Dreyfus: A Family Affair, 1789-1945

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9780060163662: Dreyfus: A Family Affair, 1789-1945

This volume is a detailed history of the Dreyfus family and through them France's Jewish community, which spans six generations, from the French Revolution to World War II. At the centre of the book is the Dreyfus Affair of the 1890s, one of the most chilling examples of persecution, and one of the most complex and controversial political and cultural events of the 20th century - a case which split the French nation and revealed the true extent of 19th-century anti-Semitism. "Dreyfus" takes the reader through two world wars, and follows the Dreyfus family into the holocaust which their own affair so darkly foreshadowed. Michael Burns has also written "Rural Society and French Politics: Boulangism and the Dreyfus Affair".

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From Kirkus Reviews:

In 1894, at age 35, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, officer, father, and husband, enjoying success after many years of study, devotion, and discipline, was unaccountably arrested for high treason and thereby became a symbol--as victim to some and traitor to others-- of the imperfections in French military justice and the precarious position of Jews in French society. Now, after at least a thousand studies, novels, plays, and films of what came to be known as ``the Dreyfus affair,'' Burns (History/Mt. Holyoke) offers perhaps the first comprehensive study of Dreyfus the man, and of his family. The Dreyfus family history is typical of French Jews. Culturally assimilated after Jews were emancipated by the Edict of 1791, the Dreyfuses found financial opportunity in industry (textiles) and social status in the military, where young Alfred's intelligence, discipline, and methodical nature were rewarded with promotions, an appointment in Paris, and his marriage to a wealthy young Jewess, Lucy Hadamard. Without warning and without cause, however, he was arrested for treason on the basis of an unsigned document in someone else's handwriting, convicted in an irrational judicial process (he believed his crime was being a Jew), publicly humiliated, and deported to Devil's Island, where he spent five years in solitary confinement before his brother won his freedom with the confession of the true spy. Knighted in 1906, Dreyfus championed various working-class causes, served along with his son in WW I, and lived to see the scandal revived in the anti-Semitism of the 30's, finally dying in 1935, having outlived nearly everyone else involved in the affair. Because he was so undemonstrative--he ``lived,'' as his son said, an ``intense interior life''--Dreyfus remains inscrutable, even as the focus of such a carefully documented and analyzed study as this. And with minimal theorizing and offering little cultural context, the virulence of the anti-Semitism that trapped Dreyfus remains unexplained, as does his failure--refusal?--to become the martyr his followers wanted him to be. (Sixteen pages of b&w photos--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

This superlative, deeply moving biography and family history throws a floodlight on the human dimensions of the Dreyfus affair. Falsely accused of military espionage and arrested for treason in 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935), an Alsatian Jew, battled insomnia, total isolation, malaria and suicidal impulses on Devil's Island. His wife, Lucie, a loyal partner in a marriage of equals, attempted to accompany him during his deportation. His brother Mathieu, who was instrumental in securing a presidential pardon, at one point consulted a clairvoyant peasant woman whose visions helped him deduce that Alfred's court-martial in closed session had been a sham. Burns, who teaches history at Mount Holyoke, traces six generations of the Dreyfus family, from Alfred's great-grandfather Abraham, a kosher butcher during the French Revolution, to the scions who joined the French Resistance, fought fascism and aided victims of Nazism. His gripping narrative puts the affair and the family's history in the context of the centuries-old blight of French anti-Semitism. Photos.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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