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February 25, 1994 - Image 128

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1994-02-25

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Dreyfus' Ghost

A historian is sacked for criticizing
France's actions in the 100-year-old celebrated
case of anti-Semitism.

DOUGLAS DAVIS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT

ust 100 years after French
Army Captain Alfred
Dreyfus was wrongly con-
victed of espionage, pub-
licly humiliated and languished
for four years on the notorious
Devil's Island, the affair has re-
turned to haunt the French es-
tablishment.
The latest victim is
Colonel Paul Gaujac,
head of the French
Army's History Divi-
sion, who recently
wrote an article that
questioned the ulti-
mate decision to ac-
quit Dreyfus on
charges of selling
French military se-
crets to the Ger-
mans. ....
In the article, Mr.
Gaujac repeated
the implicitly anti-
Semitic army dog-
ma that support- i
ers of the Jewish i
officer constituted
a leftist alliance
with "freema-
sons, radicals and
socialists." It also Theodor Herzl
insisted that "no
one can say if
Dreyfus was a conscious or un-
conscious victim."
After reading the article, an
embarrassed French Defense
Minister Francois Leotard last
week took immediate action: He
gave Mr. Gaujac one hour to
clear his desk and leave the
building.
The Dreyfus affair clearly re-
mains as controversial today as
it was at the height of the scan-
dal in the 1890s, when outraged
French author Emile Zola wrote
his famous "J'Accuse" tract and
assimilated Austrian journal-
ist Theodor Herzl, in Paris to
cover the trial, detected signs of
impending disaster that ignit-
ed his campaign for a Jewish
national home.
Despite the passage of time,
the aftershocks of the Dreyfus
affair continue to wrack France,
where there are still official at-
tempts to stifle discussion on
the issue, mere mention of
which was actually prohibited
in the French broadcasting me-
dia until the mid-1970s.
One reason for this acute sen-
sitivity to an event that might
otherwise be considered histo-
ry is that anti-Semitism re-
mains a vibrant force in France,

j

a country with a Jewish popu-
lation of about 750,000 — one
of the largest Diaspora com-
munities in the world. Most
French Jews came from the for-
mer French colonies in North
Africa.
Another reason is that
France has never confronted its
anti-Semitic past, including the

World War II regime of Mar-
shal Petain, which zealously co-
operated with the Nazis and
voluntarily rounded up 73,000
Jews to be shipped to concen-
tration camps.
"France has many things to
hide, but it always rewrites its
history," said Kurt Schaechter,
a Jewish mathematician who is
investigating classified French
wartime documents.
A poll conducted last year
rocked the French establish-
ment when it revealed that 20
percent of French people ad-
mitted having anti-Semitic feel-
ings, while 62 percent said they
harbored more general racist
beliefs.
Many today would likely
share the sentiments expressed
by the French paper La Libre
Parole in 1894, a generation be-
fore the birth of Nazi Germany:
"Jews like Dreyfus are proba-
bly only minor spies who work
for the Jewish financiers. They
are cogs in a vast plot."
Two years earlier, the same
paper dispelled any doubts that
the Dreyfus affair was not the
result of anti-Semitism when it
declared: "There is a feeling of
instinctive repulsion toward the

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