis; the possibility of syringe transmission.” Med Times, 1951;79(7):395-9.
- Lenard A. “Sulla possibilità di trasmettere infezioni da virus mediante strumenti” (“Possibility of transmitting virus diseases by instruments”). Annali di Igiene (Annals of Hygiene), 1950;60(3):115-26.
- Lénárt-Cheng H. “A Multilingual Monologue: Alexander Lenard’s Self-Translated Autobiography in Three Languages.” Hungarian Cultural Studies, Volume 7 (2014). https://doi.org/10.5195/ahea.2014.3.
AVI OHRY, MD, is married with two daughters. He is Emeritus Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine at Tel Aviv University, the former director of Rehabilitation Medicine at Reuth Medical and Rehabilitation Center in Tel Aviv, and a member of The Lancet‘s Commission on Medicine & the Holocaust. He conducts award-winning research in neurological rehabilitation, bioethics, medical humanities and history, and on long-term effects of disability and captivity. He plays the drums with three jazz bands.
Winter 2023 | Sections | History Essays