The public trial for treason of French Jewish captain Alfred Dreyfus has proven fodder for everything from anti-Semitic walking cane handles to a riot-inducing 1931 play and another play in 1974, which the New York Times panned as a flop. Roman Polanski is reportedly directing a film about Dreyfus, which is no wonder, since the Dreyfus Affair continues to “intrigue and confound” even after a century, as Robert Zaretsky wrote recently in the Forward.
Dreyfus also was said to have inspired the emergence of Zionism as a movement. The officer was publicly degraded in an 1895 ceremony at the Paris École Militaire, where his sword was snapped in half among other embarrassments, and where the crowd yelled, “Death to Dreyfus. Death to the Jews!” Theodor Herzl would later credit those cries with solidifying his conviction that there needed to be a Jewish state, although in the new book “Revising Dreyfus,” Jess Olson, associate professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University, refers to that claim as “mythology.”
Read more in the Jewish Daily Forward.