Anti-Semitism and Holocaust

The Dreyfus Affair Again

By Bradford R. Pilcher - February 7, 2002

There is a statue of Alfred Dreyfus standing in Paris, France. Students of Jewish history will recall that Dreyfus, the first Jew to serve on the French army general staff, was wrongly accused of spying for Germany in the late nineteenth century.

More than just wrongly accused, Dreyfus was persecuted. He was strung up as much for his Judaism as his alleged wrongs, proving once and for all that anti-Semitism was alive and well in France, and indeed throughout Europe. Despite unprecedented attempts at assimilation, the Jews found not acceptance but cries of hatred.

When Dreyfus was paraded through the streets of Paris in a humiliating display, "Death to Dreyfus" was not the call of the mob. Instead, they chanted, "Death to the Jews."

Students of history will also recall who was in the jeering crowd on that day. Theodor Herzl, who was reporting on the Dreyfus Affair, was there to hear the citizens of Paris demanding death for his people. He saw the meaning of the events surrounding Dreyfus's persecution, that in spite of their most sincere efforts, the Jews could not be secure as a homeless minority.

Herzl thus committed himself to the cause of Zionism, and a half-century later that cause was fulfilled. As we look back, we must therefore see not only Herzl's role in the proliferation of Zionism, but Dreyfus's as well.

It is then with some irony that a second, albeit far more minor, Dreyfus Affair has recently occurred. Just this past week, that statue of Dreyfus was vandalized. A yellow Star of David, like Hitler once forced the Jews to wear, was painted over the statue's plaque. The words, "Dirty Jew" accompanied it.

An act of anti-Semitic vandalism is, sadly, not uncommon in France. Since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, worldwide anti-Semitism has seen a marked increase. France has been one of the centers of that upswing, so much so that even top government officials and diplomats find themselves in anti-Jewish gaffes.

France, where Dreyfus was tried and the Vichy collaborated, has been exposed as a nation where anti-Semitism has not been defeated. Instead, its anti-Semitism has been left under the rug to grow like a mold, ready to lash out when the moment is right. Still these recent events speak to more than just France. They speak to the world, and particularly the Jews' role in it.

This recent vandalism should be a new symbol, teaching us the same lesson Herzl learned one day in Paris. Despite all our best hopes and efforts, hatred of the Jews did not end in 1945. Jewish assimilation, no matter the degree, has done virtually nothing to ensure Jewish security, and so it remains as true today as it did a century ago.

The Jews cannot be secure as a homeless minority, drifting from country to country. A Jewish homeland - the Jewish homeland - is not just preferable. It is a necessity. Dreyfus, against his will, taught this to Herzl just over one hundred years ago. Today, by way of a senseless but indicative act of vandalism, Dreyfus is teaching us this lesson again.

Let us not forget so easily this time.

Bradford R. Pilcher is a student at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the past few years, he's been active in countering Holocaust denial and developing Israel education programs. Information on Israel and these efforts can be obtained from Learningisrael.com. He can be reached at pilcher@mindspring.com.

©2002 - Israelinsider.com

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