Monthly Archives: October 2013

Precis of Emile Zola and the Dreyfus Affair

In 1894 in France, Jewish artillery captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was found guilty by court-martial of treason for allegedly selling French secrets about their military placements and weaponry to the German enemy, for which he was placed in Devil’s Island the following year. The next year, further investigations were made into this incident due to flimsy evidence, at which it was determined that a virulent anti-Semite, one Major Esterhazy, was actually the spy. The enquirer of these matters, Colonel Picquart, was then quickly re-assigned by his superiors to North Africa. Eventually, Captain Dreyfus was cleared in 1899.

Although it has been widely reported in other sources, the information for the above account, and for what follows below (in addition to my own opinions), comes from author Stuart Kelly’s interesting creation, The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You’ll Never Read, copyrighted 2005 by Stuart Kelly and copyright illustrated 2005 by Andrzej Krauze, originally published 2005 in U.K. by Viking, a division of the Penguin Group, London, and published in U.S. by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

Kelly states: “The Jews, it was whispered in print, had a syndicate to fund Dreyfus’s appeal. They were profiting from both sides of the conflict (pg. 290).” Is the second sentence a conclusive statement of Kelly’s, or is this statement one made supposedly by the press, as per the preceding first sentence? It is hard to tell.

Emile Zola, an author/writer living in France who was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1901 and 1902 (per Wikipedia), respectively, published an account of the conspiracy against Dreyfus in the January 13, 1898 edition of L’Aurore. In the by-now famous article, J’Accuse, Zola sought to uncover the perpetrators by publishing the names of those he thought were responsible for the cover-up and conspiracy. He was brought to court for doing so, was found guilty, and wound up fleeing the country to England, where he continued to write under the assumed name of M. Jacques Beauchamp.

He was free to return to France when Zola was cleared in 1899 of the charges. Three years later, Zola was found dead in his apartment, after having complained of nausea, headaches and dizziness at three in the morning on September 29, 1902. Stuart Kelly recounts that the coroner had declared Zola’s carbon monoxide poisoning an accidental death. Not even demolishing the flue from the fireplace in his bedroom, reconstructing the conditions under which his room existed when he perished, and subsequent testing with guinea pigs (who safely survived) could reveal the actual turn of events which were related by M. Haquin in 1953 to have transpired on that fateful day.

The anti-Semitic feelings and activities continually bubbling under the surface of many a Frenchman, as well as those across Europe and elsewhere, often expressed itself in pogroms, attacks against Jews and their businesses, exclusive laws and policies against them, and scapegoating against the Jews with false accusations, such as that which befell Captain Dreyfus, a man innocently and honorably defending France’s citizens against attack by enemies. That these same citizens should turn around to foist their prejudiced hatred against Dreyfus belies the pervasive effect milennia of teachings have had, to deleterious effect, in heinous acts committed upon the Jewish people.

The slander perpetrated against innocent Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus spread like a wildfire, concentrating into absolutes the inner constitutions of all whose lives were touched by this incident. For those with a propensity towards anti-Semitism, it hardened their hearts against the Jews, collectively condemning them as a race and singularly perpetrating actions to discredit, disgrace, dehumanize, and deprive them of the means to life which were given them by G-d.

Some of them, like Zola’s so-called “friends,” belied their true constitution. Despite the evidence clearing Dreyfus, the incident would remain forever cemented in their minds, wrongly accusing Dreyfus, the Jew, as a traitor, and all those even suggesting the possibility of his innocence, condemned via guilt by the intimation of even a glimmer of sympathy, even after revelation of the true facts in the case.

Although France would be the first to repeal its governmental decree declaring Jews as persona non-grata in their country, the old prejudices just never seemed to die off, even in the supposed, so-called “Enlightenment” and “Reformation” of all of Europe.

The distillation of these views perpetuated over time created lingering resentments against the Jews. In 1953, a reader of the Liberation newspaper named M. Haquin revealed that a chimney sweep had allegedly confessed: “I and my men blocked the chimney while doing repairs next door. There was a lot of coming and going and we took advantage of the hubbub to locate Zola’s chimney and stop it. We unstopped it the next day, very early. No one noticed us.”

The apparent implications in this statement may have afforded its alleged perpetrators a stay of justice in an earthly-based existence, but the ramifications of the Dreyfus affair had even further marked consequences, as its result.

It inspired the Jewish people to become more proactive in taking control of their destiny. Although there have always been Jews living in Israel since G-d commanded Abraham to move there, the rest of the nations have attempted to thwart these plans throughout the thousands of years since.

From the Babylonian exile where our most learned sages continued studying and transmitting G-d’s law with the rest of the Jewish communities worldwide (such as those that remained in Jerusalem, as evidenced by the two Talmuds — Babylonian and Yerushalmi), through the Inquisitions and expulsions from Spain and England, and our ghettoization in places like the Pale of Settlement in the Ukraine, killed in the gas chambers of Germany, our graves the mass pits of the forests and the crematoria of the enemies of Jews, the ground of our spilled blood and the souls of our people cry out to the L-rd who has heard —

We are not witnesses to a self-deluded mantra of vitriol purposing our destruction, but a witness to the One whose promises are revealed in every generation. We are reminded of and prompted to the fulfillment of these promises in each generation upon the earth, that every generation might know that the word of the L-rd is true.

The Dreyfus Affair prompted the assimilated journalist, Theodor Herzl, of Austria, out of his reverie of trying to blend into and become like the nations around him (an act actually prohibited of us by the L-rd) and to begin to form concrete plans to promote the return of Jews to the homeland, Israel (known to others as various names, including Palestine). In turn, this led to the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, where Jews got together to find ways to return to our land.

The so-called resultant movement, called Zionism, which others purport to be a recent 19th Century invention, is actually a several thousand year old decree by G-d. Zion is one of the older names for the land of our home, the proof of which can be found in the pages of the Bible, if only one would actually deign to look there.

That fact is written there as plainly as one can see.

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