This essay reviews two important recent works on the Dreyfus Affair: Jean-Denis BredinÆs The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus, and The Dreyfus Affair: Art, Truth, and Justice, edited by Norman L. Kleeblatt, an anthology that served as the catalog for an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York and which was published by the University of California Press as part of its on-going series of catalogs of exhibitions that are of outstanding social significance.
Bredin, a professor of law at the University of Paris, opens his biographical history of the Dreyfus Affair with what is perhaps one of the most riveting and archetypal scenes in the entire story: the scene as Dreyfus is stripped of his military insignia and publicly humiliated in the main courtyard of the +cole Militaire on Place Fontenoy in Paris on January 5, 1895. As a sergeant-major tears Captain DreyfusÆs uniform to shreds, the crowd outside the walls shouts, ôDeath to the Jew!ö If there were still any doubt in any rational personÆs mind about whether anti-Semitism was at the root of this affair, this fact alone should serve to settle the question.
However, that is merely where Bredin begins. In this meticulously researched work of more than 600 pages (in its English version), which cites more than 220 primary and secondary sources, Bredin documents and analyzes every aspect of the Affair and demonstrates that the anti-Semitism rampant in French society at the time was a major factor in its origins and evolution. Anti-Semitism was the specific reason why Dreyfus was chosen as the scapegoat as soon as evidence of espionage came to light and why French military officers would continue to forge documents and perjure themselves in order to defend the non-Jewish Esterhazy, who was the actual spy, as well as a notorious gambler, wastrel, and libertine, rather than admit that the original accusations against Dreyfus had been specious.
BredinÆs approach to this ...