|Documents on the Shaykhi, Babi and Baha’i Movements, Vol. 2, No. 1 (January 1998)|
I’m editing here four letters from Anne Lynch (cf. “In Memoriam. Anne Slastiona Lynch, 1892-1966”, The Bahá’í World, volume XIV, 1963-1968, pp. 355-356) to Laura Dreyfus-Barney (1879-1974) which I found in the Laura Dreyfus-Barney Collection at the French Baha’i National Archives (Baha’i National Center, Paris).
These letters were first published on the H-Bahai e-mail discussion list.
[Manuscript:] For Mrs. L. D. Barney
40 Grand’Rue, Geneva.
May 25, 1946
Dear Mr. Holley,
A serious problem is arising in connection with the Geneva bureau, which I wanted to submit to the Guardian. But since reading the article about “The Guardian’s Mailbag”, I have no courage left to burden him with problems, and therefore trust that you and the Friends will be willing to give me the benefit of your advice.
The fact is, that with the reopening of mail with various European countries, and especially Germany, the Geneva Bureau again begins to receive more and more letters, containing various requests for information, etc. During the war correspondence was reduced to a minimum, and it was easy for me to cope with it on Sundays. Now however, one day a week no longer suffices for this. For some time past, I have been trying to keep abreast of this work by taking it with me to the office, and doing bits at odd moments, when my YMCA work was slack. The was all right so long as it took a half an hour or maybe an hour at a time. But now the increased volume of correspondence demands much more time than that.
May I give an example. A letter from Mr. Lorey, Editor of the German Baha’i Esperanto Magazine, has necessitated the following steps: (1) copying it for the benefit of the Friends in German-speaking Switzerland. (2) Translating it for your Assembly. (3) Extracting part of it for the World Language Committee in Boston, and (4) writing to them about it. (5) Writing a letter to Mr. Lorey’s son in war prison camp. (6) Sending Lorey Jr. Baha’i books through the YMCA. (7) Writing about Mr. Lorey’s request to Australia. (8) Replying to Mr. Lorey.
This whole thing coming on top of a pile of other business, seemed more urgent than the rest, and I did it all in one – at the YMCA office – taking the entire day for it… I was appalled with what I had done, because it seemed nothing less than stealing my employers’ time, even if I could put off their work for one day. But there was no other way of doing it, unless delayed indefinitely, and the more one delays, the more work accumulates… Briefly, the Geneva Bureau will soon have the same amount of correspondence as it did before the war, when a full time of one worker (and sometimes two) had to be given to it.
Up till 1940, I had an independent income which permitted me to give all my free time to the Geneva Bureau. Since that date however, I had to take up a “bread job”, and can give only Sundays. The conclusion is obvious: there must be someone here who has enough time to give to the work, if the Bureau is to be kept going. In Switzerland, there is no one among the believers who is in a position to come and help here. There seems to be only America, where the number of believers is so large that they are even able to go out to other countries to pioneer. This is and additional reason why I am writing to you.
I fully realize that the final decision in this matter lies with Shoghi Effendi, since the Geneva Bureau depends directly on him. But if possibilities are investigated in advance, it may be made easier for him.
The person or persons who could be of real help in this service would have to be not only declared believers, but have a thorough knowledge of German, and possibly French. This is absolutely essential, for they would have to correspond in that language not only with Germany but with the German-speaking Switzerland – the only part of this country where there are believers. Geneva is of course French-speaking, and it would be good for them to have at least a conversational knowledge of French.
Secondly, they would have to be willing to collaborate in the spirit of team-work and Baha’i consultation, and not simply giving orders. They should realize that this is necessary for more reasons than one, and particularly because they must be helped to get to know the European mentality so as not to antagonize it by too unfamiliar procedures. Please do not misunderstand me! I wand to convey the simple fact that conventional values are so different this side of the water, that very often the best intentions become misinterpreted, and the Cause suffers. There is something which very few Anglo-Saxons have grasped as yet, except those who have lived over here for a very long time. It is the fact that a cultured European thinks it is “not polite” to disagree, and will say “yes” to most any expression of higher thought, whether he really agrees with it or not. He will even show outward “interest” and “enthusiasm” and immediately after, will tell his friends what a crazy notion he had heard… This is supposed to be “tact” and “courtesy” (!) It is this that was responsible for most cases of “Baha’is” made by enthusiastic American teachers in Europe, who later on indignantly refuted ever having taken any interest in the Cause. (Some such names have even found their way into the Baha’i World; imagine the impression among European believers…)
Again let me assure you that it is “wholly for the sake of God” that I want to make things as clear as possible. I am not blaming any one, nor trying to criticize the sincere ones who have done their utmost to the best of their knowledge. But in order to have the maximum of results, the best understanding is necessary, and individual conceptions should not overrule the necessity of consulting on all matters pertaining to Baha’i work here. What we all want is to make this Center of the greatest possible service to all those who need to call upon it. This and only this should be our aim.
Would you be willing to consult with your Assembly about this? I have thought about it a lot before deciding to write to you, but the problem is becoming very acute, and unless reinforcement is sent, there will be no physical possibility for me to carry the work alone.
With Baha’i greetings to yourself and the Friends,
Aug. 2nd, 1946
Dear Mrs. Barney,
You have asked me to give you an idea in writing of the various methods that have been tried in the management of the Geneva Bureau, and which of them were found to be the most successful. In my eighteen years of experience there have been four distinct periods in the existence of the Baha’i Bureau.
1. Under the management of Mrs. Hoagg. At that time both Miss Lentz and I were new to the spirit of the Cause and unused to team work. Mrs. Hoagg has trained us in both. In looking back on it now, I realize how wise she was and what a difficult “material” we were… She has made us shed one by one our personal habits and prejudices, and by the time she left, we were united as one soul in our common purpose to serve the Cause with complete disregard to ourselves.
2. Under the management of Mrs. Bishop. Since you have asked for complete frankness, I must tell you that Mrs. Bishop not only resented but definitely refused every attempt at consultation, saying that we were there “to execute her orders.” Neither would she accept any help in understanding of the European mentality to which she addressed herself. The result was much misunderstanding and antagonism in the field (European countries) and a slowing down to the minimum of the Geneva Bureau service, because during her extensive travels she permitted us no initiative, considering all our attempts at Baha’i service as “usurping her authority.” Thus during her absence of many months, two full time Baha’i workers at Geneva were reduced to almost complete inactivity, each incoming letter had to be translated into English and sent on to her, and once in a while she would send back a bunch of such translations with margin notes on what to reply. The replies would then be typed by us and sent to her for signature. Most of our time was spent in writing to her interminable letters, trying to explain that we wanted to help her, and not, as she said, “to undermine her international position.” Thus we felt (and many others too) that Mrs. Bishop had completely missed the point of her service in Europe.
3. Then came the short period when Miss Lentz and I were left alone in charge. This was the best time of all because we consulted in every matter and thought only of what each of us could do to help the other in the development of our Baha’i work.
4. And finally came the sad period of the war years, when I was left entirely alone in Geneva, and missed terribly the presence of another believer with whom I could talk over things I was not sure about.
In looking back on these eighteen years, I can safely say that even apart from spiritual reasons, from the purely practical standpoint, the method that brings the best results has proved to be that of team-work and consultation, and that whether or not the outward position of Baha’i workers may seem in some cases more important than in others, inwardly they should feel and live the truth of the Words: “Let none of you consider himself greater than another…” “Be a servant of all and serve all alike.”
I hope I have not been too crude, but like you, my purpose is: to try to do the best we can to further the progress of the Cause.
With all good wishes, very sincerely yours,
Bern, August 28, 62
My very dear Mrs. Barney,
As last year, time was so terribly short and I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that it was time to leave you. I do hope your stay has done you a lot of good and rested you after the air of Paris; you had just escaped the great heat there.
Mona Haenni [de Bons] spoke to me about writing down the early history of the Cause in Geneva, and I decided to copy the two articles in the volumes 4 [pp. 257-261: “Short History of the International Bahá’í Bureau at Geneva, Switzerland, by H. Emogene Hoagg”] and 8 [p. 124: “The International Bahá’í Bureau”] of the Baha’i World. I am sending them to you via Mona Haenni, so that she too can read them. I then decided to make some notes for you, and attached these to the typescript. One other thing I want to tell you, since Mona says that you wanted to know names of those who stayed some time – “les pérmanences” [sic] as she says. You may have thought of course of Lady Blomfield. She used to come every summer for the high season to a very pleasant Hôtel called “Beau-Séjour”, surrounded by a lovely park. (Very soon after that it was sold and became an annex of the Cantonal Hospital). Lady Blomfield used to organise afternoon meetings to which she invited people from the international circles. These were not Baha’i meetings, but lectures on various subjects by some well-known “pérsonnalités” [sic] – which of course was just the way to attract people. After a lecture, refreshments were offered, and often, the chairman of the meeting (mostly Lady Blomfield herself, but sometimes others) brought indirectly something about the Cause, which would then start questions and answers. Afterwards, when Lady Blomfield no longer could come to Geneva this effort was taken up by a certain Mme Meyer-Stalte and called “the Humanistic Club.” It soon degenerated into little social get-togethers in some third-rate café, without any aim or purpose, and died a natural death within a few months, for Mrs. M.-S. had neither the background not the means to offer the kind of décor, and the calibre of speakers as Lady Blomfield did.
Lady Blomfield was not a frequent visitor at the Bureau, though she was very kindly disposed and sometimes helped financially.
Great harm was done to the name of the Faith by a Miss Storey, who got addresses from Miss Culver and Mrs. Hoagg, of people who corresponded with the Bureau. She said she would send them literature. When one by one they stopped writing and Mrs. Hoagg told her about it, I heard her answer complacently that she sent them also the “missionary book” (by a certain Millar [sic]) because, she said, “I think each new enquirer should be told the two sides of the story, so that he can better judge what to believe.” (Perhaps you know that that book was full of slander against Shoghi Effendi).
I think I am getting too long-winded! please forgive.
Ever affectionately yours,
Bern, Aug. 28., 62.
Note for Mrs. Barney
Dear Mrs. Barney,
I’ve copied the two articles from the Baha’i World which refer to the early days of the Faith in Geneva. I can honestly say about the first, that it is so “bolstered up” and built on so many implications of wonderful things which in reality never existed, that the only 100 % reliable thing about it are dates and names. This was Mrs. Hoagg’s way. As you see, neither Lentz or myself were even mentioned, and the reason was that “clerical staff is not mentioned in historical outlines.” Further: the famous “committee meeting” in 1930 contained two non-Baha’is i.e. the only Swiss whose signature figured on those old statutes, while Lentz and myself were not even told that this meeting was taking place. (Henceforth she and I had a joke together, that we were “pièces de rechange” of the typewriter). Same thing about “young people giving their talents” which boils down to two occasions of a paid musical part. And so on.
As to the second article, I feel ashamed that the posterity should read statements of such crass ignorance as “the Swiss language” – and “one more language group”, all the more that obviously the main facts are taken from my detailed report of the activity of the Bureau while I was in charge, and naturally in that report it was said that these pamphlets were in German, and were original, and not translation. Someone (who?) evidently wanted to “improve” on facts. Just as, much later, my report was carefully edited for the Baha’i News and every bit of really important service to the Guardian that I had the privilege to render, at his requests, was carefully omitted so that the impression was that all I did was mimeographing. You can see how difficult, if not impossible, it would be for me to write a true statement of facts on the face of these articles and presentations!
One other thing: Mrs. Haenni says you told her of a “Summer School in Geneva.” This must obviously be situated in 1949 or later, since Louise Baker’s marriage took place in Berne in June 1948 and they went straight to Portugal after that. Can you tell me one or two more details of this meeting, for I have never heard of it, which is not surprising, as this was the second year of the ETC Bureau in Geneva, headed by Mrs. Graeffe, who always tried to keep me out of everything that was going on. She forbade me for example, to attend the Swiss Summer School in Eastern Switzerland, saying that “this is not your country, it is mine.” But later, when Edna True was visiting Geneva, Edna told me: “Mrs. Graeffe begged you to come to that summer school and you refused.” (This was because Shoghi Effendi wrote he was disappointed not to see me on the photograph of that Summer School).
If one had to write a true account of things, one would have to rectify too many misstatements, and this would only lead to confusing the minds of the reader, don’t you think so? I certainly do.