Elie Wiesel. Honorary Chairman
of the Support Committee
THE COMBAT FOR HUMANITY ALWAYS COMES DOWN TO THE INDIVIDUAL
Alfred Dreyfus, a husband and father of two children, had only one concern - basic everyday happiness -
and but one goal: to serve his country. Did he consider himself a committed Jew, an activist Jew? We find no
trace of it either in his behaviour or in his letters. Even during his exile on Devil’s Island, he never once thought
that his torment was linked to his Jewishness. For him, it was a judicial error.
And yet, it was that.
One hundred years after obtaining equality in civil rights - in 1791 - France’s hundred thousand Jews had to
confront a violent upsurge in anti-Semitism. In its midst were to be found all the aberrations that the enemies
of the Jewish people had been spreading across the world for two thousand years. At once rich and poor,
believer and heretic, lazy and hardworking, the Jew was a caricature of man.
In 1891, a member of the French parliament introduced a bill demanding the expulsion of all Jews, a priest
sermonized for the reopening of the ghettos; others demanded their extermination. “Death to the Jews”,
they cried, well before the Dreyfus trial. Why, when the guilty party could not be found, was the finger of blame
pointed at Dreyfus? Because he was the only Jewish staff officer.
The turning point came with Emile Zola and his historic appeal.
The much honoured writer scarcely hesitated to risk everything - including his freedom - because he could not
tolerate the idea that an innocent man had found himself in prison. The Justice Minister opened an investigation
against him. And the trial took place. And he was found guilty. And, in the street, the hysterical crowd yelled :
“Down with Zola! Down with the Jews!”
In 1906, after a new inquiry, Dreyfus was rehabilitated.
The Dreyfus Affair will remain a great moment in the history of France. It galvanised men and opened them
to fraternity. With the Affair, “intellectuals” considered themselves committed. With the Affair, it became clear
that the fight for humanity always comes down to a fight for an individual.
One hundred years after, is it not time to devote a museum to Alfred Dreyfus and the Affair and is it not
symbolic for it to be built in the house of Emile Zola?