Friday, January 5, 2007

On this day in history:

Today, being Jan. 5, is the anniversary of the Dreyfus Affair, an infamous act of antiSemitism within the French government. Most know of it, but I feel the need to explicate bits and pieces for the sake of educating whoever happens to pass by this blog. It's also because my desperation to become a teacher/professor leads me to this ... it isn't really self-fulfilling, just what I enjoy. But the Dreyfus case has an incredibly interesting connection to Zionism. So read on.

In sum, Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a French citizen and Jew from a prosperous family, was accused and convicted of treason in the late 1800s. He was degraded, his badges ripped off and his sabre broken -- he was sentenced to life until death on Devil's Island. After that newspaper bit showed up publicizing the issue (in January 1898), the French government ended up in a sort of scandal regarding Dreyfus. It all went down in 1894 when he was accused of passing secrets along to the Germans (HA!), and it all happened incredibly abruptly. The evidence at hand was a list of promises to the Germans, which didn't even resemble Dreyfus's handwriting. Unfortunately, by the time the French realized this, it was too late to backstep, so instead they began an elaborate coverup campaign. They were digging a hole, so to speak.

The case was reopened in 1899 -- a good 5 years later -- and was reconvincted and ordered to spend 10 years more in prison. He was subsequently pardoned, but it was not until 1906 that he was exonerated. It took 12 years for the French government to "admit" fault. He then was recommissioned in the French army and served in World War I (though I often ask myself WHY he would return to such a situation after everything that'd happened).

A rift appeared in French society between those who supported Dreyfus and those who didn't. Comics appeared in papers and the issue was covered across the country and the world. The connection of Dreyfus to Zionism is that Theodor Herzl, a journalist, was assigned to write about the case and its aftermath. In 1896, Herzl wrote The State of the Jews and founded the World Zionist Organization. Both which called for the creation of a Jewish state. There's a split among historians about whether Herzl was isnpired to fervently take on the creation of a Jewish state because of the Dreyfus affair or because of the rise of an antiSemitic mayor in Vienna, Herzl's home city. The chronology of events doesn't agree with some philosophies, as the "scandal" of the Dreyfus affair seems to have come after the pro-Dreyfus camp appeared.

I think it's safe to say, though, that both events probably worked their way into the composition of the book and subsequent efforts for a Jewish state. I think it's ignorant to assume that the Dreyfus affair had no affect on Herzl's views of the Jewish condition in Europe. Then again, I've got a bucketload of thoughts about Herzl and Zionism ...