European Anti-Semitism and the Dreyfus Affair: An Officer and a Spy

Anti-Semitism in An Officer and a Spy:

French anti-Semitism clearly influenced Dreyfus’ prosecution. Harris’ novel begins with Dreyfus’ condemnation ceremony, at which Sandherr epitomizes anti-Semitic sentiment in saying, “Observe, Major Picquart: the Romans fed Christians to the lions; we feed them Jews. That is progress…” (6). In deeming Jews inferior to Christians, Sandherr (a Dreyfus prosecutor) reveals his bias. Reflecting this anti-Semitism, mobs taunted Dreyfus, “…‘Death to the Jew!’…’Down with the Jews!’ ‘Death to the Jewish traitor!’”, throughout the book (12, 58, 182, 328, 342). The crowd’s insistence upon “Jew”, in damning Dreyfus, indicates anti-Semitism. Since various mobs shouted these taunts recurrently, this attitude seemed widespread. Such pervasive anti-Semitism certainly influenced Dreyfus’ treatment.

In fact, Dreyfus’ Jewishness suggested his guilt of treason. For example, in discussing Dreyfus’ prosecution, official Monnier highlights, “‘[The Jews] shift with the wind, according to who has power. That is how their race has survived for two thousand years’…Only…Leblois ventures…doubt.” (23). Monnier’s slander stigmatized Jews as cowardly and disloyal at power’s transfer. Strikingly, just one person at the gathering doubted this profound generalization, thus anti-Semitism seemed prevalent in nineteenth century France. 

Further, another officer shared Monnier’s prejudice upon reading Dreyfus’ telegram, uttering, “‘there you go—that’s the Jews for you—they stick together and they don’t let up.’” (287). Such expectation of Jewish cowardice and betrayal certainly influenced Dreyfus’ treatment. Anti-Semitic stigma was so widespread that Sandherr “reasonably” claimed, “‘…[Jews] should be obliged to register, and placed under curfew and travel restrictions.’” upon war’s outbreak (40). Sandherr’s recommendation blatantly exemplifies Jewish distrust. Later, when asked about Dreyfus’ potential motive, Sandherr cried, “‘Motive? Dreyfus is a Jew…’” (41). This exclaims that Dreyfus’ Jewishness alone constituted criminal motive, further illustrating societal contempt for Jews.

Major Picquart outlined another Jewish stereotype, noting, “[Dreyfus] was what my mother would have called ‘a regular Jew,’…’new money,’ pushiness, social climbing and a fondness for expensive ostentation.” (137). Since this description describes “a regular Jew”, and because Picquart’s mother expressed this colloquially, the stereotype seemed common. Additionally, Picquart observed the general staff’s utter lack of Jews, perhaps due to the army’s anti-Semitism and associated stereotypes (138).

Further, once provoked, Picquart bitterly wrote a friend, “‘I knew that one day I would be attacked by the Jews…’” (419). Despite saving Dreyfus from prison, even Picquart seemed prejudiced, as he expected Jews to attack him personally. Such a despicable expectation indicates that rampant anti-Jewishness influenced Picquart and swayed others to presume Dreyfus’ guilt. Importantly, others corroborate (thus, fortify) Harris’ accounts of French anti-Semitism (Begley, Grey, Hannigan, Kennedy, Kirkus, McAuliffe). All considered, nineteenth century France seemed flagrantly anti-Semitic and this contributed to Dreyfus prosecution.

Anti-Semitism in Other Societies:

While French anti-Semitism is evident, this condition transcended France. In the Middle Ages, Christians accused Jews of crucifying children, poisoning wells, worshiping the Devil, and conspiring against Christianity (Perry). Such attitudes outlasted the Middle Ages, as Paul de Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, Richard Wagner (Hitler’s favorite composer), and Houston Stewart Chamberlain denounced Jews centuries later (Grey, Hannigan, Perry).

Langbehn posited that Jews corrupted the German spirit, while de Lagarde considered Jews “enemies of Germany” (Perry). Additionally, Wagner’s Judaism in Music notoriously asserted that Jews debased German music (Grey, Perry). Moreover, Wagner may have inspired the holocaust in writing, “‘There is only one possible way of redeeming the Jews…annihilation.’” (Grey, Perry, Hannigan). As further evidenced by the holocaust (Perry, Hannigan), Germany seemed decisively anti-Semitic. Likewise, (the British) Houston Stewart Chamberlain infamously published The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, which promoted eugenics while demeaning Jews as morally, physically, and spiritually inferior (Hannigan, Linehan, Perry).

Such assertions reflected the common sentiment toward Jews, as Britain demonstrated conspiratorial, cultural, religious, and economic anti-Semitism (Linehan). Furthermore, anti-Semitic Russia condemned Jews for killing Christ and briefly banned Judaism (Hannigan, Kolstø). Therefore, societal measures (i.e. Russia’s Jewish ban, Germany’s holocaust, Middle Age Jewish persecution, and Britain’s eugenics proposal) indicate anti-Semitism’s influence beyond nineteenth century France.

Speculative Explanation of Anti-Semitism:

As evidenced, Jews faced fierce historical stigma, often to benefit non-Jews. Harris points out, “…the human impulse to watch another’s humiliation will always prove sufficient insulation against even the bitterest cold. I joined the multitude…” (4). This suggests humanity endures intense rigors to witness another’s embarrassment. To Harris’ point, witnessing another’s suffering can ease one’s own. Similarly, when society debases Jews, it comparatively glorifies its other members. As such, tribalism is a powerful tool for unifying the masses.

Just as Prussia recruited Southern Germany to fight the French (common enemy) (Hannigan, Perry), societies rendered Jews “common enemies” and comforted in their denunciation. Similarly, as tyrants exploit the feeble to elevate themselves, humanity demeaned Jews to ennoble “greater” society.

Consequently, as scapegoating diverted blame to the Jews, most of society revelled in Jewish exploitation. Supporting this notion, Hitler worked Jews to drive Germany’s economy (Hannigan), Wagner and Chamberlain profited by defaming Jews (Perry), and Harris outlined how Jewish struggle pleased masses. Further, Billot comfortably dismissed Dreyfus as “‘…the sordid matter of one Jew on a rock.’” (222), thus Jewish scapegoating abdicated others’ responsibilities. In conclusion, anti-Semitism’s prevalence in Europe uncovers deeper societal issues

Works Cited:

Begley, Louis. Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters. Yale University Press, 2009. [Why X Matters]. EBSCOhost, lib1.lib.sunysuffolk.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=302208&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Grey, Thomas S. Richard Wagner and His World. Princeton University Press, 2009. The Bard Music Festival Series. EBSCOhost, lib1.lib.sunysuffolk.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=329802&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Hannigan, Professor. History 102 lecture. On Anti-Semitism in Europe. 2018. Ammerman Campus Classroom. Suffolk County Community College

Harris, Robert. An Officer and a Spy: A Novel. Hutchinson, 2013.

Kennedy, Sean. “An Officer and a Spy.” Library Journal, vol. 139, no. 8, 5/1/2014, p. 42. EBSCOhost, lib1.lib.sunysuffolk.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=95690257&site=eds-live&scope=site.

“An Officer and a Spy.” Kirkus Reviews, vol. 81, no. 22, 15 Nov. 2013, p. 198. EBSCOhost, lib1.lib.sunysuffolk.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=92505927&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Kolstø, Pål. “Competing with Entrepreneurial Diasporians: Origins of Anti-Semitism in Nineteenth-Century Russia.” Nationalities Papers, vol. 42, no. 4, July 2014, pp. 691-707. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00905992.2013.879290.

Linehan, Thomas. “Comparing Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Asylophobia: The British Case.” Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, no. 2, 2012, p. 366. EBSCOhost, lib1.lib.sunysuffolk.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgao&AN=edsgcl.334245936&site=eds-live&scope=site.

McAuliffe, Mary Sperling. Dawn of the Belle Epoque : The Paris of Monet, Zola, Bernhardt, Eiffel, Debussy, Clemenceau, and Their Friends. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2011. EBSCOhost, lib1.lib.sunysuffolk.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=361536&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Perry, Marvin, et al. Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society. 11th ed., vol. 2, Cengage Learning, 2016.